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.

Thursday 5th June 2008

Today's route – 57.3 miles from Eildon by Melrose to Edinburgh via Roslin
Total mileage so far 244.6 miles; miles to go 1,255.4.
Weather – Blue sky with broken cloud – another good day

My first night in an eco-house induced sound sleep. I realise, though, there is an underlying accumulation of fatigue which will need a day's rest to sort, so I'm looking forward to Friday when I spend a day in L'Arche Edinburgh.

My previous experience of long walks and cycle trips is the great sense of well-being (normally) at the end of a day, a healthy appetite and almost instant sleep when the head hits the pillow. This trip is no exception, and I'm aware that, despite the rain earlier this week, my spirits have remained high. Somewhere along the line, though, I need to be prepared for a less buoyant mood!

The day ahead looked great for cycling, and after a good breakfast I said my farewells. Hope you got home safely, Anne, and have a great party, Merry. Thank you, Ann, for your warm hospitality amidst all the preparations for Sunday.

I headed down the cycle path to Melrose past a plaque commemorating Thomas the Rhymer – the legend goes that he fell asleep below a tree near here and woke to find a shining lady on a dappled grey horse who took him to Fairyland from whence he returned 3 days later a wiser man. I'll leave people to Google for the full story.

Melrose is a quiet border town between Galashiels and St Boswells. It's rugby country. The cycle path through and around the town soon took me alongside tree lined tracks skirting he River Tweed and the sound of lawnmowers carefully clipping the tops of the well manicured lawns of the riverside mansions. Evocative smells of summer. The legs started to itch from the storm of midges which had left their calling card of red spots. No other people or bikes in sight though I sense it's busier at the week-ends. Well done Sustrans for developing the cycle network!

I was due to meet Jock at Peel corner where the A710 meets the A72. Whilst waiting his arrival I got chatting to Ian with two whippets who was the recipient of one of my cards. His was the white van I passed a mile back. Great to chat, Ian – all the best. Jock and Peter soon arrived and we were soon on our way toward Innerleithen where we were to meet Lizzie Findlay, a friend of the Roslin Community, and linked with Faith and Light, the sister organisation of L'Arche, set up to provide a support network for people with learning disabilities living at home, their families and friends. I had met Lizzie at the Jean Vanier Glasgow retreat in Bearsden with Ceelie Horsbrough and many others from Faith & Light. The cycle track hugs the southern side of the river and drops into the town over an impressive iron bridge.

We found Lizzie and John's house with the help of a neighbour who turned out to have organised some fundraising for L'Arche when it was one of the Church of Scotland's nominated charities. John is a skilled carpenter who has built an impressive extension where we sat down to a delicious lunch. Lizzie, an art therapist, planned to join Jock and me on the last leg to Roslin. She would be returning on Saturday by car with her home cooking for Roland's 91st birthday. It transpired that this was Lizzie's first trip to Roslin by bike. The B709 is a quiet back road heading due north from Innerleithen through the Moorfoot hills. Half way up we were stopped by a white van heading south looking for a place near Roslin, so we put them right. Hope you found the place OK, lads! Thanks for your interest in sponsoring the ride.

Climbing the Moorfoots involved a persistent but manageable climb. At the top I could see a cutting promising a splendid view of Midlothian from the other side. Not the first time has my imagination raised false hopes, as another rise came into view. When the summit was eventually reached, we all stopped to marvel at the site of the Pentlands to the west and Firth of Forth and Fife to the north. This is the area I grew up in and which holds such deep memories.

The cycle path peeled off to the west after an exhilarating ride down, and given we were running late, it was agreed I would ride ahead to Roslin where we were expected between 3.00 and 3.30 pm. Cutting through the hamlets of Carrington and Parduvine there was evidence of mining activity nearby, with extraction of sand or gravel along intriguing covered conveyor belts running under the road and across the field like an endless green caterpillar.

The last bit to Roslin really tested the legs, as the road drops down to Roslin Glen before climbing steeply to the village of Roslin which has become the focus of intense interest as the result of a recent thriller, and famous for its institute which cloned Dolly, the late sheep. More importantly it's the home of a small ecumenical community whose members live in wooden huts of the sort you and I would use to house a lawnmower. I was privileged to be asked to be a trustee of the Community some years ago and have come to love the peacefulness and tranquility it offers through a deep commitment to prayer and the simple life in the Franciscan tradition.

John Halsey, Will Henderson, John and Cath Norman and Marie Wedge from L'Arche Edinburgh (thanks for organising this, Marie) gave me a great welcome in the same kitchen I had visited one Wednesday in 1988 to meet Roland. Jock and Lizzie soon arrived, also relieved to have conquered the final hill. Well done Lizzie for a fantastic achievement! Before departing, we all paid a visit to the chapel (2 huts joined together) for a rendition of the Magnificat and a parting Blessing for a Journey, after which I said a quick hello to Roland who stays in the background these days.

As we assembled for the final photos on the pavement outside, two very patient mothers with prams waited. Thank you, Fiona and Nadine, for your understanding and I hope you might support the ride!

From Roslin it was a gentle ride along the cycleway to Loanhead and then rather a hairy ride through rush hour traffic round the east side of Edinburgh, through Gilmerton where Jock has his parish, and then to Leith. Members of The Skein, the Edinburgh Community's first house which overlooks Leith Links, gave us all a great welcome, supported by Heather Coogan the new regional Co-ordinator for Scotland, and Jane Salmonson, the L'Arche Overseas Development Co-ordinator who has been helping to plan the fundraising.

We had made it by 6.00 pm and so supper was ready, and everyone gathered around the table for a traditional L'Arche meal, after saying goodbye to Jock. I've really appreciated your company and encouragement over a couple of days.

It's significant that I'm staying at The Skein as it was the first house I had helped to buy in my capacity as Company Secretary back in 1990. Warm memories of those days with founding Community leader Nikki Ewing, Chair Helen Reid-Thomas, and Treasurer John Norman.

A party from the other house, Creelha, came round for prayers at about 8.00 pm. Sarah chose the theme, being change, which helped me reflect on the many changes that had happened for me over the last 12 months, and those which have also affected L'Arche. Before retiring to bed, I agreed to have a ride round the links with George, one of the founding members. He is very proud of his trike. Marie took some photos which I hope may see their way to the blog. And so the end of the longest day's ride so far and the end of the 1st stage. Only 1,255 miles to go!
Wednesday 4th June 2008

Today's route – 47.5 miles from Kielder Water, Northumberland to Eildon by Melrose
Weather – Blue sky, scattered cloud, warm wind, perfect cycling conditions – at last!

All this exercise is making for a great night's sleep though this morning I was awoken by the dawn chorus which must have started around 3.30 am when it starts getting light up here.
Jock had to leave by 8.00 am to return to his parish in Gilmerton, Edinburgh and took with him some excess baggage to leave at the L'Arche house in Leith where I would be staying. I'm still having to learn the hard way about being ruthless in packing only the essentials. I like to have this and that 'just in case'.

The day looked very promising weather wise, so after settling up and thanking Joe who had welcomed us the previous evening, I loaded the panniers and headed west along the south side of Kielder Water. For those who haven't sampled the delights of cycling, this must have been one of my best rides. With very little traffic, great road surfaces, spectacular forest scenery and relatively gentle inclines, I thanked God for bringing me through a tough few days and rewarding me with such beauty. There were signs to many camping sites and activity centres around the Water which made me think that there are many who are not prepared to brave the midges – or many 'one time only' visitors!

The road eventually reaches Kielder itself and then heads north west up to Deadwater beyond which I stopped to celebrate the fact that I had reached Scotland. In many ways it feels like coming home since my parents moved to Edinburgh when I was two.

The road follows a number of burns (streams) and winds right round on itself at Saughtree then climbs gradually through Wauchope Forest with the only sound of a distant tree felling caterpillar. Bright yellow gorse is abundant round these parts and occasionally one gets the sweet smelling scent of coconut carried on the cooling breeze. The hawthorn too is still in profuse blossom and there was one point where I had to stop and just marvel at the beauty of a field of Highland cattle grazing gently amidst blossom laden trees.

The road then drops down to Bonchester Bridge past hamlets of houses then cuts west towards Hawick where I stopped for lunch and got good mobile signal to confirm arrangements ahead. Time for more phone calls, checking emails and writing the blog. Confirmation had come through from Judith that I had a bed offered on the Isle of Mull and in Winchester, so the jigsaw pieces were coming together.

The Beanscene only opened in September and houses the Tourist information Office, a cafe and cinema. A big thanks to Chris at the TIC and Lindsay at Bs for sorting out the WiFi and making me feel at home. Hawick has a long tradition of being a centre for knitwear and the Beanscene is creatively built around an old mill where the huge water wheel can still be viewed which no doubt powered a battery of looms.

I left Hawick around 3.00 and negotiated my way out of town, joined up the hill by another cyclist, Mike Underhill on his son's Claude Butler. We turned off the busy A7 to the B6339 where it was possible to have a chat. Thanks Mike for your company, encouragement and directions.

I was due to stay the night with the co-founder of L'Arche in the UK. Ann with her late husband Geoffrey Morgan had been instrumental in setting up the first L'Arche house in this country alongside Therese Vanier, Jean Vanier's sister. Ann now lives in Eildon near Melrose, and had her daughter Merry staying, whose 30th birthday was being celebrated this week-end, and a close friend Anne. I had previously visited these parts a few years ago with Fran O'Neill when we did the St Cuthbert's Way – a really great walk from Melrose to Lindisfarne.

The SatNav didn't like just the name of a house and village so I plumped for the nearest equivalent which was clearly wrong as the wretched machine kept insisting that I turned right then piped up in a resentful tone “recalculating” when I didn't, as if I was putting it to great inconvenience. Perhaps it's all my fault for not being sufficiently SatNav savvy.

The garden at Littlecroft is just a delight. After a quick shower and change, I was sitting in it savouring a welcome glass of wine in the warm evening sun. Behind us, blending ingeniously into its natural surroundings, stood a long cabin housing an office and bedroom where I was to sleep. It's an amazing eco-friendly design, built with straw bale walls and a sedum roof, and the work of one of Ann's sons who is a green architect in Edinburgh.

It was just great to see Ann again, whom I first met in Barfrestone, Kent, 18 years ago. I particularly remember her kindness and concern in the early days of my job. We then sat around the kitchen table over a lovely meal, catching up on news and reminiscing.

Had a useful conversation on the phone with John Elliott in search of a bed on the way from Perth to Inverness. He suggested the Templetons who are fellow trustees of the Community of the Transfiguration in Roslin where I would be visiting tomorrow. It hadn't occurred to me they lived in the vicinity so after another call a welcome was extended and arrangements were confirmed.

Another exhilarating day, made easier by shedding some baggage (thanks, Jock and driver Peter for making this possible) and significant through my visiting Ann who is such an important part of L'Arche UK's story.
Tuesday 3rd June 2008

Today's route – 44 miles from Kiln Pit Hill west of Consett to Kielder Water, Northumberland
Weather - persistent rain till early afternoon then dry and brightening.

There is something special about a real farmhouse breakfast. Tom and Peter seemed unusually keen for me to have a cooked one which I suspect is not the norm, so I was glad to oblige! Thanks Ann for great cooking and to you and Tom for a really enjoyable stay. The rain persisted when I left Airey Holme Farm heading north west to Hexham where I was due to meet reporter Gemma from the local newspaper, the Hexham Courant. Ann's email was being particularly obstinate the previous evening so the photo taken of myself and Tom hadn't gone through when I left. I was keen to ensure that the Durham Prayer Group was mentioned in the accompanying email, as any publicity could help to strengthen their membership.

I was getting used to the rain percolating through my helmet and dripping off my nose, but the rest of me was relatively dry thanks to some efficient clothing. The B6306 road takes a more direct route through back lanes to Hexham through Slaley. As I was cycling through the village I passed the First School and wondered if they would be interested in sponsoring my efforts so doubled back and introduced myself and presented my credentials to the Headteacher, Mrs Ross, who was delighted that I had called, as the children were doing their cycling proficiency. In two minutes I had a cup of warming tea in my hand facing a classroom of bright eyed kids telling them about my Big Bike Ride and explaining what L'Arche was and explaining a bit about learning disabilities. It was great to see so much enthusiasm and interest from the kids, and touched when Mrs Ross suggested they too did a bit of cycling to help support L'Arche. The bike attracted a lot of interest not least the SatNav!

I was late getting to the Hexham Courant office, under-estimating the terrain which was quite up and down, but arrived at around 11.45. Gemma had received the email and photo from Ann, and confirmed she would run a piece in this week's edition. I then repaired to Mucho Gusto for an excellent coffee before searching for a wireless hotspot to send yesterday's blog. Weatherspoons were very obliging but the passwords didn't work. So I found the library and got online there. However, I was denied access to see my blog! So it was along to Cafe Nero...

Jock Dalrymple had planned to spend a day with me, and had arranged for a parishioner, Peter and his wife, from Hawick to perform a complicated set of manoevres with cars to bring him and his bike to Hexham, leaving his car at Bellingham. It was still pouring when he arrived, and we met appropriately at the Abbey which was the first Benedictine foundation in England - thanks, Jock, for another historical insight. Jock and I met in Rome and have been cycling at least once a year since 1988, so we have got used to each other's foibles.

We amended the planned route slightly out of Hexham and were a little alarmed to see Peter and his wife heading towards us just after Low Brunton. An accident ahead had forced them to find another route to Bellingham. We eventually came to the spot before Wark where a van had completely turned over on a country lane – fortunately no fatalities.

The rain eventually subsided and the ride became quite enjoyable to Bellingham where Jock picked up his car and went off to check in at the Calvert Trust who had kindly sponsored a discounted overnight stay. I was relieved to handover my panniers for a few miles and set off for an easier ride with the sky brightening from the west, after a cup of tea at the Riverdale Hotel which seems to have quite a reputation for food.

One great aspect of cycling is the ability to exchange words with people along the way and this I did with Lawrence Dagg, a farmer who was viewing a field of sheep when I passed. He had the wisdom of a man who had seen many seasons out, and remarked that perhaps people would take farming more seriously now food was in short supply. It made me think that this was indeed a primary industry which we expect much of without perhaps sufficiently understanding the pressures they face.

I met Jock half way to Kielder and we decided to stop at Stannersburn for a meal at The Pheasant Inn which didn't disappoint us in the quality of food and the convivial atmosphere. A great meal. We rolled out at about 10.00 (still light up here) and attacked the remaining 5 miles while the midges attacked us. I've never seen or felt so many!

The Calvert Trust place where we were staying was very impressive, with a number of groups using it – a couple of schools and a respite group. It's basically designed for people with any kind of disabilities and they have a resident young team who are obviously dedicated to ensuring visitors get the most out of the recreational facilities on site.

Sleep came easily and soundly!

Monday 2nd June 2008

Today's challenge – 59 miles fom Leyburn to Kiln Pit Hill west of Consett.
Weather cloudy and a mist over high ground.

An excellent breakfast was served at 8.00 am by Mike and Paula, ably assisted by their friends Moira and Peter. Fellow guests comprised a group of Americans on a photography tour of Yorkshire who didn't seem to be phased by the gloomy weather conditions and who had impressively been on the odd 5.00 am assignment. John, their tour leader, gave a good plug for the bike ride.

I headed off at 9.15 am furnished with a sizeable chunk of Paula's apple cake. The road to Richmond was reasonably easy, following a valley which brought me in from the west side.
A quick visit to Tourist Information before heading north on the B6274. After an initial pull up to Gilling, the road was really pleasant and relatively flat so good progress made through Forcett and Winston.

After a tea stop at Staindrop, the terrain ahead looked decidedly more hilly from Egglestone so took a lunch break here and interested a number of customers in sponsorship, including one who turned out to be Lord Strathmore. I was sent rather over encouragingly on my way which led me to realise that this was not a route for a heavily laden bicycle. I was about to climb Middleton Moor and the start of the north Pennines. A tough climb to White Hill, followed by a wonderful if dangerously steep descent to Stanhope and a cruel hill at Crawleyside which forced me off the saddle. There's a certain indignity about dismounting on a hill, not least when a young fit lad sails past (unladen!) cutting up the gradient with astonishing energy. I knew my place. Once past the worst bit, it was a hard but tolerable route past Scaylock Hill and Cross Rigg with some fabulous views across these bleak moors.

At Edmundbuyers, beside Derwent Reservoir I rang Tom Miller to arrange a Rendezvous near his Farm at Kiln Pit Hill. By this time there were 54 miles on the clock but there was a sting in the tail with a push up to the A68 before meeting Tom at the pre-arranged junction. Another tough day but thankfully escaping the rain.

I had met Tom and his wife Ann briefly at the L'Arche Regional Gathering in Durham and they gave me a really warm welcome. Longstanding friends of Judith and Martin Ellis, they have been farming here for nearly 40 years, mainly arable now. Tom's a wheelchair user but his is no ordinary wheelchair. You might describe it as a turbo charged all terrain model with 6 wheels - amazing. After a delicious supper and a photo for the Hexham Courant, it was good to share stories with Tom and Peter, a friend of the family who is helping out on the farm.

Day 1: Sunday 1st June

Last minute preparations finally complete, I set off to the Methodist Church at around 12.10 to find an astonishing number of people waiting to give me a send off. I was very moved to see so many people supporting my ride and realised afterwards that they were probably not aware of the hard work that the Silsden Team including David Grimshaw had put into the planning. The weather forecast had not been wrong - steady rain was falling - and my heart sank with the prospect of the first day battling against the elements. After some well staged pictures for the local PR and a few words from me, Corrine Gregory gave a fitting Irish blessing, and Jo Blythe, the ITV weather presenter wished me well before ceremoniously sending myself and Sue Johnson on our way - Sue having kindly agreed to accompany me on the first push up to Cringles. It all seemed a bit surreal seeing the gathered crowd cheer, many of whom I have come to know in my 18 years in Silsden, as I wobbled off unsteadily under the weight of the panniers. The adventure had begun.

Thanks to a few training rides, we were soon up at Cringles and I was on my own speeding down to Addingham and beyond. Despite the rain, I was very aware of the wonderful countryside - along to Bolton Abbey, past Strid Wood and down to Burnsall. The beauty of stone walls and rolling verdant dales punctuated by lonesome barns reminded me why I have grown to love this area so much. On a sunny day, the wild flower meadows would have been a sight to behold - but even in the rain they evoke warm memories of a Carmel Ramblers week-end walk in Dentdale one May.

After Bolton Abbey, I met up with a Leeds YHA group, who later joined me at the cafe at Burnsall which looked too inviting to pass. So I pulled in and had a warming cup of tea, handing out a few cards and encouraging sponsorship among the fellow customers. Thanks to whoever gave me the idea of printing business size cards with the web address for donations - opportunities to tell people about L'Arche along the way, and hopefully persuade people to give to the appeal. Then on to Scargill where I recently stood down as chair after nearly 3 years, and where I met my late friend Alan Isles who went to Nepal to start the tree nursery project that I visited in March. Another cup of tea and a chat with a few members of the Community and I was on my way to the tough bit of the ride - up through Coverdale. I realised that it was impossible to cycle up 1 in 4 gradients with a full load - even with 24 gears. So there were a couple of stretches where I had to get off and push. I'm not sure how I would have coped even without baggage. But this allowed me to marvel at the fabulous countryside - how is it I've not discovered this dale before, having always taken the road to Starbotton, Buckden and Cray? When on the bike again, there is still a substantial climb to the top, and just as I was approaching the summit I heard the rare sound of skylark. Oddly, as the mist was starting to roll in, the rain stopped and the northern sky lighten as I started the descent to Leyburn. The gentle descent was interrupted by another killer climb after which I decided to try the Garmin SatNav for which David G had managed to get a significant discount from Halfords.

This is high tech stuff. Type in the postcode and just sit back, watch the map on the screen and listen to the instructions. Garmin voice directed me to turn left after so many miles. The other high tech features are my gear changers. Thanks to wide advice and a generous price reduction from Aire Valley Cycles, I'm now the proud owner of a Ridgeback World Voyage bike, with gear changers that are integral to the brake levels, making gear changing a doddle. A number of other retailers kindly offered a discount, including Cycle Clothing UK which is a new internet company selling really good gear at really good prices - thanks Charlton for sponsoring the shirts, warmers and shades. As I was pondering on these technological advances, I passed a woman who was doing a 10 mile run in the hope of doing the London Marathon next year. Said she would visit the website, so another card dispensed.

The last leg into Leyburn is along the busier A684 and since I was ahead of schedule, I popped into the 3 Horseshoes for a celebratory pint. The SatNav did its stuff and I was soon knocking at the door of Tom and Paula's Eastfield Lodge Guest house. Through Judith Ellis's links, Collett’s Mountain Holidays have generously sponsored a night’s stay here. I couldn't have wished for a warmer welcome or a better room (with a bath to soak away the day's exertions - rediscovering the pleasures of hot tap toe control) and was treated to a wonderful meal in convivial company. As I was running the bath, Jeremy Cain, a friend of L'Arche, rang to say he couldn't make the ride tomorrow; it would have been good to have his company.

That's all for now. A hard slog, but the bike handled really well, I've chalked up 34 miles in half a day, and met some really hospitable and generous people. It bodes well for the weeks ahead...