John Peet, former General Secretary of L'Arche UK, is hoping to raise £30,000 by cycling 1500 miles around the UK and visiting every L'Arche Community and Project on the way. The money will go to L'Arche in Zimbabwe, where funds are so desperately needed just to keep the Community going, and to the Projects in Glasgow and Manchester that, with your help, will soon become L'Arche Communities.

Monday 15th July

Route: Canterbury to Barfrestone
Distance: 12.12 miles

Weather: Perfect

Rode from The Rainbow with Eddie, Alex, Zuzanna, Liisa, and Kathrin the last 12 miles to Little Ewell in brilliant sunshine, calling in at St Radigund's workshop on the way, arriving in Little Ewell to a great welcome. Thanks everyone who helped to make it a special arrival.

I can't believe I've done it. 1,754 miles in 33.5 days. What's next, I wonder....

The weather couldn't have been better as we sat in the spacious garden of Little Ewell which I had first visited 18 years ago. Here, the first L'Arche Community began thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury who made available the Old Rectory which became the first L'Arche UK Community founded by Ann and Geoffrey Morgan and Therese Vanier in 1974.

Since then the Community has developed in Canterbury itself with two houses, a craft workshop at St Radigunds and a house of prayer and rest, and another house in the nearby village Eythorne.

Thanks to Dean and Gillian, welcoming posters on a nearby gate and hedge had welcomed us and we wheeled in and broke the finishing tape again carefully prepared from the old perforated computer paper.

Members from the Well Spring day centre, as well as office staff and members of the co-ordinating team, joined us for a sandwich lunch in the idyllic garden. What a tremendous resource it is, nestling amidst mature trees and trimmed hedges in the depths of this quiet archetypal English village.

We then had a time of song, prayer and dance in what is known as the secret garden where an apple tree was planted for the millennium with a trinity of different types of fruit grafted to it representing the ecumenical character of the Community.

As Geoffrey carefully guided the motor mower over the extensive lawn, the local press photographer arrived to take some photos of a re-enactment of my arrival, after which we gathered again for tea for which Paul had baked a celebratory cake - thanks Paul. I remember Geoffrey was one of the leading lights in the mime performed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference in the presence of Jean Vanier and the assembly of Bishops who, 10 years on, were already gathering in Canterbury for this year's Conference .

Since I would not be returning to Little Ewell this visit, I decided to accept an invitation to supper to spend more time with the core members and assistants after which I was kindly driven back to Canterbury by Hiromi, the House Leader. Thanks to everyone at Little Ewell for a great evening.

Sunday 14th July

Route: Basildon to Canterbury
Distance: 68.91; Miles so far 1,742
Weather: Hot and sunny

It was only when I was reviewing the day's ride with Julian that he drew my attention to the fact that Sunday crossings on the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry did not appear on the timetable. Mike Cox kindly gave me timetable and maps when I was in Lambeth, but I obviously didn't tell him I would be travelling on a Sunday, nor did I take a close look until today. Thanks Mike, nevertheless.

Attempts to clarify the position came to nothing, as the travel enquiry line for the area didn't seem to know anything about the ferry, and another number called merely had an ansaphone message.

So I headed off soon after 9.00 am wondering which way would be crossing the Thames estuary. I left Julian preparing for the parish barbeque which looked set for fine weather.

I faced quite a long ride so took the A11 which wasn't that busy, turning off at Standbury Hope to check the state of play at the Tilbury Ferry terminal. Here Kheiron in the Docks Office confirmed there was no service but directed me up to the Queen Elizabeth Bridge traffic control office. En route, I called in at St Clement's Church, West Thurrock where they were preparing for a service and spoke to Sue who kindly agreed to promote the Big Bike Ride appeal. Thanks for your help here.

It's quite a maze of roads to get up to the traffic control station a clearly marked cycle path keeps you clear of the busy road and leads up to the office where Traffic Officer Roberts obligingly help me load my bike onto the back rack of his vehicle and we were soon whizzing over the bridge to the other side where he put me on the right road in a spaghetti junction type complex which was difficult to navigate with the very small scale map I had. Not far along the road, I met fellow cyclist Roy from Greenhythe who suggested I took the minor road to Gravesend.

A bit hilly, but an easy ride otherwise, and I was soon rolling into Rochester and across the bridge and up a long steep hill that tested the legs. From here on the road was long and straight. Apart from the short lunch stop, it was all the way to Canterbury.

I arrived at a services at around 4.30 so thought I'd stop for a coffee at the diner beside the services. had a good chat with Shyla, the waitress there – thanks so much for your sponsorship.

The last leg of the journey looked fairly straightforward, and I passed the first exit to Canterbury not knowing that my map wrongly showed another couple of exists along the A2. I was due to arrive at St Thomas's Church at 5.30 and thought 30 mins would be ample, but ended up having to go as far as Bridge and double back into Canterbury. I pedalled as fast as I could then had to find the church which I was told was near the Cathedral. I eventually rolled up at 5.50 and met Canon Bunce who asked me to speak for 5 minutes after the Gospel. It's quite difficult to compress what I wanted to say into that amount of time, but I managed it.

Mary, a local Committee member, found a parishioner to hand out the Gift Aid envelopes, so a number of donations were handed to me there and then, and the Canon kindly agreed to put the JustGiving web address in next week's bulletin. Many thanks, Canon, for the opportunity to speak about my fundraising appeal.

Whilst at the back of church John Paul introduced himself as an ex L'Arche assistant who was living in Canterbury with his French wife Helene. They kindly asked me back for a drink which turned into an impromptu supper. It was really good to meet you both and Juliette – thanks for your warm and generous hospitality. Yes, somehow the French just have a special knack of making excellent salads!

John Paul took me round to The rainbow where I was staying, where I met assistants Lisa and Sue who made me feel very welcome.

Saturday 13th July

Route: Ipswich to Basildon
Distance: 60.63; Miles so far 1673
Weather: Cloudy then hot and sunny

It was about 9.20 by the time I left, and sad to say goodbye to everyone in the house. Thanks for looking after me so well. I headed down town for the bank, then found the A137 to Manningtree.

On the way I passed a church at Brantham and bumped into a lady visigting the area who was looking fofr the time of services, and asked her to give a sponsor form to the parish priest.

Here I discovered there was a major show called the Tendring Hundreds taking place near Little Bromley. Traffic everywhere. I passed the show site and could see it was a small version of the Kenilworth Show we used to go to as kids with my late Uncle George who farmed nearby.

It looked like the weather was going to hold up for them in contrast to last week-end's wash out at the Great Southern Show.

Then to Ardleigh where I noticed the Methodist Church had a function on so popped in to ask for sponsorship. Thanks for your support, Paul, Stephanie, Margaret, Gloria, Frank and Peggy, and every success with the Link Fellowship.

I stopped for lunch at The New Times pub in Tiptree and endeavoured to interest a couple of patrons in my ride. They have not been the first to question sending money out to Zimbabwe thinking that Mugabe would get his hands on it. I find it quite difficult to persuade such people that L'Arche has established a secure channel through which funds are passed to ensure they receive the money. Thanks to the couple in question for taking the form – I hope you can find your way to making a contribution.

After Malden, I took the minor road to Cold Norton and spotted a cyclist by the side of the road so stopped to see if he needed help. He was faced with a slow puncture and no repair kit, so I was happy to come to the rescue. Hope you managed to get home OK, Mick, and that your son's transplant is a success.

It seemed a long haul from here to Basildon where I was due to arrive by 5.00 for the evening Mass. Fr Julian had kindly responded to our last minute appeal for accommodation after the original plan had to be changed. The SatNav did its stuff so I arrived around 4.50 pm. Fr Julian introduced me and announced the retiring collection would be for L'Arche, so a big thanks to all the parishioners who contributed, and to the Parish for the generous cheque. It was very heartening to have so many people come up to me at the end of Mass to wish me well.

Julian made me feel very welcome and went for a take away curry whilst I had a shower. Over dinner he explained the Team Ministry he is involved in running three Churches in Basildon which seems a creative solution to the shortage of priests. It sounds like a challenging but exciting time ahead. Many thanks, Julian, for your warm and generous hospitality and every success with your ministry.

Friday 11
th July

Rest Day

The previous day had been pretty exhausting so I was glad of a long lie. The Cornerstone is a tribute to all those who were involved in its re-configuration and refurbishment from the former Childrens' Society Home. The original features have been retained and it feels very much like a large family house whilst meeting the stringent care home standards.

With the help of David Wells from the office, I found Moons Cycles and left the bike there with Simon. I'd broken another spoke and he obligingly undertook to have it sorted by close of business. Meanwhile at the house preparations were being made for the Barbeque which had been planned to coincide with my arrival in Ipswich, and to which local friends of L'Arche had been invited.

Later in the morning, I went into town with Nick who wanted to explore a few of the games shops. It's literally 15 mins walk to the centre of town. I was impressed by Nick's awareness about cost, as he tried persuaded a number of game shop assistants to give him the best deal. I realise I'm out of my depth when it comes to Play Stations and Wii systems.

It was just great to relax with the core members who are all much younger than those in the other UK Communities, and who lead quite independent lives in comparison. They are great company and I really enjoyed the chance to recharge the batteries before tomorrow's trip to Basildon.

When I collected the bike from Moon's Simon wouldn't accept any money for the repair. I really appreciate your sponsorship, Simon, and am indebted to you and the Moon's team. Thank you so much.

The clouds started to gather as the evening approached, and as guests arrived the heavens opened leaving the BBQ team stranded under the gazebo. A shame after all the hard work preparing the food. However, it didn't put too much of a damper on proceedings and a fabulous buffet was enjoyed by all. At the end of the meal, I had the opportunity of saying a few words about my trip, and about the Zimbabwe Community. Liz, who volunteers her time for the Community had organised a raffle which ran throughout the evening and raised about £90. Thanks so much for this initiative, Liz, and please pass on our thanks to those who generously contributed the prizes.

Great to meet new people and old colleagues, including Bernard and Heather and Derek too. A pity Kathy wasn't able to make it. A great day and it was impressive to see the house team working hard on the hospitality front. Thanks to Angie, Martin, Nick, Nicola, Stephanie, Steven, Andrew,Miriam, Andrea and Julia for your hard work, and to Anne-Marie and David too, for your help in boosting the appeal funds.

Thursday 10th July

I arrived back from Yorkshire at 5.30 and Anne Marie and Martin kindly collected me from the station. It was Miriam's birthday party, so great activity was underway in the kitchen. Helene Gibbings and son Joe had been invited, so all in all there were 16 round the table. I have to say i was one of the best L'Arche meals I've had – great cooking Andrew.

Wednesday 9th July

Route: Braintree to Ipswich
Miles: 47.40; Miles so far: 1,612
Weather: Wet all day

Further discussions about water engineering were had over breakfast in pursuit of an intermediate technological solution to the drainage problem! Thanks so much Michael and Claire for a really enjoyable stay and for the treats for the journey which lifted my spirits on what was to become a very wet day.

The instructions to get onto the Coggleshall Road were simple and straightforward. I sensed that this was going to one of those days when I had to reconcile myself to getting slowly soaked, and decided that the waterproof trousers where more an encumbrance than a help, and the gaiters might keep the top of my shoes dry but rain gets in through the SPD cleats from below. So I made do with my waterproof day glow yellow jacket and let everything else get wet.

It's in the rain that busy roads show their teeth, and so I was glad to leave the A120 at Coggleshall and ride through this attractive village then north along the A1024 to Earls Colne, and Bures. Here I looked for a cafe and stumbled across the Eight Bells pub instead, but was told that it wasn't open, though I could use their toilet. Before leaving, I asked Wendy if there was anywhere in the village that would serve coffee, and bless her, she said she would rustle one up for me. It appeared with complements of the house. Wendy was trying to persuade her other half to get on his bike, so I hope I have been able to offer a little inspiration! Thanks Wendy and Barbara for looking after a dripping cyclist.

In good weather these back lanes would be idyllic for cycling. At Dorking Tye, I came across a beautiful cottage which was in the final stages of having its thatch replaced. I stopped to speak with Rich and Chris the two thatchers, and to admire their craftsmanship. This roof was being made from straw harvested from fields in nearby Ongar, with Hazelwood pegs acting like giant hair grips to keep the straw in place. It had taken Chris 7 years training to get to this stage. I hope these amazing skills don't disappear. Thanks for taking a break to chat, Rich, and for any support you can give to the appeal.

Again I found myself cycling between acres of shoulder high wheat fields as if I was a beetle crawling along a groove in a thick pile carpet. As with the waterlogged lanes near Wem, the grit was starting to get into the brakes and at one point I detected the back wheel rubbing out of balance. So I decided to visit Hadleigh before continuing my journey. Here I phoned Jon and Gill Durant who are such an important part of the L'Arche Ipswich story which all started in Hadleigh in the early 90s. I discovered that their house lay in the very cycle route I was due to take. So felt I couldn't pass by without dropping in. With no sign of any bike shop in Hadleigh itself, I headed up the hill and soon found the Durant's house, appropriately named Wheatfields.

At Jon's suggestion I rang Moon's Cycles in Ipswich to book the bike in for a rear wheel repair on Friday. I don't normally drink alcohol at lunchtime, but the offer of an Adnam's bitter was too good to decline. Thanks Gill and Jon for a wonderful impromptu lunch which really hit the spot. It also took me back to a meeting John Renn and I had in your sitting room at the start of discussions which were eventually to lead to the founding of the L'Arche Ipswich.

I had arranged to meet John Butt, father of core member Martin, and House Assistant Andrew at 2.45 pm outside Bramford, so after a quick good-bye it was back into the rain and along the quiet lanes which now form one of Suffolk's cycle routes. The rendezvous achieved, we then rode together into Ipswich. It was great to be guided by others through an unfamiliar town.

As we turned into The Cornerstone, the L'Arche Ipswich House in Warrington Road, David and Anne Marie were waiting with bottles of Bucks Fizz shaken (but thankfully reluctant to explode) for the welcoming. It was great to arrive after such a miserable day, and lovely to see everyone again.

I was due to make a 24 hour return trip home so after a hot bath was whisked to Ipswich station to catch the 5.50 train to Peterborough, arriving back home around 10.35.

Tuesday 8th July

Route: West Norwood, London to Braintree, Essex
Miles: 54.99; Miles so far: 1565
Weather: Cloudy turning to heavy showers by lunchtime, clearing in afternoon

A much better night's sleep so ready for the road again. I had been asked to call in at the office/workshop on Norwood High Street en route where a number of people gave me a great send-off towards Tulse Hill. It's been really great coming back to Lambeth where I feel so much at home. There are many links with my 18 years here and some special memories. It's been good to see The Vine flourishing and encouraging to see it is expecting another new member shortly.

I suppose to many, riding through London traffic would seem a scary prospect, particularly after Ann-Marie, one of the female assistants from L'Arche Lambeth, was killed when cycling in the city. My earlier brush with death in Kendal made me acutely aware of the dangers. To some extent the bus lanes help, and there are now some specific cycle routes which take one off the busy streets. Thanks To David G, I had a wonderful roll-out street map taking me right out of London, but this nevertheless required close concentration as well as focussing on staying safe.

The route took me norrth through Peckham, Walworth and onto Tower Bridge. Here I picked up a cycle route along Commercial Road to Limehouse. It's great to see traffic lights for bikes as well a pedestrians along these paths, though whoever laid the tarmac must have had St Vitas Dance. I stopped at one point to check the map and Mike appeared on his bike seemingly from nowhere - he is one of the cycling officers owrking for the London Cycling Campaign. Thanks for your suggested route, Mike. Turning north at Butcher's Row and rejoining Mile End road west, Bow Church appeared, hidden by trees and isolated by the busy dual carriageway. I recall during one of the IRA bomb threats when the tubs were closed, I walked through London and was amazed to find how many green parks and forgotten monuments appeared along the route.

Then the rain came – in buckets. I took shelter in McDonalds along Romford Road where they had space for my bike. A coffee and muffin gave me an hour and a half free WiFi time, and the staff were very friendly. Thank you for the refuge from the floods! Yes, by the time I left, there was a lake outside, as the drains weren't coping. The sun came out and life looked brighter. I lost the cycle route through Ilford, but found a way through to Eastern Avenue as per my map then north past Newbury Park, Fullwell Cross and up to Grange Hill where I turned east alongthe Lamboourne Road to Chigwell to Lambourne End. Here suburbia gave way to fields and more open countryside. It's only after Stapleford Abbots that you cross the M25.

At one point I turned the corner and there in front of me was a field of ostriches, obviously being farmed for their meat.

From here on I felt as if I was really making progress to Braintree. Up till now the sky had been still heavy in places with rain clouds, but it quickly brightened into a beautifully sunny afternoon with distant white cotton wool cloud formations setting off the ripening field of golden barley.

From Chipping Ongar, I followed Fyfield Road and discovered hidden gems of Essex along the quiet country lanes interrupted only by intersecting the A1060 and A130 roads. Lovely villages and hamlets along here, with the steeples of country churches punctuating the landscape. Fields of wheat and barley abound, with evidence too of serious vegetable production – with broad beans and leeks nearly ready for harvesting.

Braintree soon came within the radar and I was pedalling down the hill to my hosts for the night at around 6.20.

I had met Michael and Claire earlier this year through a mutual friend David Morland, and it was very good to see them again. After a quick tour of their spacious garden and pond, and an examination of their land drainage arrangements, I relaxed in a wonderful hot bath. Claire and Peter are keen cyclists having done the trip to Rome en velo, and are impressively committed to the Fair Trade movement and interfaith dialogue. They invited their neighbour, Peter, also a cyclist who had just returned from France to join us for a delicious dinner.

Monday 7th July

Rest Day in Lambeth

Decided to get up late after everyone in the house had left for work. Nice not t be driven by the daily timetable of getting n the road to reach another destination.
Went up to Norwood High Street to meet the office team and prepare for the talk I had undertaken to give this evening at St Luke's Church. Raimonda frm L'Arche Liverpool had supplied me with a CD of photos from Zimbabwe and Martha from Bognor, a CD presentation on L'Arche UK.

This little Asus Eee is a wonderful machne but I've encountered a stubborn side to its nature. It won't recognise external SD memory disks, and I'd transferred all the photos onto one in Brecon. I thought I'd solved the problem there with the help of Ferdinand, but it had defaulted back to its original prohibition setting. I eventually cracked the problem thanks to the Asus User Forum, but then I thought I'd lost the powerpoint presentation I'd spent 2 hours compiling. In the end I as able to recover this, but its size seemed to big for little Asus Eee.
But at lest we could view the photos without captions.

After what had been an afternoon's work, it was time to go over to St Luke's. where the Community and others were starting to gather. Somehow I got the words together for the talk and the photos of L'Arche Zimbabwe were profoundly moving, enhanced with the background music from the Ladysmith Black Mambazo Singers. I must arrange for these to go up on the website.
Thanks to everyone for organising and publicising the event - I realise this was done on top of the day to day pressures of Community life. Special thanks Corrine and team. It was all worthwhile, though, as I banked today £390 for the appeal.

Mark, Anya, Louise, Ian and I then went round to Louise's house with fish and chips to share a bottle of red wine (or 2?!). Wonderful.
Sunday 6th July

Route: Glynde to Lambeth
Distance: 55.56 miles; 1510 miles so far

Weather: Bright start deteriorating into heavy rain then clearing

Fuelled with a hearty breakfast, I said my farewells to Hannah and Ben at 9.30 and headed up through the village. I look forward to seeing them again at their wedding in my home parish in Silsden next month and hope all the final preparations go smoothly. Thanks for a wonderful stay..and the thoughtful snacks.

Up the hill past the Glynde estate house, I soon came across Glydebourne itself, where I later discovered there was a performance of Carmen that evening. Then after passing an alpaca lama farm, the bazaar sight of a grazing camel. The route took me on back roads between the A26 and A27, past the Bentley Car Museum and Wildlife Park (a somewhat incongrous combination) - eventually crossing the A27 past the Lavender Line steam railway. This is beautiful country, and with fields of hay bails and majestic trees.

I was heading north towards Crawley Down where I had planned to meet Christian, a German assistant from The Vine in L'Arche Lambeth, who wanted to accompany me into London. The mobile rang and Christan reported that he had sprung a puncture so would be late for our rendezvous at 11.30, and would have to find a bike shop.

Going through Fletching, I called into the village church of St Andrew and St Mary the Virgin. The service had just finished but I spoke with the church warden and the vicar's husband explaining what I was doing and asking for support for the appeal. Further down the road there was evidence of p sons being taken to a cricket match so I stopped to speak with one parent to explain what I was doing, and further on a mother with two young children on a walk.

Along the road I also bumped into a group from the 1st Hayward Heath Cubs on a woodland trail. Hope you had a good walk despite the rain! Yes, the rain really came down from here on and by the time I reached Ardingly, it was pouring down and no doubt spoiling the plans of the events taking place at the South of England Show ground, near the National Trust Wakehurst Place.

Christian rang to say that he had got his puncture fixed so we were on target for meeting at Hunters Hill at 12.30. I got there feeling like drowned rat, as did other cyclists who were taking refuge at the Crown Pub here at the top of the hill. Christian arrived and we had a quick sandwich lunch before braving the weather again.

The rain eventually subsided as we crossed the busy M25, stopping on the bridge to view the incessant traffic whose noise footprint must affect a wide corridor – the price of progress.

The road up to White Hill was a pig of a climb, and Christian left me struggling, having run out of gears, so there was no option but to get off and push.

We then encountered the outskirts of London at Caterham, and found a cycle path which took us to Purley where we then followed the excellent map prepared by David Grimshaw which guided us easily through the suburban streets. I was aware that the 1500 mile point was soon coming up and quite appropriately I passed it at the John Fisher Sports School, Peaks Hill, Purley. I must write to the Head and ask him/her if the School would consider some sponsorship. I couldn't easily absorb the fact that I'd achieved my goal after 29 days on the road, averaging 52 miles a day. But there were still another 250 miles to go.

By the time we reached Croydon the sun started to shine. We wheeled into Rosendale Road to an enthusiastic welcome. Thanks Christian for the moral support in such miserable weather!

It was great to arrive at The Vine, which as been a second home to me over the 18 years I have worked for L'Arche. Many of the people who were core members of the house have died over that period: Nick, Beryl, Doreen, Bernadette, Primrose and Brian, but Sylvia and since then Sunta have been joined by new members Mike, Donna and Jackwho have brought new energy to the house. They and other members of L'Arche had gathered to welcome us and Marcela and the house team had prepared a delicious buffet. Visitors Robert, Stephanie and family from New Zealand also dropped in. They had both been assistants in the Community many years ago, Stephanie coincidentally having been part of the team which welcomed Sylvia.

It was great to relax amongst friends. Thanks to everyone for the wonderful welcome. I had hoped to get some blogging done after the meal, but Christian and I ,with Louise and Marcela's help, spent a frustrating hour trying to get the house broadband up and running again. At one point in a series of telephone conversations with the BT help-line, we were told that The Vine didn't have a broadband account but a narrowband account. We needed to ring another number which told us we did indeed have a broadband package. In the end we rebooted and it sprung into life again. BT – you need to get yourself sorted!

To celebrate the day, Christian and I went over to the Rosendale for a pint before bed.

Saturday 5th July

Route: Bognor to Glynde
Distance: 53.92; 1455 miles so far
Weather: Bright, sunny with westerly wind

Breakfast with Maureen, Alan and Catherine before Tjeerd arrived with his wife Vega, and son Rembrandt and daughter Salome to accompany me asfar as Littlehampton. They had worked with L'Arche in The Netherlands before coming to Bognor last autumn. It was sad to say farewell to everyone in the house where I was looked after so well. It was yet another example of how it is possible to have a relaxed atmosphere in a house which is efficiently run by a good team who are attuned to core members' needs .

We headed out of Bognor through back roads then picked up the Sustrans cycle path which avoids the busy roads, and were soon in Littlehampton where I visited the bank to deposit accumulated donations and had a coffee with Tjeed and family before continuing along the ocast to Hove and Brighton past Worthing where they were having a Birdman competition at 1.30. Bognor has one of these events too where aspiring human birds take to the pier and normally plunge to earth, or rather the cold sea water, sooner then they would like. The cycle way along the sea front has been well thought out, apart from in Shoreham where I lost the signs and then found myself heading along a peninsular of up market houses with no means of getting back. A short stop for lunch at Shoreham Station before continuing in perfect weather with the wind in exactly the right direction. Lots of other cyclists were taking advantage of the dedicated paths to the point of congestions at one point. Brightly coloured beach huts, striped deck chairs and wind breaks beside an inviting aquamarine sea. Then past Hove and Brighton which were inundated with tourists decanted from at least 100 coaches parked up the approach roads. Past Rodean School, dominating the cliffs, musing at the possibe conversation surrounding this posh establishment's name “We can't call it Rottingdean, my dear, much too common. Let's call it Rodean”

In the distance I could ow see the white cliffs so often associated with Dover, but stretching up as far as Peacehaven where I stopped at Williamsons Pharmacy to get some athlete's foot powder and had a nice chat with the staff there who were somewhat impressed by my mileage. Good to meet you, Frankii, Ruth and Gamil.

From here the road drops down the the estuary that forms Newhaven, and turns inland up towards Lewes. I realise the route is taking me alongside the river so no major climbs. Before I knew it, I was riding into the beautiful village of Glynde looking for Hannah and Ben's house.

I've known Hannah Goss since arriving in Silsden in 1990 and going round to her house where her mother, Anne, hosted some of the rehearsals for the Carmel Players. I had unwittingly picked up the role of Nanki Pooh in The Mikado back then. Hannah had subsequently worked as an assistant in the Inverness Community and then L'Arche Cork.

Ben and Hannah have a fabulous cottage rented from the Glynde estate, I was soon sitting out in their garden, overlooking The Trevor Arms, with a village cricket match visible in the distance. Not so obvious was the residents' outdoor swimming pool. Within minutes I was plunging into this inviting fresh water pool fed from a spring in the village. Absolute bliss. What a fantastic facility. If that weren't all, the village sports a station with a direct line to Brighton, probably opened to serve the opera house, Glyndebourne, just up the road.

The cottage has an enormous allotment just over the road (and visible from the sitting room window) which Hannah and Ben are enthusiastically cultivating - radishes and lettuce were duly harvested for tonight's salad.

Christine, a good friend of Hannah came over for a barbeque and a memorable evening was spent al fresco in an idyllic setting. It turns out that Christine's mother worked with Therese Vanier when they were both working in Africa! Thanks Ben and Hannah for the great meal, and Christine for the yummy pud.

Friday 4th July

Rest Day in Bognor

With no commitments in the morning, I really enjoyed the chance of a lie in. The early morning sun gave promise to a fine day. By the time I went down for breakfast everyone else had left for their day activities in the workshop down town, or in the garden, next door in Jericho.

Part of my task during community visits is to take photos for the UK PR Officer, so it was off out to the garden where Maureen and Cathryn where helping to trim the onions. A variety of crops are looking very healthy in the large polytunnel where the majority of vegetables are grown. Part of the garden team were out collecting some furniture which had been given to the Community. I was able to take a closer look at the impressive new log cabin style Community Room where Louigi putting the finishing touches to the fire-proof cladding.

Then it was off to the workshop to have lunch with Peter, Jeremy, Pammy, Iris, Diane, Derrick, Tomek, Micky ad Ian. Everyone brings their own sandwich prepared normally the night before in their house. It was a chance to open the doors onto the lovely patio outside where one of the artist assistants has painted a fabulous mural of a sun drenched coast line to brighten up the wall of the adjoining property. A chance to meet Leslie and Mary Anne who work in the office, and to get an update on the plans for this evening's gathering.

At 3.00 it was back to Bethany to change into the cycling gear for a picture by the Bognor Observer photographer, and an interview for an article on my ride by their reporter Kevin Smith.

The evening party had been arranged for the Community and local friends to hear about the bike ride, so I told a few anecdotes of my trip so far to the assembled gathering in the garden, under a now threatening sky. A great buffet had been cooked by the Bethany Team under Meghan, the house leader – thanks Meghan, Kristina, James an Marie. It was really good to see friends new and old, including Tom and Roni, Maureen and Ray, and Lois who valiantly took the hat round to collect £110 in donations during the evening. Kathleen O'Gorman, the National Chair of L'Arche who lives nearby in Chichester popped in too. Thanks to all for their contributions.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting and then watching Clockwise with Fred who was falling about with laughter at each turn of the plot which he seemed to know by heart. I haven't laughed so much for a long time – great therapy!

Thursday 3rd July

Route: Winchester to Bognor
Distance: 44.24 Miles; 1400 so far (I reckon another 300 to go!)
Weather: Early cloud dispersed to give a hot sunny day

Another sound night's sleep. I haven't slept so well these last few weeks for a long time. Thank you, Tessa, for a great stay, and your generous support. I'm really grateful.

I found my way out of Winchester on the right road as instructed but was glad to find the quieter A272 Petersfield Road. The turn off is not as simple for cars which have to go up the the next roundabout and back along the other carriageway. There's a bit of a climb up onto the South Downs but once up, it's a great ride. The weather looked very promising too. For a time there was no traffic, and I stopped and marvelled at a sky lark rising in song, then descending into the ripening wheat field below. Magic. It reminded me of the birdsong Classic FM transmitted before going live. Odd how the sound of a distant lawnmower and a bumble bee are so evocative of summer.

This was a short day compared to others so I stopped again at a McDonalds, this time on the outskirts of Petersfield, to do yesterday's blog. Sorry not to be getting any photos up recently, but they take an age to upload, and my Asus software doesn't allow me to look at picture thumbnails.

Then onto South Harting where I had agreed to meet Tjeerd, Luigi and Peter, assistants at L'Arche Bognor who wanted to ride the last stage with me. A minibus full of Community members arrived at about 2.20 pm as I was finishing my lunch outside the Ship Inn. Time to hear about Fred's broken bone in his foot before leaving the non-cycling party to head off to Petersfield lake for a bit of boating.

I was very glad to hand over the panniers to Geoffrey, as the climb up to Harting Hill was tough, but well worth the effort for the view at the top. Here we asked a man to take a photo of the 4 of us. “You've asked the right person – I'm a professional photographer!” Phil replied. He was covering a cycling event for Cycling Weekly, so he soon had one of my sponsorship form in his hand and offered to send the info to the magazine.

Apart from another less strenuous climb, the route to Chichester was easy riding in fabulous weather – a real joy. A Sustrans cycle path took us around the west of Chichester, through what was a Roman amphitheatre I believe. From here there's a petty good cycle track all the way to Bognor even though alongside the busy A259.

The 20 mile or so ride got us to Bethany, the Bognor house where I was staying at around 4.30 pm. in the garden of the next door house, Jericho, the new Community meeting room was taking shape – a low profile log cabin design which blends remarkably well into its surroundings. It was a couple of years ago when I was last here, discussing the project with Chris and Luigi, so its great to see the tangible fruits of all the planning and fundraising.

I really appreciated having no agenda other than to spend time enjoying everyone's company and conversation over a good meal in the evening. Thanks Sahlee for the cooking!
Wednesday 2nd July

Route: Shrivenham to Winchester
Distance: 53.13 miles; 1,357 so far
Weather: Cloudy, rain early afternoon clearing to give a sunny end to the day

A sound night's sleep. Breakfast with Stella and Graham, with their lovely labrador Barney in attendance. Your kind hospitality and support is much appreciated.

Not far from Shrivenham, I passed some fields shimmering with a delicate purple flowered crop which I hadn't seen before and just had to stop to take a closer look. A car was parked beside the entry to the field, and I hadn't noticed a man crouching on the opposite side of the road looking at a similar field. He was on his way to work and wanted to stop and marvel at the sight as I did, and confirmed it was a field of flax. Thanks for the chat, Ben, and for your pledge of support.

Apart from a reasonable climb up Ashbourne Hill, the terrain was relatively flat beyond crossing the Ridgeway. It soon became apparent this was horse racing country with fields of gently grazing animals and white metal railings. Evidence of serious investment at Weathercock House Stables where a number of jockeys were out for a morning ride beside what looked like a mini-race course in an adjoining field. Beyond Lambourn more fields of beautiful horses, these ones with purple coats, some possibly resting after yesterday's 2.30 at Newbury.

I then took the higher road up Coppington Hill down to Ermin Street, the B4000, which runs alongside the M4 then through Wickham to Newbury. Some lovely properties around here but a shame about the traffic noise which would drive me spare if I had to live with it all day. I had forgotten to ring Mike and Alison, some friends who live at Boxford, but realised they wouldn't be home during the day, so left a message.

Stopped at McDonalds in Newbury to have a coffee and use their WiFi for yesterday's blog. meanwhile it started to pour with rain. In a call to the L'Arche office, Judith informed me that some friends of hers lived on the Andover Road just after the 40 mile/hour sign, if I needed any help in an emergency. When I emerged from my blog spot, I bumped into Martin from Chieveley, a cyclist who showed interest in my ride. Thanks for the chat Martin and and any support you can give.

On the way out on the A343, I looked left at the 40 mph sign and saw a man in the driveway, so thought I'd take a chance and called out “You don't happen to know Judith Ellis do you?” “Yes indeed.” came the reply! This was Judith's friend William who would be seeing her this week-end in Yorkshire.

On to the bottom of Andover Road where William confirmed there was a left turn at the post box which would avoid the busy A34. The road was closed except for access so I took a risk and went along what was a narrow lane leading to some major construction works. Here I came up against a barrier fence on either side of a 3 foot trench for a new sewer. A friendly contractor came over to move the barrier and let me through. Thanks, Liam, for your help and for any support you can get from the Murphy contractor's office. Galway is a beautiful county!

I had rung Tessa Till earlier to find that she would be at Tessa Feilden's this evening so we would be able to meet up after all. So after stopping at the Caernarvon Hotel and Restaurant to get more sponsorship, I decided to risk a stretch of the A34 between White Hill and the old Newbury Road further on, to save a bit of time. A bad mistake. Huge trucks and lorries seemed to suck me into their path from the narrow section of tarmac the other side of the nearside white line. Fortunately, the dicing with death didn't last long. It was only when I arrived in Whitchurch that I realised I had parted company with my wallet. Panic. Where had I lost it? I called in at the local printers after 118111 was decidedly unhelpful in getting a number for the Caernarvon. Jo and Paul were really kind in helping to find their number when my mobile rang and Judith said that the Hotel had rung to say they had found the wallet.

I needed transport back there. Into the paper shop across the road for the number of a local taxi firm. As I explained my plight and asked if I could leave my panniers in their safe keeping, a man in the shop came up and said he would run me up in his car, and suggested I chain the bike to a stand outside and brought my panniers with me. Thanks to another example of extraordinary generosity, I was back in Whitechurch 20 minutes later with the recovered wallet. Martyn, you are a star, and I wish you well in your search. Thanks, too, to Joanna at the Caernarvon for taking the trouble to ring the office.

As I was preparing to leave Whitchurch, Another cyclist appeared and asked me about my ride, attracted by the advertising panels on the panniers. Jonanthan turned out to be a keen cyclist judging by his trip tomorrow to do the Marmot over the Alps, a 120 mile circuit on a racing bike. He joined me as far as Lower Mill, giving me a chance to explain a bit more about L'Arche. Jonathan cycles to and from work as a barrister in London throughout the year. Great to meet you, and good luck with the alpine challenge!

This is a beautiful area with trout farms taking advantage of the river complex, and more than one picturesque thatched cottage, and another with herringbone pattern brick. The narrow lanes avoided the A34 and A303 intersection a Tidbury Common, taking me through Barton Stacey and Sutton Manor. I was nearly home when I reached the B3420. Time for the SatNav which I decided to give another chance to redeem itself. I can hear it saying in defence after yesterday's fiasco “Well, you did program me to avoid major roads, and I thought the A40 to Oxford was a touch busy for you” But I must give it credit for guiding me through a maze of Winchester's one way streets to get me to my destination by about 6.20.

Here the two Tessa's gave me a hearty welcome and I was soon enjoying a delicious dinner with them both before Tessa Till returned to Petworth.

Tuesday 1st July

Route: Tewkesbury to Shrivenham
Distance: 55.89; 1303 miles so far
Weather: Hot sun, little cloud, then gathering storm clouds in afternoon

Staying with Marion and Tim Hollis hsa been particularly important in my journey, as I succeeded both on their retirement as Company Secretary and General Secretary respectively. Our friendship goes back to those early days at London Road in Beccles in 1989 where they introduced me to L'Arche. Thanks for everything- the welcoming reception, the great stay and for collecting the many contributions from fellow parishioners - much appreciated. Thanks too to Arthur for delivering with amazing speed prints of the photos at Twyning Church.

I left rather later than planned, due to posting yesterday's blog, and called at Bikes and Bits in Tewskbury for some air for the tyres. Then out of town towards the Cotswolds - a lovely run in hot sun. This could be a scorcher of a day with streaks of high cloud casting curious patterns in the sky.

A steady but manageable climb up to Ford where I spotted an opportunity for collecting sponsorship and refuelling. A crowd of people arrived whilst I was there, perhaps attracted by the tempting advert outside "freshly cooked asparagus". It was worth the stop.

I then headed what I thought was southwards, but I had missed a crucial turning at Ford (no, I had had a pint of iced water not beer) and was oblivious to my error as I headed south east towards Stow in the Wold. Then I thought I'd picked up some twig on the back wheel which seemed to be rubbing against the tyre, but on closer examination I realised I had broken another spoke. It didn't help having no mobile reception, but a hundred yards along the road a sign told me I was only one mile from Stow. So I nursed the bike along the remaining stretch, and came across the police station as I entered the village.

Dave and Alison, the duty Officers, couldn't have been more helpful. Dave checked if the 55 bus to Cirencester would take a bike in an emergency - they could but one had left 5 mins ago and the next one would not come for an hour or so. Meantime, it was a case of finding a bike shop in the area. I realised from ringing round that I should carry some spare spokes, as not every cycle shop, as I found out, carries those for touring bikes. The bike shop in Bourton on the Water seemed to have closed with a number unobtainable tone.

Eventully I got through to Roylan Cycles, Cheltenham, who confirmed they had spokes and would be prepared to do what they could to help this afternoon.

Then it was a question of finding transport to Cheltenham. Enter Keith of K-Cars, Bourton on the Water. A call by Alison found that he was available and could do the trip for £35, so I asked him to come and pick me up asking if we could discuss the fare, explaining I was doing a charity sponsored ride.

Waiting for him in the square, I came across more potential sponsors on their way to tea at one of the quaint village tea shops splilling out onto the pavements to take advantage of the wonderful weather.

Keith duly arrived and generously agreed to take me to Cheltenham for £10, the cost of his diesel. Thanks a million, Keith. So at around 3.35 I was pushing the potato crisp shaped back wheel along Suffolk Parade, to Roylans Cycles.

Here Bob sprung into action, and with amazing speed had the spoke replaced and the wheel trued within 15 minutes, recommending I took some spare spokes with me. I'm deeply grateful for the efficient and very modest cost of the repair, Bob. Thanks to you and Matthew - great service.

After reflecting on the time I had lost I decided to see if I could make up ground by getting the train somewhere, and discovered there was one to Kemble which would allow me to cover another 25 miles or so before I got to Shrivenham. I had earlier rung my host for the evening to say I would be arriving around 6.30. So I got the 4.31 train from Cheltenham Spa and was told to put the bike in the bike compartment at the front of the train, near the engine. Nice space with cycle racks for about 5 bikes.

Relieved to be on my way, I reflected on my good fortune in being able to recover from the potential disaster of not finding a place to repair the wheel. This is the time of year when cycle shop mechanics are up to their eyes with repairs.

There was then an announcement which I didn't realise the significance of until it was repeated. "Will passengers alighting at Kemble please proceed to the back few carriages, due to a short platform." (or words to that effect)."Anyone with a bicycle should report to the train manager at the back of the train." I should say at this point that in Gloucester, the train changes direction, so my bike and I were in a coach which would not be near the platform at Kemble. The train manager apologised and asked me to move the bike forward 3 coaches. He generously offered to carry the panniers, but the width of gangways in trains is not designed for a touring bike, as the arm rests need to be down for the handle bars to get through. Well, what a joke! With the help of other passengers pulling the arm rests down, I eventually got to the prescribed carriage, and left the train suggesting that a simple notice in the Guards van might solve the problem for future cyclists.

I now had to get myself to Shrivenham with limited maps, but saw a route through South Cerney Water Park where I used to sail in my 20s when living in Castle Combe. It's fairly flat around these parts, but I had to cross the busy dual carriageway from Cirencester to Swindon at one point and follow it to Cricklade where it seemed there was a pretty clear route north of Swindon to Shrivenham.

I decided that the SatNav would come into its own here and it seemed to be pointing me in the right direction until one point where it took me north rather than east. To cut a long story short, I was taken round the Swindon northern ring road and then along a country road which seemed to be far from the Oxford Road I was hoping to take.

At around 7.40 pm I was relieved to arrive at Graham and Stella Tidmarch's who gave me a warm welcome after a pretty eventful day. I was aware that they had planned a barbeque so after a quick shower joined them for a wonderful meal, Graham is a Methodist Minister with a part time chaplaincy at the nearby Military Academy, as well as other pastoral responsibilities locally. Both he and Stella are active in many projects including an educational one in Africa. It's a real priviledge to be welcomed as a stranger and made to feel so welcome. Many thanks Graham and Stella.

Monday 30th June

Route: Brecon to Tewkesbury
Mileage: 79.27 miles; 1247 miles so far
Weather: Cloudy start, then broken cloud and bright sun, gentle breeze

Steve was up for his bath early as Monday was his day in the candle workshop. Robin was getting ready for his ride with Hugh and myself along the canal, and as I left Gareth was enjoying his turn for a soak in the bath. Agnieszska called in to say good-bye on the way to the office as we were having breakfast, and Agna insisted on preparing me a sandwich for the journey.

I'd looked at the map with Hilary in Liverpool, and been told there was a good cycle route skirting Abergavenny towards Monmouth, then following the River Wye up to Symonds Yat, It would take the day's journey to nearly 80 miles but should be an easier route if the weather holds.

Raimonda's CD of Zimbabwe photos needed copying onto my SD card, and other photos taken along the route needed transferring to an SD card for David Winpenny, the L'Arche PR Officer. Over the week-end, Rov, one of the assistants who taught computing before coming to L'Arche, helpfully sorted out the problem I was having with my Asus Eeee laptop whereby it wouldn't allow me to read from an external SD card. Many thanks Rov,

At 9.15 am, Rob, Hugh and I set off along the track along the back of Christ College which takes us a quieter way to the Llanfaes bridge over the Usk. Here we joined the river path for a short distance before reaching the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, after stopping for the odd photo, and to ask various passers by for sponsorship, including a couple of friendly cyclists. I had to leave Rob and Hugh at 10.00 so they could continue at a more gentle pace, and pressed on towards Talybont and Llangynidr. This is a delightful ride, through glades of arching trees, past pretty cottage gardens and mirror -like reflections of quaint stone bridges in the still canal water.

Across the valley, the River Usk was winding its way past the Gliffaes Hotel where I had stayed for 3 months in 1977 in my engineering days whilst commissioning a tin plate line for British Steel in Ebbw Vale. Sadly, the steel works is now but a memory, having been razed to the ground.

At one point the canal path takes to the adjoining minor road which continued into Crickhowell and on to Gilwern where I met Steve Rogers on his bike. Thanks for your interest in L'Arche and for mentioning it to the School.

A new road to Abergavenny has recently been opened and I took this down to where the roundabout complex leads onto the A40, or the B4598 which I was to take. This is Sustrans route 31 which weaves its way along the busy dual carriageway through lazy villages like Great Oak and Bryngwyn. Looking back, the now sun drenched Brecon Beacons were starting to recede from view, and past Raglan, the road stretched out over rolling countyside towards Monmouth, past Michel Troy. I popped into a Caravan Club site near here to enquire about cycle paths, but got the impression from the owner that cycling routes weren't his primary interest.

So a visit to WHSmiths in Monmouth was called for, and I was soon the owner of a splendid Explorer map of the area. I went down to an area of allotments to have lunch and was put on the right track by a local resident who knew exactly how to get on to the recently opened Hadnock Road across the Wye Bridge. This winds its way round the Wye up to Symonds Yat where the river does an amazing loop, then heads north towards Goodrich. Some lovely looking pubs and hotels along here and a campsite obviously popular for canoeists, many of whom had taken to the river in the warm afternoon sun.

The road to Ross on Wye is relatively flat, and so I was soon heading west towards Newent over Crow Hill where I was surprised to see fields of vines stretching their symmetrical rows across the contours of the hill. A few hills and dips, but nothing like those on Saturday. With Newent behind me, the computer clocked up 70 miles and I was soon crossing the bridge in Tewkesbury at Upper Load and heading north along the A38 to Shuthonger. There in the distance was Tim Hollis on his Chopper bike waiting to greet me on the main road! A car drew up and Carolyn Methven, who was ordained priest on Saturday, greeted me before rushing off to a meeting. We then cycled up to the Church of Mary Magdalene, Twyning, passing the vicar on the way, to be greeted by Arthur and Madge Storey, originally from Giggleswick, and Godfrey and Pam Page, representing the parish which had generously contributed to the Zimbabwe appeal.

It had been my longest day with 79 miles covered, but a delightful journey though wonderful countryside. A glass of Pimms, a hot bath, and a delicious meal, before Marion arrived from a L'Arche Brecon Committee meeting, and conversation continued until bed beckoned.
Saturday 28th June

Route: Bucknell near Knighton to Brecon
Mileage: 46.47 miles; 1168 miles so far; 332 miles to go (this seems low!)
Weather: Cloudy and strong head wind

Couldn't refuse the offer of a cooked breakfast, and by the time I left the Clare's it was around 9.15. Thanks for a wonderful stay and the book of your paintings, Peter. I'm also gratefu for your offer to drum up some sponsorship with your parish friends.

The road from Knighton involved a hard pull south out of town and the innocence of the next few miles fooled me into thinking this was going to be a doddle of a day. The wind, however, was quite strong and seemed always to be against me. The the hills and descents kept coming, incessantly so it seemed, and I realised I was far too optimistic in telljng Agnieszka, the Brecon Community Leader, that I could get there by 1.00 pm in time for their stall at St Jospeh's Church fete. This was tough riding and somehow much more difficult than Shap. The hill before Erwood looked impossible and when changing down to Granny gear the chain fell off, and I lost momentum so had to walk up the hill. Two cyclists, Jane and Rob from Erwood, caught me up and told me of the cycle path alongside the A470 which I decided to take rather than the direct route over yet more hills. When we got to the bottom of this steep descent into Erwood, I noticed the front tyre was devoid of air and realised I had my first puncture of the trip. Not bad considering. No sign of anything piercing the outer tyre, so perhaps it was just rubber fatigue. 15 minutes later I as on my way again and starting to feel the effects of the day, though glad to have taken the decision to change my route. It was about 3.30 when I entered Brecon and couldn't resist a stop off at the chip shop for what was a very late lunch, a text from Agnieszka having told me that there was no hurry as the fete was over.

I was mighty glad to get to Glasfryn, the L'Arche Brecon house in Llanfaes, where I was given a really warm welcome by the team there. Thanks, folks! It felt as if I'd been 70 miles not 46, but it's not surpising with the terrain and wind against me. Probably the toughest day's ride so far.
Friday 27th June

Route: Wem to Knighton
Mileage: 50.25 miles; 1122 miles so far; 378 miles to go
Weather: Bright start, drizzle in afternoon

Kathy and Georgina were leaving this morning for the pre-wedding hen party, so Kathy was multi-tasking as she sorted breakfast out for me, while getting ready for the week-end away and dealing with the laundry. The other members of the outing turned up in matching T shirts, and were clearly ready for an adventurous couple of days and a lot of fun with the bride to be. I hope the sun shines on the wedding party on 12th July and that it's a day to remember for you all.

The weather looked promising as I headed off to Shrewsbury, at Phil's suggestion, to have the brakes looked at. It was an interesting place to visit, and I soon found David Mellor cycles who confirmed the blocks had plenty of wear left, even if they look quite thin. Thanks for your help, David, and for adjusting the brake and gear lever which had got bashed when I fell off the bike on Wednesday thanks to a pothole.

I was advised to take the Hope Valley route on the A488 and am glad I did, as this part of England is a hidden gem of rolling countryside Thanks to Derek of the Horseshoes Inn in Pontesbury (where there's an unusual one-way system around the parish church) for the complementary coffee. Further along the route I met Paul from Newport on his bike who warned me of some cows ahead on the road. Hope you made it back home OK!

Had I stuck to my originally planned route I would also have missed Bishop's Castle, a fascinating place perched on a hill which seems definitely worth a re-visit. Here I found a WiFi cafe in the form of the Happy Bap, run by Steve 'Whitting' who was closing early to go down to Glastonbury. I appreciated the chat, Steve, the sausage roll, and your kind sponsorship. Hope you didn't get too wet! As I left Bishop's Castle, the persistent drizzle seemed set in for the rest of the afternoon.

It was a bit of climb to Clun where I was caught up by Mike Plunkett from Bishop's Castle who was out on an afternoon bike ride. I joined him for a coffee at the Maltings, having tried the riverside cafe which was closed. It was here that we met Sue Dowell who happens to have been an active member of Pax Christi for some time, and who knew of L'Arche. Thanks for whatever help you can give to promoting my ride, Sue. Chatting to Mike, I discovered he had been Vicar of Speke where I had visited a couple of days ago, and he was clearly still active in the area setting up youth projects. He suggested I went round the hill to Knighton rather than over it which I was very happy to do, and we parted company at Purslow.

Again, I had written to the Parish Priest in Knighton to find accommodation, and had been put in touch with Carole and Peter Clare who live at Bucknell which was on the west side of Knighton and on the road I would be taking into the town. It was about 6.00 pm when I arrived at the Clare's house, in an attractive hamlet just round the corner from the Baron of Beef pub.

I was made very welcome and after a reviving bath soon sitting down to an excellent dinner cooked by Peter who is also an accomplished artist with a number of exhibitions to his name. I was amazed to discover that Clare had met Marion Hollis, from whom I took over as L'Arche Company Secretary, at a Llas Fasi workshop for Ignatian spiritual direction, and that she and Peter had been their guests when they had an exhibition at Norwich Cathedral when the Hollis family lived in Beccles. It was fascinating to share stories with Carole and Peter who had met Jean Vanier in Sligo in the 90s. They now work together giving retreats, Clare with her background of counselling and spiritual direction skills, and Peter providing the visual images for reflection and meditation.

Thursday 26h June

Route: Manchester to Wem
Mileage: 63.26 miles; 1072 miles so far; 438 miles to go
Weather: Cloudy start, heavy rain all afternoon

The Coogan family was well into gear by the time I got up: Milly, 10, Maddy, 8, and Jamie, 5, preparing for school, Heather getting ready for a trip to Scotland in her new role as Regional Co-ordinator for L'Arche, and Kevin organising help that evening to cover his meeting in Preston. It was really good to have a chance to catch up - thanks for all your support and hospitality.

The road was quite straight forward, though you are right, Kevin, about the junction in Wythenshaw which I sailed past! After getting somewhat confused I realised I had to back track. Eventually I got onto the right road and headed down towards Holmes Chapel where I had arranged to meet an old friend, Rob Taylerson. I had been slightly ambitious about the timescale and didn't get to Rob until nearly 11.00, the head wind not helping.

It was great to meet up with Rob again as we had studied together in Rome some 20 years ago. Given the delay, we agreed to rendezvous at Middlewich, closer to my original route, which then continued to Nantwich. We ended up at Acton where we stopped for lunch at the Star pub. Having had an operation on one knee within the last couple of years, Rob decided wisely that it had done enough work for the day. A marathon cyclist in his younger days, he had done the 3,000 mile coast to coast in the States, and a number of other long distance routes. Many thanks for your company, Rob, and for your sponsorship.

The rain from this point seemed to get heavier as the afternoon progressed. Memories of the road from Oban, but this time no difficult uphill climbs, though the beauty of these parts was rather lost on me as I battled against a head wind in the driving rain. Wem couldn't come quickly enough and I programmed the SatNav. I had rung Bishop Brian Noble, whom I knew from Rome days, to see if he could help find me somewhere to stay in the area, and he had rung to say the Martin family in Burlton had kindly offered accommodation. I hadn't done my homework sufficiently, as Burlton is another 5 miles or so beyond Wem, and the SatNav took me on the minor roads which were by this time awash.

I rang my hosts and spoke to Phil who offered to come and collect me but I said the SatNav would get me there. Grit had got into the brakes, water had penetrated my shoes and then the SatNav battery packed up leaving me at an unmarked junction wondering which way to turn. As if by a miracle, Phil turned up in his car, and I realised I needed to graciously accept his offer to give me and the bike a lift.

Bill and Elsie Martin and their daughter, Kathy and husband Phil could not have been kinder. I was soon upstairs in their guest suite having a quick hot shower, as they had held dinner for my arrival. Kathy furnished me with a glass of red wine whilst she made the finishing touches to the meal, and I chatted with Elsie and Bill in their sitting room. Phil then appeared, himself a keen cyclist, having cleaned my brakes of the dirt and grit. We sat down in their farmhouse kitchen with Kathy's daughter, Georgina, and husband to be, Oliver, whose wedding was only 2 weeks away. Great food and stimulating conversation helped make the atrocious weather seem a just a bad dream.

Wednesday 25th June

Route: Liverpool to Manchester
Mileage: 48.67 miles; 1008 miles so far; 492 miles to go
Weather: Cloudy start developing into a sunny afternoon with broken cloud

I'd agreed to meet Raimonda so went along to The Ark at around 9.20 for our meeting when she gave me a detailed description of her life as an assistant in Zimbabwe which would be useful for any talks along the way. Thanks for your time, Raimonda and for the photos you offered to send.

Time to catch up with my blogs which are getting behind, then Kevin Coogan arrived. As well as being a key member of the L'Arche Manchester Project, Kevin is a local Committee member of L'Arche Preston, which happened to be officially opened by his brother Steve of radio/TV/film fame. Kevin offered to ride with me from Liverpool to Manchester, and Hilary too wanted to travel part of the way on her borrowed electric bike, hers being in for repair.

As we set off the weather didn't look too promising but at least it was dry. We hit the Trans Pennine Way cycle path just off the East Prescott Road and sailed, oblivious of surrounding houses, through Childwall, Gateacre and Wolton to emerge from the disused railway line route near Speke. Here we spotted St Ambrose Catholic Primary School so popped in to see if they would sponsor my ride. Thanks Jo for offering to take my request to the Mr Buckley, the Headteacher, and for your warm and friendly welcome.

We then passed the back of Hailwood car factory where all the Jaguars are built and through the Speke Boulevard underpass towards Hale village. Hilary recommended we looked at the Church here but unfortunately it was closed. Instead we called on Janice Collier, the local Vicar, who had welcomed a group from the Liverpool Community few weeks before on a walk from Manchester along the same route. Thank you Janice for agreeing to publicise the request for sponsors, and for showing an interest in making more formal links between your parish and L'Arche Liverpool.

We met Brian Powell on his bike, training for a charity event before parting company with Hilary beyond the Runcorn Bridge. There was then a zig-zag path which took us up a level with great views of the Mersey estuary and clearing skies from the west. Kevin and I decided to take what looked like a promising turning towards the River Mersey, but ended up at a golf driving range and had to double back. Eventually we got through a hairy stretch of busy roads to get from Sankey Bridge to Stockton Heath where the trail hugs the Manchester Ship Canal for a stretch before peeling off south through Thelwell and Lymm.

After stopping at Kevin's in-laws' house near Oughtrington, a member of the Manchester Group, John Marechal, a young 78, met up with us near Warburton. He seemed to take it all in his stride - a great inspiration! The path up to Didsbury soon swings north and, although rough in places, kept us away from traffic and now basking in the late afternoon sun. Soon we were wheeling into Emmanuel Church Hall grounds where a reception party awaited along with a professional photographer who got Kevin, John and myself to ride up one of the neighbouring roads for some shots for the local newspaper. Thanks John for giving us your time and skill and your efforts to get the shots published.

Some of the children had prepared a fabulous banner, and members of the Manchester Project Group gathering for the advertised 'Hot Dogs, Warm Welcome and Cold Beer'. It was great to see many familiar faces and have a chance to say a few words about the trip so far, 1000 miles having been clocked up 8 miles down the road.

It was also great to hear about Andrea's Ben Nevis challenge which had taken place the day I left Silsden. She had been inspired to do it as a result of a talk in her church by Stephen, a member of the Project Group. Thanks so much to Naomi and Johanna for preparing the food, and to Heather and Wendy, Rebecca and Kevin, for organising the reception and young Jamie for his hand in the painting the poster.

It was then back to Heather and Kevin's house in Withington for a refreshing shower, and a relaxing chat over an excellent steak dinner, whilst the washing machine gently rocked my sweaty clothes clean – well, those I wasn't wearing.

The Coogan's attic has been made into a wonderful self-contained bed-sit which was my abode for a very sound night's sleep.

Tuesday 24th June

Route: Preston to Liverpool

Mileage: 46.54 miles 924 miles so far; 576 miles to go

Weather: Sunny, broken cloud

I came down as a few of the core members were leaving for their day activities and had breakfast with others. It was Almaz' leaving party tonight - a pity I couldn't stay for it.

The nature of L'Arche means that assistant recruitment is is always a priority to provide the high level of support to the core members. Each year, L'Arche welcomes a number of summer assistants for the holiday period, but otherwise relies on people to commit themselves usually for a minimum of 12 months. Previous experience in the care field or of supporting people with learning disabilities is not necessary, as training is given, but a commitment to community life and to L'Arche's values is required. I'm aware that this is the time of year when exam results are coming in and young people are making decisions about their future and a possible gap year, so hope that some will consider L'Arche. It's great that students have the opportunity for a gap year – in my day it would have been considered definitely career limiting – as I have seen assistants grow in confidence and develop invaluable life skills whilst in L'Arche. Some have come for a year and stayed for many more.

After 2 days' break, it was time to hit the road at about 9.00 am. I had hoped to visit my mother's family home in Mawdesley, near Ormskirk, where my cousin David lives, but he and Angela Finch had arranged to go to see my aunt Margy in Maghull where I was due to have lunch. Again, the route to Liverpool was going through familiar territory. My dad was born in Burscough where, until bulldozed by Tesco for a new store, Peet's Mill had stood near the canal. My great grandfather had built it in the mid 1800s. to run his business supplying provisions to the railway workers who were carving the new line north. Records also show he was the first sub-postmaster of the area - a business a little more secure then than it is today.

I decided to take the direct route down the A6 alongside which there are stretches of good cycle track. It's really flat around these parts, with wide horizons to the west across fertile fields of soft fruit and vegetables, and the odd farm shop selling fresh produce along the route. Southport and Formby aren't far away, as signposts confirm. To the east Parbold Hill comes into sight, and a turn off to Rufford and other villages my mother would have walked or cycled to in her youth.

I got to Maghull by 11.20 in bright sunshine. It was good to see David and Angela who had dropped by with some vegetables for my Aunt Margy who had prepared a lovely lunch - many thanks for this. She is still remarkably active at 92, and still takes a keen interest in her garden, so it gave me a chance to inspect the progress of her tomatoes, beans and potatoes in the vegetable patch. Her only remaining sister, Carmella, had recently died in Montreal, so it was important to spend some time chatting and reading the accounts of how the memorial service had gone. I set off at around 2.00 for L'Arche Liverpool where I was due to arrive by 3.30.

The route from Maghull took me along the Leeds Liverpool canal. I think I came off the route a little early but the SatNav guided me successfully through unfamiliar Walton onto the ring road from where I knew my way into Liverpool along the Prescott Road through Old Swan.

Swinging into Lockerby Road, I was unaware of the gathering awaiting me at The Ark, the Community's recently refurbushed office and workshop complex. Balloons, banners, and a bottle of Bucks Fizz shaken in champion style by Paul Sargent, made it a very special welcome. It was just so good to see many familiar faces in the impressive new horticultural area. After a shower, it was time for the Agape which is the opportunity for the whole community to gather, hear the latest news and pray together before a big meal. It gave me the chance of telling people about my trip and sharing a few anecdotes of the journey so far.

For the meal, it was a case of sitting anywhere at the table, and I was amazed to find that I was next to Raimonda, a Lithuanian assistant who had recently returned from Zimbabwe, whom Jane Salmonson had suggested I contact for first hand knowledge of the Harare Community. So it was really useful to hear Raimonda's experience of the L'Arche Community there. I arranged to have some more time with her in the morning before I left.

Then it was time to go back to Tabor, the house of prayer and rest, where I was staying. The other guest there was Gerbhaardt from ICE, a Christian Agency in Germany, which places young people with L'Arche. Hilary Wilson came round and had a chat - we had last met last June at Tymwar when she was helping to lead a retreat and I was doing the cooking. She is also a keen cyclist so was interested to hear and see more of my journey. Hilary's written a really good summary of L'Arche in the book "My Life Together", published by DLT

I first came to Tabor in 1990, when I think I met Peter Tyler for the first time, and realised what an important resource it is for the Community – a place where assistants can crash out from their daily routine, find space to relax, and use the beautiful prayer room where the Eucharist is celebrated from time to time. A lot of effort has been put into fundraising for the refurbishment of Tabor, and it's lovely to see the fruits of all the hard work. It's a really warm and welcoming house. Thank you Martin for making it such a relaxing place to stay.

Monday 23rd June

A day in Silsden

I had arranged with Aire Valley cycles to take the bike in this morning for a short service so get there by about 9.30 a.m. by flying up to Steeton top and through Utley like I was in the Tour de France....or so it seemed without any panniers. Many thanks to Alistair and Bernie for doing the work free of charge.

Otherwise a busy day which included a couple of hours in the afternoon with Ruth's help weeding the allotment. Thanks to fellow allotment holders John and Melvyn's watering in my absence, the tomato plants and other polytunnel produce were doing well, though the slugs had demolished the runner beans outside. Will the two that are left survive, I wonder!?

By 8.50 pm, Ruth had dropped me and the bike back at L'Arche Preston. I'm really grateful for all your help, Ruth.

Sunday 22nd June

A day at L'Arche Preston a.m./Home in Silsden p.m.

Maggy had arranged with Nick Mansfield, the vicar of, St Leonard's Anglican Church, Penwortham, for me to give the homily at the 10.00 a.m. Communion service. The curate John Scott was taking the service in Nick's absence, and gave me and the L'Arche contingent a very warm welcome. The service was well supported by a choir and energetic organist who for one hymn changed to the electronic keyboard and synthasiser much to the delight of core member Jenny who couldn't help but exclaim in a loud voice“well done” at the end. Like many core members, she isn't afraid of expressing what we others think. Many thanks to Nick and John for agreeing to support my fundraising with a retiring collection this week and next, and to the parishioners for any support they give.

It was then back to the house where Michael, a friend of the Community and part-time assistant, had prepared a fabulous roast lunch, before being collected by Ruth Yeoman who kindly took me and my bike to Silsden for a planned day at home.

Saturday 21st June

Route: Kendal to Preston
Mileage: 46.54 miles 924 miles so far; 576 miles to go
Weather: Cloudy but fine to Torrishome, then rain to Preston

After a very comfortable stay at the Presbytery, for which many thanks Chris, I headed off to find the road to Lancaster. I was due to stop for lunch at my cousin's in Torrisholme near Morecambe. After an initial busy stretch of dual carriageway down the A591 and then A590, the turn off to the A6 took me through familiar territory, though I had always covered this stretch by car.

The sign to Heversham evoked memories of family gatherings at the Blue Bell, and lunches of Morecambe Bay potted shrimps. Dad had been educated at Heversham Grammar School just up the lane before he embarked on his mining engineering studies. Then on through Carnforth where the train from Edinburgh used to stop and where Aunt Alice who lived down the road in Bolton le Sands would be waiting to hand over hampers of food and other goodies to sustain us on the last stage of our steam train journey to Liverpool. Another Aunt, Mildred, lived in Arnside overlooking the estuary where the tidal boar was eagerly watched through black metal binoculars from her first floor window. Tales of treacherous quicksands; treading for flat fish; playing cards on dreary days ....

Not much traffic on the road today. As I passed all these places, or signs to them, I felt strangely at home with so many strong ancestral connections. It's gentle countryside round here and at one point in the road the distant sight of Morecambe Bay evoked that imagined whiff of estuary ozone. The bikes gear chain has started squeaking – is it the pedals, the crankshaft, the derailler or just my imagination? Paranoia setting in ...

Clouds are starting to get darker – an ominous sign. A right turn before entering Lancaster took me the back way to Torrisholme and I'm rolling up to my cousin's house before 11.00, ahead of schedule. It was great to see Midge, Stuart, and sons Scott and Andrew who had laid on a great spread for lunch. No sooner had I arrived but the heavens opened. Stuart went along to Bare Lane station to meet Gerard Isbeque, a friend from my home parish who had offered to cycle with me today. Gerard is no newcomer to cycling, with a few End to Ends under his belt. He has now retired from a fascinating career in the wool trade which Midge's brother John has been involved with since emigrating to Australia 40 years ago. So it was interesting to hear his tales over a delicious lunch – Thanks Midge.

At 2.00ish it was time to tear ourselves away and head into the rain. Once through Lancaster, there's a quiet road to Cockerham, past Glasson, which would have been delightful in the sun, but nonetheless still attractive in the wet. More sharing stories with Gerard, though difficult at times to ride side by side.

The road then joins the A6 at Garstang, and I thought of Jean Andrews who lives here as we sailed through the town. She was the first Chair of the L'Arche Preston Local Committee with whom I worked closely in the early days. Hope you're enjoying retirement, Jean!

The traffic got busier as we approached Preston, but we arrived around 4.15 in time for a warming cup of tea with members of the house. Then for Gerard, a mandatory tour of the house from Jenny with her engaging manner. Thanks so much for your company, Gerard, and I'm glad you caught the train back to Colne, from where, like a true cyclist, you were going to ride back home.

Again the focus of the evening was the shared meal around the beautifully hand crafted dining table which could probably sit 16 at a push. Apart from Ems, who was spending the week-end away, Martin, Tim, Jenny, Ellie and Chris were all around, along with Almaz, Elena, Tom, Andy and Livingstone. Elena had prepared the meal with the help of Maggie who has been involved as a live out assistant since the house opened.

A relaxing evening, then an hour to prepare for the sermon I was giving at St Leonard's, Penwortham the next day.

Friday 20th June

Route: Lockerbie to Kendal
Mileage: 74.7 miles 877 miles so far; 623 miles to go
Weather: Broken cloud, blue sky, light wind

Despite being at the budget end of the hotel spectrum, The Blue Bell was adequate for my needs. After a continental breakfast supplied on a tray the night before. I was on the road again by 9.00 am facing the longest ride in the itinerary so far.

The route took me through rural villages, names like Ecclefechan where I met Eddie and young Thomas who gave me directions – thanks for your support. It wasn't long before I was rolling into Gretna where I stopped at the Old Blacksmith's famous for its weddings. Here I met Regie, a police officer from Newquay who kindly stood me a coffee at the adjoining cafe. He was on his way down from John O'Groats on an End-to-End ride, and had a map similar to the one I should have had, so was able to confirm the route through Longtown, Carlisle and beyond. As I was wheeling my bike through the crowds, a man I had seen in the hotel in Arrochar said hello – the coach party had stopped there on their way home.

I rode with Regie towards Carlisle , stopping at the border for a photo, but lost him before entering the town, and hope he got to his destination OK that night at Shap. Good luck with the rest of the ride, Regie - I hope the back holds out.

A quick diversion to leave some info on the ride with Trinity College and Newman School, and then it was along what seemed like a ring road avoiding the city centre. A few miles out and I found a Premier Inn where Jamie and Amy kindly gave me complementary access to the hotel's WiFi. Many thanks for this and the coffee, Amy. Blog sent, I was on my way again on the A6 at around 1.30 pm.

Cycling through Carlisle reinforced by belief that many local authorities pay lip service to cycle paths, and little attention to the state of the road/path surfaces. That said, the majority of car/lorry/bus drivers have given me reasonable space to avoid the obstacle course of potholes which are just not always evident when you're behind the wheel. As I may have already mentioned, all these cycle paths are going to need a significant investment in maintenance and repair. It might be a salutary experience for someone responsible actually to cycle the routes to see the problems that exist. Good to get that off my chest.

The weather improved as the day progressed, and the lack of major inclines meant that I was likely to be on schedule for a 6.30 arrival in Kendal. At Penrith's Tourist Information, I checked the route and decided to take the direct road over Shap summit rather than the longer route to the east. There are some spectacular views of rolling countryside around these parts, and today the high pressure meant clear views in the distance towards the Lakeland hills. After going through Shap village, which is dominated by the huge quarry and associated belching chimneys, the gradual ascent seemed quite manageable, until the last long pull up to Shap summit. There's a nice memorial there to local people who have provided food and shelter to stranded travellers in bad weather. Not a place to cycle over in winter.

A moment or two to survey the distant scene, and listen to the silence when not invaded by the sound of cars and lorries. The descent was one of those exhilerating experiences which makes all the pain and toil worth it. Memories of a similar descent in the Picos de Europe in northern Spain. Max speed 36 mph.

I reached the outskirts of Kendal at around 6.30 as planned and was negotiating the one way system, when I was forced into the pavement by a driver who left me no room when cutting a corner. I raced after the car and caught up with it at the next traffic lights, making the driver aware in no uncertain terms of his threat to my life. The first serious incident in over 800 miles.

I soon found my accommodation for the night at the presbytery of the Catholic Church, where I was warmly welcomed by Fr Christopher Loughran, the parish priest, After a long hot bath to recover from the 74 mile trip, I was given a delicious supper and discovered that Chris had studied at the Beda with Jock Dalrymple. What a small world it is.

It was then time to arrange with Gerard Isbeque, a keen cycling friend from Silsden, a rendezvous point for tomorrow's ride through Torrisholme to Preston, my final destination for the first phase of my ride.