2000+ miles’ cycling for Help for Heroes

14th May 2010

After 39 years’ service in the Army, I have three times experienced the excellent treatment and rehabilitation offered to our wounded service men and women – in RAMC Woolwich and Salisbury hospitals and by the staff at Headley Court.

I may be 75 years old now but I think it’s never too late to try and give something back. Headley Court and Selly Oak Hospital desperately need extra funds for their work, so I aim to raise money for Help for Heroes who are providing it.

My current challenge, which began on 25 April, is to spend 35 days cycling from Land’s End to John O’ Groats and back – around 2000 miles – alone and without back-up, survival gear on the bike (so no costs).
==> Update: I have now decided to extend my route to describe a huge triangle that takes in Land’s End, John O’ Groats and Headley Court in Surrey. <==

Every penny you give – and a penny-a-mile is £20 – will be most gratefully received by Help for Heroes on behalf of our wounded service men and women. If you would like to help, please donate using the link below. On behalf of Help for Heroes, many thanks in advance for your support.

Chris Irven

Here are the important links. I press "Ctrl" when clicking a link to open it in a new window:

My aim is to raise much-needed funds for Help for Heroes

==> Please click here if you would like to sponsor me!

A Google map of my 2000+ mile cycle route for H4H (a work in progress – future route first)

Advertisements

2010 in review

02nd January 2011

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health: “http://s0.wp.com/i/annual-recap/meter-healthy3.gif&#8221; = “Healthy blog”!The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads “Fresher than ever”.

Crunchy numbers

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s. In 2010, there were 39 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 39 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 65mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was May 14th with 162 views. The most popular post that day was “https://chrisirven.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/11/with-a-grandchild/”>with a grandchild.

Where did they come from? The top referring sites in 2010 were helpforheroes.org.uk/, en.wordpress.com, healthfitnesstherapy.com, dating-online2u.blogspot.com, and obama-scandal-exposed.co.cc.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for chrisirven.wordpress.com, chris irven blog, chris irven, chris irven 2000 miles, and climbing breeches.


A Pilgrim’s Afterthoughts

21st July 2010

Wed 28 Apr 10

I have now passed 200 miles. After re-tensioning the chain-wheel cable the bike is working well. However, the load over the back wheel with little damping load over the front introduces a resonance at speeds over 30 mph and an instability at speeds below 6 mph. This can be quite worrying, especially climbing steep hills when wobbling in overtaking traffic is dangerous. A constant low-level background fear of being knocked off builds up. It’s quite like the feeling of being on patrol – jungle ambush, or presumably IEDs in Afghanistan – sudden events beyond one’s control. This was quite appropriate to my purpose on this journey, wanting to experience in some small way what the soldiers in Afghanistan feel: exhaustion, pain, exhilaration – and fear. It gave a kind of connection to the project.

Lasting throughout the day, this fear of overtaking traffic is now uppermost in my mind, more than my concern about hills. It’s a sign that I’m getting stronger. Perhaps when I’m more used to the traffic the hills will regain their pre-eminence in my thoughts. The hills in Devon and Cornwall are tough. Cornwall redefines hills. Cornish towns and villages always seem to be built in dells, more than on the tops of hills as Mediterranean villages are, perhaps because the latter were more concerned about defence; but it amounts to the same thing for the cyclist: quaint but loathsome. My experience going west over Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor persuaded me to avoid the A30 on the return section. It runs slap through them. I would take a longer but, I hoped, flatter route round the northern boundary, even though my legs were getting stronger by the day.

Fri 7 May 10

Every pilgrimage I’ve done so far – and this was my fourth – has had a hidden lesson not guessed before setting out. It usually came clear well downstream. Today, one third the way into my journey at Carlisle, a clear understanding of my motive dawned on me. I had asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Short of martyrdom, every act we humans do has mixed motives, but there is usually one stronger than the others. Certainly one of my motives was to test myself: I’d always looked for challenges. But was that the reason this time? From the start I had said I wanted to show wholehearted support for our soldiers in their recovery from their wounds. Gradually it had been dawning on me that there was more to it: I wanted solidarity with their hopes and fears even before they became casualties. When we do that we have to share their suffering in some way, share the weight of the cross. It’s called compassion. I realized that’s why I’d been doing it the hard way, trying to find the mix of fear and tiredness, pain and uncertainty, laughter, joy and hope. In doing so I might act as a focus for the wellspring of public support in the country and raise money for Help for Heroes. Before leaving, a monk had asked whether I was looking for self-punishment. My answer was an emphatic ‘No’. I try to minimise pain or, if inevitable, accept it as part of the deal. My initial idea had not after all been far off the mark. This was my sharing; my choice; my pilgrimage.

Later, in the long drag up to Slochd Summit south of Inverness, these lofty contemplations were interrupted. I became aware of a new sharp pain vying for my attention in the soles of my feet. ‘Hello, soles of my feet. Your complaint is duly noted. Now piss off.’ It occurred to me that conversing with the soles of my feet could point to a mind finally unhinged. But I was past caring; I had to breast Slochd Summit.

Fri 28 May 10

I must admit that sometimes, when the going got tough, to being quite angry with God. This had worried me. But on reflection I realized I was like a small child who had stubbed his toe, hitting out at his father. Dads are supposed to be strong and able to do anything: why had he let me stub my toe? And of course, as a father I know my reaction would be to gather my son into my arms and comfort him. If that was true for me as a father, it was a hundred times more true of God my Father. As I was thinking about this I realized my prayers were like the psalms. Some were full of love and praise for the beauty of creation. Some were cries for help, deep from the heart. Others were full of pain and complaint that God was not listening, the ‘stubbed toe’ variety. I hope and trust God sees them like that.

Sun 30 May 10

I arrived home yesterday, Saturday 29 May. I had been told that my wife Molly, who was being looked after in France by one of my daughters, Catherine and her family, was not well and had been taken to hospital for specialist attention. I therefore booked the first available flight on Monday 31 May to be with her. For this reason, I will have to leave the final ‘tidying up’ of the account of this journey, and the assembling of all the money collected from the various sources to be sent to Help for Heroes, until she is well enough to return to England with me. In the meantime I want everyone to know how enormously grateful I am for the quite astonishing support of my challenge in so many ways. I promise in time to write a full and detailed account, thanks to the notes recorded by my son and my own jottings day by day, and to publish them on this website. Once again, my heartfelt thanks. Chris Irven


2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 35 – 29 May

19th June 2010

Saturday 29 May

Odometer – 2038 miles. Amesbury – Gillingham (29 miles).

The B&B had been excellent. But more than that, the owner refused to accept a penny in payment, in recognition of my efforts for Help for Heroes. (I took this to be a gift to me, not to Help for Heroes. There are two ways I categorize donations: to me personally if the giver makes that clear, and all the rest go entirely to Help for Heroes. Each night I tot up the day’s gifts to Help for Heroes and note them down, before adding the money to my own. At the end of the ride I will add up all the days’ takings and send a cheque to Help for Heroes.)

I had 29 miles left to run before reaching Gillingham by noon, so I allowed myself 3 hours and set off at 0855 hrs. It was raining, and as the morning went on it dried up for a while before continuing as a steady rainfall until just before I reached Gillingham. There was a small group at Milton-on-Stour who hailed me joyfully as I rolled up. Among them were the two Gillingham PCSOs, Nicky and Pete. (Later, I was told that Pete – who had met me completely by chance in Cornwall – had confided to Nicky that he doubted I would ever complete the ride, so shattered did I look. So it was good to find him waiting for me at Milton.) I then rode on into Gillingham followed by my police escort, up to the town hall and British Legion. There a great welcome awaited me. First, there were some of the family – Vicky, faithful as ever; sisters Janet and Liz and her husband Chris. Then there was the Lady Mayor, and Lee Mason the president of the British Legion branch who welcomed me. They gave me a framed certificate from the British Legion in recognition of my contribution to Royal British Legion’s and my common cause, the welfare of our soldiers, sailors and airmen. I was also presented with a bottle of Moët et Chandon – which I did not spray over the assembled people as is the response of racing drivers and other such ill-mannered folk. I accepted both with delight and thanked everybody for turning out to greet me. Jake Francis-Jones, a retired naval officer, said they were only there for the beer; but what can one expect from a matelot? There was also a section of smartly turned out army cadets. One of them had already decided to join the Rifles. The scoutmaster was there who gave me a warm welcome. From my church there were Fathers Martin and David with Betty, and many others from the church as well as from the other churches in the town. And I was delighted to see some old friends such as the O’Briens and Adrienne Kimber… so many others it is impossible to name them all, so forgive me if you are not on the roll of honour! Your presence was heart-warming, I promise you.

James Mackain-Bremner started a whip-round raising £230, bringing my total road takings to £950. This well illustrates the generosity of all the people I had met. Having drunk some very fine beer from the beer fest and talked to many people there, I said goodbye and cycled back to my house where I parked the long-suffering bike. James then collected Vicky and me and took us to lunch in his farmhouse, where Anna and the three girls joined us on returning from a walk. We had a delicious cold lunch, with much laughter and talk about what had been happening in the last five weeks. Vicky then drove me home where we began to sort ourselves out.

It had been a great home-coming. In the night I was racked by cramps which had made an unwelcome return.

The journey had taken 35 full days, of which 31 full days were cycling. The distance cycled was 2,050 miles or 3,298 kilometres if you’re a fan of Napoleon. So the average per cycling day was 66 miles – not great, but fair enough in view of the weight of the loaded bike… (and the age of the rider?) The longest day was 102 miles.

If you haven’t already had enough then look out for my afterthoughts in the coming days.


2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 34 – 28 May

19th June 2010

Friday 28 May

Odometer – 2009 miles. (night at Reading) Hook – Amesbury (41 miles).

This was a day of exhilaration and hope, a suitable finale to all the highs and lows, the ups and downs (literally), the pain and pleasure, frustrations, desperations and joys of this pilgrimage – probably the hardest of the four I have done. As I have said before, a journey like this is a perfect cameo of life, the pilgrimage we all have to make. The more fully we enter into it the more completely human we become; because avoiding its pains and cherry-picking its pleasures is simply not an option. Only a wholehearted acceptance of the package deal will cut the mustard. How each of us comes to terms with this adventure we are born into will depend on our character, background and beliefs. For me, the perfect example of how to do it is found in the life of Jesus and his journeying through Palestine with his small gathering of close friends. One of the uncertainties I had to face nearly every day as the sun sank low was where I would spend the night. The anxiety grew as the dusk closed in; and sometimes the only answer was to sleep rough under the stars. I would look for cover from the wind and from casual observation – the soldier’s word for such cover is a hide – and find a level piece of ground with an indentation for my hip, without which sleep is difficult. Then kick away the stones, spread the Gore-Tex bivouac bag with the sleeping bag inside and crawl in out of the cold with torch, knife, water and phone. Each time those words of Jesus came to mind: ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ I would commit myself and those I loved to God and fall asleep.
.
I had already cycled through Headley Court the previous day so we drove to the Cock Inn, our lunch RV in Headley. My daughters Fiona and Madeleine were already there, with Madeleine’s three children, and later we were joined by my cousin Mary. It was a lovely reunion. We ordered lunch, but it took so long that I only had 20 minutes to eat it and get back to Headley Court where I was due to join a party for a conducted tour. I got there a bit late, but needn’t have worried: others were even later. Soon a lieutenant colonel arrived to take us round. There were about fifteen of us from various organizations: medics, designers of special equipment, other charities and six connected with Help for Heroes – including two young ladies from the organisation who made themselves known to me and said they had been following my progress. Apparently, I was the current most profitable challenger, and frankly, this astonished me. There were also three young men supporting Help for Heroes by cycling coast-to-coast across the USA, 3250 miles. Sensibly, they would have a support team. They asked me about long-distance cycling, especially the factors deciding rate of progress, and I was able to help them. I admired their enterprise which was in the planning phase, and was envious of their excitement.

We spent 1½ hours being shown every aspect of the place. It is a magnificent Elizabethan-Jacobean house set in splendid grounds with many additional buildings for new facilities coming available. It was left first to the RAF and is now used by all three services as a centre of excellence for getting soldiers back on their feet. I was there as a patient many years ago and much of it I remembered, but there have also been huge advances with modern fitness machines and cutting-edge medical technology. The staff, covering many disciplines from neurosurgery to physiotherapy, are world class. The aim is to get each soldier able to lead as fulfilling, normal and independent a life as possible by the time he or she leaves. Every patient is given a recovery programme unique to his or her needs. We saw one soldier who had suffered sever brain damage, but had some definite motor faculties for which new equipment was being produced from the drawing board for his needs. Prosthetic limbs are designed and programmed precisely for the individual – at £17,000 a limb. But this is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of full lifetime care that would have to be provided if he could not eventually walk. The whole atmosphere was as I remembered it – upbeat and hopeful. The place is inspiring, as are the people it serves.

One other parallel that a pilgrimage has with life is the people one meets on the way. Making allowances for the natural everyday irritations that can make our relationships gritty at times, out of the dozens of people I met, I can only remember meeting two who were not, deep down, just plain good. Every single one of them was in some way or other worth dying for. (That last comment came straight off the end of my pen and the truth of it has hit me between the eyes.) By and large, despite the news media, humanity of its nature is potentially very good. That is not to deny the existence of terrible evil in the world, but merely to show it up as an unnatural aberration, like cancer. This may sound naïve, but it was a source of constant encouragement to me. Today, within 5 minutes, I was pulled over by two cars, as had often happened.

Car 1: ‘Are you Chris?’
‘Er, yes.’
‘Chris Evans and Ken Bruce on Radio 2 have told us to stop you and give you money.
Here you are, mate. You’re bloody marvellous.’

Car 2: ‘I spotted you on the road. Were you in the Army?’
‘You bet.’
…….
‘I was in Air Defence – 12 Regiment, in the Gulf war.’
‘So was I! Attached to 10 Battery.’

And so the conversation went on, ending in another note being stuffed into my hand. The heart sings.

And that was how it had been the entire journey: people going out of their way to support and help. At heart, people are just plain good. But I have jumped ahead a bit. After the tour of Headley Court it was getting late – later than predicted – and I realized it would be impossible for me to reach Amesbury that night if I started cycling from where I had stopped the previous evening. If I failed to get to Amesbury I would not make Gillingham on Saturday noon where a reception had been laid on. I therefore decided I would have to restart my journey at Hook instead of Woking: it would still exceed the target of 2,000 miles. I therefore called up Vicky and Andy in the van and they dropped me at Hook from where I resumed my journey.

The going was good, but even so, in the hours left to me, I only reached my B&B in Amesbury by 2100 hrs. I had warned the owner by mobile telephone that I would be late and he said that it was not a problem. He made me most comfortable and I slept well that night, albeit a little hungry as I had had no supper. My mileage had reached 2,009 and tomorrow would be my last day. It was an exciting thought.


2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 33 – 27 May

19th June 2010

Thursday 27 May

Odometer – 1980 miles. Ware – Woking (night at Reading) (60 miles).

The day dawned overcast with drizzling rain. I set off after breakfast 0830 hrs and it was quite cold, but by mid-morning it had dried out and by 1300 hrs the sun had broken through, with a light wind.

My route took me down the Roman road, round the inner ring road to the City of London, crossing Tower Bridge at noon, and onto the A24 towards Epsom. Compared to Edinburgh, the road surfaces were a doddle and the road signing excellent. Unlike Edinburgh, the density of traffic and the huge number of traffic lights made it necessary constantly to stop and start, but I made good progress and rewarded myself by stopping at an Italian restaurant in Balham or Clapham for lunch. I couldn’t face any more junk food, and ordered a hotpot of mushrooms and garlic and herbs in a small copper saucepan, with 2 glasses of good red wine. I deserved it, and the bill was very reasonable. While waiting for it I phoned daughters Annabel (who was in Greece) and Fiona, who told me I had been discussed by Ken Bruce and Chris Evans on Radio 2. Heaven knows how they got hold of my challenge, but I was most grateful for the money-generating publicity. I must remember to thank them when I get home.

I pressed on through London. Quite suddenly the towns, seamlessly linked that make up this great city, began to separate and thin into suburbs – Merton, Cheam, Ewell and so on. I followed signs to Epsom, caught sight of one to Headley and took it. This was a mistake: I should have stuck to the route I had mapped out. The countryside was now becoming increasingly horsey, with stables and paddocks and glimpses of the racecourse through the trees, and some very expensive houses protecting their owners from intruders with huge remotely-controlled gates. But hardly a soul in sight! Headley turned out to be a few scattered houses, bad roads and tall trees. I had spent a long time unsuccessfully looking for a sign to Headley Court when I spotted a workman. He directed me to it, and suddenly there it was. I clocked in at the guardroom at about 1515 hrs and explained my business. The guard commander was pleased to see me and asked if I would like to be shown round, but I explained I had a prearranged guided tour the next day and more miles to put in today; so he told me how to get back onto the main road and I cycled off.

I then cycled on as far as I could in the time left to me. When I reached the area of Woking at 1945 hrs, it was getting late so I called daughter Vicky and fiancé Andy who collected me in the van and took me to the house of Andy’s parents in Reading. We noted the pick-up point and said that that would be my start point for tomorrow’s cycling. I was introduced to Andy’s parents, Tom and Pauline, who were most kind and welcoming. After a meal and a bath, I slept like a log. It had been quite a hard day.


2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 32 – 26 May

13th June 2010

The more alert among you will have noticed the radio silence of the last 13 days. Two reasons: 1. The Editor has been away and then very busy with half-term and audits. 2. I have had to rush to my wife Molly’s bed side in France after a kind of minor heart failure from which she is now recovering, thank God. Anyway, life goes on so here follows the next instalment of my journey.

Wednesday 26 May

Odometer – 1920 miles. Nassington – Ware (70 miles).

Woke at 05:30. Sorted myself out quietly, Deefer Dog following me wherever I went in this ancient Prebendal Manor, staring at me on the loo. Then I had breakfast with the rest of the household. James set off, leading me through winding lanes to the Roman road which joins Ermine Street (the Great North Road) running parallel to the A1 (the best road surface of the whole journey so far). We parted at the top of Ermine Street. The countryside is lovely, English and cool (atmosphere, temperature, psychologically). After some miles, I met Niall Fitzgerald, by appointment. He took some footage and we set off , chatting away. At lunch we stopped at the Queen Adelaide (God bless her) in Croydon, Cambs (?) – a really excellent meal. On the way, I had snarled my gears and Niall had unravelled them. The receptionist, quite rightly, said we could have no food until our hands were clean. We were sent to the Gents and on our return were told to turn our hands over so she could inspect both sides before we were permitted to eat. Then Niall had to go at Royston – something about an appointment for an interview with a hairdresser – I don’t know, the modern world moves too fast for me. So I cycled on to Ware where two old gents sent me to the Old Vic (“it usually has rooms”) and it had, for £35 with breakfast.

I had arrived at 18:30 after 10 ½ hours’ cycling. I went to the local Tandoori because in my experience Indian restaurants have always provided good food and service. This one was true to form… “Le Spice Merchant” (I didn’t ask). The Manager, Mr Imran Chandahadry, approached during poppadom and chutney while I was writing my log.
“Excuse me; I see you are cycling for Help for Heroes. Were you a soldier?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Me too.”
He was the third of four generations of soldiers. His grandfather was in the 17th Lancers, a fact of which he was very proud. He himself joined and became a Sgt Major in the British Army before transferring to the Bangladeshi Army and getting commissioned. His son is also commissioned in the same, as is his daughter. We saluted each other. He contributed £10 on the spot and asked for an explicit receipt as a souvenir and memento. I had to insist on paying for the meal – we were soldiers and equals. On my way out, I passed some people next to the door who had been talking about H4H and Headley Court (I gather it’s been in the news); one leaned forward and donated another fiver.

On my way to Ware, a man drove past, pulled over and got out. He was built like the proverbial door of a municipal convenience. He crushed my hand and asked what I was doing, so I thought I’d better tell him.
“I’m going to tell all my work colleagues about you. And persuade them to fork out.”
I didn’t think many would decline his invitation, even if they did play in the front row of his particular rugger team. He was mid-forties; short dark hair; tall, wide and… gigantic. Total given today was about £38. Total given on the journey so far has been £700.

A sticky moment in Royston: at a pinch in the road, a lorry from behind decided not to wait and edged closer and closer, eventually grazing the handle bars, causing me to wobble. As he pulled away, I just managed to stay upright. The car behind was outraged and roared off in pursuit of the lorry.

Ed: To bed now; stay tuned for the next instalment. If you’ve been meaning to, why not visit the Just Giving site below. Having exceeded the £6000 target, and with at least £2000 received elsewhere, Chris is trying to reach £10,000!


2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 31 – 25 May

30th May 2010

I just thought I’d mention that the marvellous Sandside Estate where I stayed with Charlie and Tamara on Saturday 15 May is well described on this web site: Sandside Estate

Tuesday 25 May

Odometer – 1920 miles. Sleaford – Nassington (38 miles).

This was an easy, delightful, day of 36 miles culminating at The Prebendal Manor, Nassington.
James Baile, a friend of my son Andrew, cycled out to meet and escort me back to the manor where he looked after me right royally while Deefer Dog (a Border Collie) was my constant companion. Deefer, I was told, “owned” a platoon of sheep in an adjacent field which she spent much of her time marshalling, moving the confused creatures from one corner to another for no apparent reason other than to keep her paw in.
The Prebendal Manor was connected both with the local church and Lincoln Diocese and Cathedral. The present stone manor house, dating from the early 13th century, stands on an historic site which includes two medieval fishponds and archaeological and historical evidence of one of king Cnut’s royal timber halls. Alongside the Manor House, there lie a 16th century dovecote, a large 18th century tithe barn and a 15th century lodgings building. This astonishing site is open to the public – The Prebendal Manor House. While Mrs Baile lives in the manor house, James and Sheila and their two children live in the lodgings building. I have been amazed to learn that the Prebendal site has been used and occupied since early prehistoric times.
Anyway, back to the present. James, a keen cyclist, serviced my bike and installed a new odometer. Many thanks, James! In the evening, I joined him at a faith group meeting which heard a talk about the Chester Mystery Plays which we all enjoyed. I left the meeting shortly before the very end to go and sort out my things. When James returned, he brought with him a small bowl full of cash from the meeting; they had all donated £85. I went to bed full of happiness and contentment and, as I pondered the day’s events, Deefer Dog nosed open the door and lay down beside the bed in order to see that her guest came to no harm during the night. What more could a man ask?


2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 30 – 24 May

30th May 2010

Monday

Odometer – 1882 miles. Selby – Sleaford (78 miles).

This was a very long day of 12 hours and 78 miles. I got away in good time from my neat little bivouac site outside Selby, cycling past the Drax power station to Goole, along winding lanes to Scunthorpe. I was just becoming quite pleased with my route finding when I got lost in that fair town… but fortunately not for long before finding my way out towards that extraordinary Roman Road that is the A15. The going was generally good with a few significantly broken patches, a light south-westerly wind and it was moderately warm. I made pretty good progress. The land was an agri-desert – a flat landscape, straight road and villages set well back on either side. At least, unlike some of the great arable regions of France, there are scraps of woodland and the occasional decent hedgerow. I stopped at a Travelodge in Sleaford. It was £57 but I badly needed a wash and flat bed. I crossed the tarmac for a meal at the Little Chef. I ordered a hot pie. When it quickly arrived, covered in an industrial sludge, I discovered it was stone cold in the middle. Although, ravenously hungry, I couldn’t eat it and spoke to the dining room receptionist who said not to worry – she’d take it off my bill. Subsequently, I learnt that a couple of women with whom I had been chatting earlier had paid my bill in full on the way out; and it was too late before I realised that the receptionist had pulled a fast one on me.
In contrast, today I received £57 in donations from a number of people. To recall, I am covering my own expenses; all donations will be paid to Help for Heroes in full.


Climbing in 1990 – pics from the archive

30th May 2010

We found these pictures from the archive of Chris climbing in another era, 20 years ago. Even then, his gear was Jurassic. Commentary from his son Andrew and friend Nick, with whom Chris was climbing.


1. Preparing for a climb in the French Alps c. 1990. Camping at Les Chosalets campsite in Argentiere. Note the ex-army rucksack, and Dad’s favourite climbing breeches. Dad commented to Fuzz and me how clothing had progressed as we were climbing in tracksters. Note also the “A” frame tents in the background which these days are a thing of the past.
2. Pausing in the Vallée Blanche. You can see a couple of other tents in the background. A magical place. Cooling off in the midday sun. Roped up and approaching the Cosmiques ridge that takes you to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi.
3. The Vallée Blanche again; a superb and enormous bowl high up surrounded by peaks of the Chamonix Aiguilles. The hole in the snow was our access to unfrozen drinking water (of sorts). Dad filling up the water bottles for the following day before it freezes over night.
4. Morning preparations for a crack at the Cosmiques Ridge after a bivouac at the foot of the climb. Note the strap-on crampons (very old technology!) and the Whillans sit harness, guaranteed to ensure no further children should you be unlucky enough to take a fall in it. I am sure he still has it lurking somewhere. Also the classic Joe Brown climbing helmet. This stuff would not look out of place in a Mountaineering Museum. Dad proving however that it’s not what you wear, it’s what you tackle and achieve that counts.
5. On the Cosmiques Ridge itself, a great climb on mixed ground; wonderful Cham granite (or “grornit” as Dad would say) and interspersed with snow and ice pitches. The climb culminates at the viewing platform of the cable car station. One feels quite smug while tourists take you photo as you clamber, as dignified as possible, over the safety rail. Dad had a small bloodied, cut on his finger, which is not uncommon on granite, and a kindly Japanese tourist whipped out a plaster and administered first aid even before he could put down his ice axe!
6. R&R day at the campsite, again note ex-army ’58 mug. What do you think of the dormobile awning with the cute curtains?!


2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 29 – 23 May

24th May 2010

Sunday – Pentecost

Odometer – 1704 miles. Northallerton – Ampleforth – Selby (23+35 miles)

Today has been a superb day. I have reached Selby and am settled into a secret bivouac in a wood just off the bypass. No one has seen me go in, I’m sure, but I keep knife and phone (switched on) inside my sleeping bag.

I left the Station Hotel in Northallerton at 7am, spitting tacks. I had wanted to leave earlier but my bike was locked in the garage and no one could be found to open it up. Nevertheless, on a glorious morning, I covered the 23 miles and arrived at Ampleforth just in time to gather my wits, meet my son, Paul, with his wife and children and join them in the Abbey Church for the monastery and school Mass of Pentecost at 10am. I had cycled 103 miles since my last square meal but I couldn’t have been happier. After Mass, under Fr Chad’s organisation, I gave a 30-minute talk to 50 or so students and a few parents about what I was up to. People seemed genuinely interested and asked thoughtful questions. We then move to a barbecue lunch, overseen by Miss Fuller and cooked by the Upper Sixth in my granddaughter’s house, St. Margaret’s, which was not only most congenial but vital, being my only meal since yesterday’s breakfast. Fr Hugh organised some fruit, photographers and (the icing on the cake) three traditionally clad Bagpipers from St. Hugh’s. A dozen children from St. Martin’s Ampleforth (the prep school at Gilling) joined the farewell party. It was absolutely super! Here are some pictures:

I set off again towards York at 2:45pm with renewed heart, strength and spirit. There were some initial steep climbs and, before I left the valley, I stopped to take a farewell photo of the Abbey and campus, looking back through a hedge from high ground. Memories from 57 years ago came flooding back of borrowing a farmer’s horse with a friend when I was in the school and, two-up on the long-suffering beast, clomping along the same road to get up to no good. I arrived in York at 5pm and pulled into a pub for water. I ordered ½ a pint of beer to pacify the publican and chatted for a while with people at the bar. On my way out, people eating at a table stopped me, asked for my story and made a donation. It turns out that one woman’s son-in-law had just returned from Afghanistan. I encounter such connections in almost every town I stop in. I reached Selby bypass at 7pm and have now managed to transfer into cover without being seen. Good night on this day of the Holy Spirit!