On Ride+Stride Saturday, 13 September 2014, Barney Leeke of Littleport cycled the length of the Cambridgeshire in aid of the Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust. He rode for 94 miles and visited 56 churches in a ride which lasted over 7.5 hours. Below he writes about his amazing achievement which has already raised over £500 for the Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust. Donations are still being accepted at Barney’s Just Giving page
As a fairly experienced cyclist I thought I should try something challenging for this year’s Ride+Stride, particularly as my parish church of St George, Littleport has received a couple of grants recently. Living to the north of Cambridgeshire I had the idea of cycling the length of the county, from north to south, picking up as many churches as possible on the way. In order to get home again I added on the return leg to Cambridge, finishing at my parents’ parish church of St Martin, Suez Road where I hoped to get a shower and hearty meal before catching the train home.
Barney Leeke – Tydd St Giles
The weather forecast for the day was perfect, light cloud and a north-easterly (tail) wind was about as good as conditions could get. I had estimated that the 80 mile route would end up closer to 100 by the time I had detoured to nearby churches on the route, and while I was confident I could manage that in the eight hour time window, collecting over 50 churches was going to add a significant time element. Even a one minute stop at each church would add almost an hour to the journey time, and I wanted to include taking a photo of each main door as a memento. The drive to my starting church was therefore rather apprehensive as 10am rolled by and we were still following slow tractors through the fen roads.
Day in the saddle
Tydd St Giles, the most northerly parish in the county (by my reckoning), and my starting point, was also perhaps the most unusual. The tower of the church sits aloof in the corner of the graveyard, creating its own majestic monument quite apart from the main building. I unpacked my kit from the car and set off for my next stop of Newton in the Isle; such evocative names would be a feature of my day in the saddle.
Bolstered by my wife’s astute purchase of pork pies and a squeezy bottle of honey, the miles rolled under my wheels as I headed south. Churches were few and far between in the sparsely populated fen around Wisbech and I struggled to find them all in the town itself. Cutting my losses I made the decision it was better to complete and pushed onwards. The best haul was in Cottenham where I picked up Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and Salvation Army without ever leaving the main road. Histon was one of the most difficult to find, but I had to stop and ask at the pub in Shepreth so perhaps that should take the accolade of Best Hidden.
Barney Leeke- St Martin
St Andrew, Impington was perhaps the most architecturally stunning, with a beautiful oak and plaster porch, containing a delicious apple pie for cyclists (which has in no way prejudiced my decision). That is of course discounting such novelties as the Round Church and Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, world famous landmarks which found their way onto my list as I flitted through the city on my mission to the most southern parish in the county.
Processions and dog fights
I had to dodge a procession of Elizabethan re-enactors coming through the city, so it wasn’t just the churches which provided the entertainment on the ride. Barton parish church was just waving off a happy wedding couple as I arrived, so I squeezed past the guests to quickly sign on and take my shot. Haslingfield were in the middle of their Scarecrow Festival which included scarecrow Shrek, scarecrow Gruffalo and numerous others on benches, in hedges, up poles or in barrows. Barrington is only a short ride away, but the hill in between is famed for its ferocity and sapped my already weakened legs. They were launching teddies with parachutes from their tower, but the cool church contained the fresh drinks and biscuits I was now craving to keep me going. There were dog fights between antique planes in the skies over Duxford as the air show was in full swing, the roads lined with spectators.
I slipped out of the county for a few miles in order to stay on the quiet roads which were now rolling hills rather than the pan-flat of the fens, slowing my pace considerably. I felt slightly sneaky as I signed on to the Hertfordshire Trust’s sheet in Barley, but just at the top of the next hill I was back in Cambridgeshire, or so the helpful person manning the church assured me, despite the fact they have a Hertfordshire postcode and I was recording my visit on an Essex Trust register!
This was also the high point of my ride, not just because I had completed my mission to ride the length of the county, but because I was at the physically highest point. I had risen nearly 150m from my starting point at sea level, so the ride back to Cambridge was going to be, almost, all downhill. I had a few more churches to collect on the way so stopped at Heydon where a brief history of the church is inscribed above the door, Shelford with its porch-cum-conservatory and Whitlesford’s hidden gem with most cheerful, welcoming helpers.
I arrived in Cambridge with a little time to spare so I continued collecting, now picking up less architecturally distinctive places of worship as I headed to journey’s end. At five minutes to six I rolled up to St Martin’s, Cambridge to resounding cheers from the young families’ group which were meeting there and my own waiting family. I had completed 94 miles and collected 56 churches in a ride which lasted over 7.5 hours. I’m still collecting sponsorship, but it looks like I will pass the £500 mark by the time it is all in, a figure I never would have thought possible as I started out on this adventure. The only regret is that my headlong rush left so little time to appreciate the beautiful buildings; there are many I will be returning too with more time in my hands.