The inaugural annual ‘spires and spokes’ heritage bike ride was completed on 26th September 2020. Raising money for The Churches Conservation Trust, Graham and Colin cycled a 75km route around Leicestershire, stopping at several churches of national and international historical significance now owned by the CCT. The ride raised just over £300 for the CCT’s vital conservation work.
Our day began with a drive to our starting point at Tickencote. Finding a convenient parking spot outside St. Peter’s we went in to gawp at the incredible 12th-century chancel arch, vaulted roof and font. This was Colin’s first taste of the English Romanesque and we took lots of photographs.
At about 10.15am we began the eight-mile ride to Burley on the Hill. Despite its name, the route to Burley was flat(ish) but the wind was howling and the sky threatened rain. Arriving at Burley in good time, we were warmly welcomed by the famous ‘Burley Ladies’ who really are as nice as the reputation that precedes them! They donated five pounds in cash and gave us a short tour of the church of Holy Cross, including the gorgeous statue of Lady Charlotte Finch, governess to King George III’s children and inventor of the jigsaw puzzle! No time for chatting though – we can both ‘talk for England’, there were five more churches to visit and another 42 miles to ride.
And so to Withcote Chapel, pausing briefly for a pit-stop at Rutland Sports in Oakham for extra socks – Graham was experiencing frosty toes, having not anticipated the effects of the chilly wind on the feet and owning only several pairs of old ‘holy’ socks (forgive the ecclesiastical pun).
Stopping again to fire up the satnav after a dodgy road sign led us astray, we arrived at Withcote at 12.30pm; not before I’d warned Colin about the guard dogs who had historically patrolled the adjacent smallholding, barking furiously at passers-by. However, the hall at Withcote was surrounded by heras fencing, the fabulous old house shrouded in scaffolding, its restoration probably long overdue from my recollection of previous visits in the days when I worked for the CCT. There was nobody about and no angry canine, ensuring a peaceful opportunity to sit in the chapel for a rest, grab some lunch and revisit the map. Thank you Colin for tasty homemade sandwiches!
Withcote Chapel is all about the 16th-century stained glass so before leaving we admired the artwork and lamented the boarded-up panel which had been stolen overnight only a few years ago (sigh)
So far, no rain! Onwards and up the steady gradient to Stapleford, one of the longest stretches of road for this ride at ten miles, with two or three nasty hills just to keep us on our pedals. We made good time, however and arrived at Stapleford at about 1.30pm to admire the monuments commemorating the Sherards, Earls of Harborough and beautifully created by the one-and-only John Michael Rysbrack.
Stepping outside St. Mary’s I realised I’d spoken too soon. There was a hint of rain – a harbinger of what was to come. But onwards!
After leaving Stapleford Park, our next section of road was our shortest and brought us to the picturesque village of Freeby, literally just round the corner and a church I’d never visited! The ride so far had been full of highlights and Freeby was no exception. This was the day’s educational element. In St. Mary’s we were treated to an introduction to the Bats-in-Churches
project by Rachel. Here we met three bats, plenty of droppings and Rachel’s new telescopic ladder – a technical masterpiece. Bat droppings on this scale generally make me itch but we stayed a while because Rachel provided her usual warm smile, Fondant Fancies and hot coffee. Thank you for being there Rachel – we might not have finished the day without the sugar, the caffeine and your bags of encouragement!
The next five-mile stretch took us to our final planned stop for the day, St. Michael’s at Edmondthorpe, one of my all-time CCT favourites. Its atmosphere is overwhelming and Sir Roger Smith’s three-tiered alabaster monument is a sight to behold. Something a little more obscure in here too – the Romesse stove in St. Michael’s is of the type favoured by Florence Nightingale in her Balaclava hospital – fact! We examined the mighty medieval chancel screen and discussed the Reformation but alas, time was short, the light was fading and we could see the rain moving in from the east (through the east window).
Pedalling like fury against the elements we made for Tickencote via the village of Cottesmore…twice. We became muddled by the road signs and couldn’t see the satnav in the rain which by now had become torrential.
We also took a breather at Ashwell because the church there looked promising but not being in the CCT’s ownership it was locked up and in darkness. Churches are great when they’re open but the heavens aren’t so good when they do the same…and open they did! So we ate our bananas and left.
Retracing our wheels via our earlier route along the Burley Road seemed like an epoch but at just before 5pm and after 51 miles of road my Ford Mondeo came into sight, parked exactly where we’d left it, prompting us both to squeal with delight. We were windswept, soaked and a wee bit saddle-sore but overwhelmed by the sheer amount of fascinating history that we’d packed into this energetic and learned day.
Heading back down the A1 with four wheels and a roof we were desperate to get home, dry out and reflect on our ride over a cheeky beer or two!
Until next year…