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Cycling Home to Hereford - November 2016

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Another year and another sponsored bike ride.

But this time I decided to challenge myself. This ride was to be longer than all the others I had attempted.  From Horspath to Hereford it was a day I had long been looking forward to. I have written before about the meditative freedom of an exhilarating and all-consuming ride, about how the physical exertion and the passing countryside combine to create a contemplative concoction of endorphins and a quietening of the mind. But this time there was an urgency to the task that had me at once full of anticipation and anxiety that it could not be done. One of the consequences of this trepidation is that one does not sleep well the night before and the necessity of an early start meant that dawn arrived in its sleepy greyness as I lay awake awaiting it's breaking. So, with a hasty breakfast I left the house at 6.30 am and headed down the hill to Horspath. A quick selfie in front of the church and on through an Oxford city that was yet to wake. Through Farmoor and over the toll bridge I took the back roads to Witney and was delighted with my progress to arrive there by 9am. Burford was a swift hour away and I rewarded myself with a bite to eat and a drink. Having made the beauties of Burford by ten, already populated with weekend tourists, I thought it must be possible to be in Gloucester by lunch. This is where things started to unravel. For car drivers the road from Burford to Gloucester is a simple one. But for the cyclist, who wishes to avoid the main roads, it is not so easy. A geographical detour through Bibury, Chedworth and Birdlip took me up and down some steep and challenging Cotswold hills and I found myself in Gloucester by 2pm. I had to push on because Emma, Katie and Thomas had agreed to pick me up at Hereford Cathedral between 4 and 5pm. I still had over thirty miles and several hills to go and my legs were beginning to tire and I encountered my second big problem: dehydration. The problem with cycling on a Sunday in rural Herefordshire is that, if you run out of water, you may not easily find a shop from which to buy fresh supplies. By the time I had reached the region near my old home near Ross-on-Wye I was feeling faint and very thirsty and hungry - all my food and drink were gone and I felt like giving up. I was seriously in need of a miracle because cycling in my condition was becoming dangerous. It was then that I spied a mirage of hope. In the village of Upton Bishop I came across a pub called the Moody Cow. Even though it is only a few miles from my former home I had never been in it. By some trick of fortune it was still open in the mid afternoon. The large and friendly landlord took immediate pity on a panting, bedraggled wayfarer and offered to fill up my water bottle as I guzzled a pint of lime and soda, are a packet of salty crisps and waited for the black dots to stop moving in front of my eyes.

Refreshed I moved on with fifteen miles to go. At this point there was good and bad fortune. The bad fortune was that, with time against me I wanted to ring Emma and ask her to pick me up and take me home. I would have to admit defeat and that would be that. The good fortune is that Emma does not have a mobile phone so I could not ring her. I waited for her to ring me from a pay phone to see how I was getting on. She did not. There was nothing for it but to carry on, as fast as my very weary legs would take me, through Fownhope, Mordiford and, foot by gruelling foot, to the outskirts of Hereford - a journey I had done hundreds of time by bus and car when I was at school in this provincial town, but never from such a far distance fuelled only by my own strength. 

Eleven hours from my starting time I arrived at the cathedral and the children rushed to greet me. Poor Emma had waited and waited, not even able to see the cathedral, which was closed for a special service. So that was it. Not so much a tale of serene contemplation but a story of perseverance. I will leave you to form any life-improving parable from my yarn but what I know is this: not giving up and finishing felt better than defeat would have done; my body was more capable of endurance than I thought; and hot chips with salt and vinegar from a Hereford chippy taste fantastic when you've  cycled a hundred miles!

Jonathan cycled from Horspath to Hereford on Sunday 18th September to raise money for St. Giles' Church. If you like to sponsor him retrospectively please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it