Heat. Stifling, enveloping, energy-sapping humidity. That was the main feature of my first of two days cycling to the Peak District from Horspath in July. This year I had decided to split a 140-mile ride into two. On day one I had a lovely start, gently cycling along the Wheatley road and taking in the view of the Chilterns before meeting a lovely group of well-wishers at Horspath Church for a send-off. I set off at 8 a.m. and the day was already warm as I went through Wheatley, Forest Hill, Stanton, Islip and onwards to the North. As the morning heated up my first problem emerged. If I am to stay rehydrated on the hottest day of the year on 30° C plus heat I will need an awful lot of water. So much water in fact that I cannot possibly carry it on my back, nor on the bike, and buying it as I go will prove both expensive and unreliable (if I cannot find a shop, as happened on the way to Hereford last year!) But then, as I passed through Sandford St. Martin, I had an idea. Where can I find help, a cool spot out of the sunlight and, crucially, water? The church! Churches will be my sanctuary on this journey. So I pulled up by the lichgate of Sandford Church and my hopes are fulfilled. On the pathway was an outside tap. I replenished my water bottle, drinking the whole lot, and refilled it before entering the church to cool off and sit down for my first break.
Now refreshed and encouraged by the realisation that churches could offer me the best assistance and salvation, I continued with more confidence. I needed to head for Warwickshire and as I approached the area pf Warwick and Coventry the landscape became more built up and urban. One of my biggest difficulties of the first day was encountering Warwick University Campus. I had no idea how huge this place is and how difficult it is, even using my satnav to find my way out of it again. Round and round the different departments and faculties I went with many new buildings going up. Eventually I found my way out and had my (second!) lunch in a beautiful Warwickshire churchyard.
My first day ended around 5 p.m. as I entered the town of Coleshill and a very welcome hotel. There was no air conditioning in my room but, thank goodness, there was a fan which began to cool me down. I left it on all night to keep my temperature down as I slumbered. Food and drink tasted very good that evening.
The next morning I awoke to a flat tyre! Was this a deliberate act of vandalism by a passer-by or simply bad luck? I changed the tyre quickly and pedalled on as soon as I could before the heat of the day arrives. But I needn’t have worried for this second day was cooler, with a light breeze. I could enjoy the country lanes as I moved up through Tamworth, Staffordshire and South Derbyshire. I had time in hand and stop at Uttoxeter for lunch and a coffee before entering the dales in the early afternoon. These were the biggest of all the hills I encountered. I stopped to take in the breath-taking views of the White Peak before I coasted down to Ilam and then into Hartington village by 4 p.m. to meet Emma, Katie and Thomas at St. Giles’ Church there. We celebrated with tea and cake at the Beresford tearooms and then with dinner at the wonderful Devonshire Arms.
All-in-all it was a wonderful ride and taking two days made it twice as good. Maybe next year I can take three days and head further up to Yorkshire? Who knows! But the moral of the story is – if you need sanctuary and refuge, refreshment and shelter as well as a cool, quiet place to gather your thoughts and regain your energy to carry on – find a church!
by Jonathan Arnold