For those who have a mild addiction to riding their bikes, and enjoy discovering hidden architectural gems often tucked away out of sight in our rural communities, the Historic Churches Trust sponsored cycle rides are an excellent way of combining the two. And when I say ‘hidden gems’ I really do mean that, because many villages are sited on looped roads that through traffic will bypass and seldom discover, and several churches (particularly in East
Northamptonshire) are sited up to half a mile from the village, and often along a rough, stony gated track that easily dissuades the passer-by from paying a visit. Furthermore, the majority of village churches are kept locked, and only open once or twice a month for their Sunday services.
On the day of the sponsored rides you can guarantee that most (but not all) will be open, and will sometimes be attended by a local parishioner or church warden who can fill you in on some of the history, some of the local notable families and, sometimes, on some of the village gossip. All very entertaining.
On Saturday September 10th I cycled the lanes of Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, covering 76 miles and visiting 32 churches………a bit like bagging Munros in Scotland, really. But here is a selection of some of the serendipitous encounters on the journey: meeting the mother of girls I had taught back in the 1980s and discovering that one of them is now mother of four children; being the first cyclist to sign in and brighten a church guardian’s
day; finding a huge basket of fresh fruit in the porch of a remote church; chancing on an art exhibition in a redundant church that included a ‘golem‘ (google it!); listening to the organist practise some of his repertoire in Oundle School Chapel, and being astonished by a painting bequeathed by a former master of the school; finding a fully functioning church that is nothing but a Chancel; encountering a
former pupil whom I had taken to China on a school trip 10 years ago; stopping by a remote church that was hosting a wedding, and meeting the new, recently licensed vicar who had just taken the wedding service.
If you haven’t tried combining a love of cycling with discovering the recondite corners of your ‘neck of the woods’ I would recommend it highly.