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.

Tuesday 10th June

Route: Knock of Muir near Aviemore to Inverness
Mileage: 42; 441 miles total; 1,059 to go
Weather: Overcast and showers

Stephen Pennington, the Chair of the Inverness Committee, and his son Findlay, met me at Carrbridge to join me on the stage to Inverness. At David Hayes' suggestion, we took the initial off-road stretch of Sustrans Route 7 and stopped at Sluggan to see the historic bridge – well worth a visit.

A quick Google reveals “The Sluggan Bridge crosses the Dulnain River on the old General Wade Military road, c1729, two miles upstream from Carrbridge. Wade originally crossed the Dulnain with a ford which was later replaced in the 1760s with a two-arch bridge. This was swept away during the great flood of the 3rd of August 1829, to be replaced by the current large single span bridge in the 1830s. The bridge has undergone a major repair in 2001 - 2002, by Sustrans as part of the National Cycle Network. Sluggan Bridge is category A listed and a scheduled monument. The Wade Road is an ancient right of way.” This explains why the arch of the bridge is unusually high for the surrounding terrain.

Without David's suggestion we could have taken the main Sustrans route and missed this gem. On the steeper slopes of what was quite a rough stone strewn patch, it was impossible to stay on the bike with the wheels skidding all over the place. Otherwise a pleasant ride which brought us back onto the Sustrans road route.

The rain looked not far away all day and came in showers, so it was a welcome stop at Tomatin for a hot drink in the pub/restaurant there. It was great to have company again – with the quiet roads it was possible to chat along the way and share experiences. Both Stephen and Findlay were glad of the chance to train for the forthcoming Highland Cross, an annual charity event involving walking and cycling across the breadth of Scotland. In recent years, L'Arche Inverness was the beneficiary of £50,000 for their new craft workshop.

At one point we met a couple of men walking with a red flag from Thurso to Brighton. Mike Vickers and friend were undertaking this walk of witness to raise awareness of Jesus Christ throughout the land.

Not long after that, we reached the Slochd Summit, 1315 ft above sea level. The prospect of a descent of the same distance gave us new encouragement, though the others knew it wasn't going to be quite that easy. As it turned out, the climbs were tolerable particularly the one up from the River Nairn before the famous Culloden battlefield where a new visitor centre has now been built. At one point we passed the prehistoric cemetery at Balnuarnan of Clava, with three mounds each surrounded by standing stones. Worth a visit sometime.

A phone call to arrange lunch and we were on our final ride into Inverness, the cycle path taking us alongside the busy main road at one point. We decided to take the direct route into the city and I had to stop for a photo at the city boundary to record that I had completed stage 2 and a total of c. 440 miles. A real sense of achievement.

The L'Arche Community is on the south side of Inverness near the river, and we were soon leaning our bikes against the new workshop, being welcomed by Anne Shaw, the workshop Co-ordinator, and posing for photos. The soup and sandwiches hit the spot, Anne. Thanks!

The last time I was here was to see the near completed workshop in my role as General and Company Secretary when it took three and a half hours door to door to fly up from West Yorkshire. This journey has taken 9 days.

It was then time to say farewell to Stephen and Findlay, who I have subsequently heard got good news of his exam results from Stirling University later in the day. Many congratulations Findlay - you can now relax and enjoy the summer!

I was due to stay in MacTalla, the newest of the Community houses nearer the city centre and was given a warm welcome by house leader Pawel and the other assistants, Sylwia, Anka and Erika, and core members Barbara and Kevin, as well as Angus, Mark and Jackie when they returned from their various day activities, It's a really great to be back here, having stayed a couple of times before, and I have really valued the opportunity just to be present with the core members most of whom I got to know back in the 90s.

MacTalla has the advantage of spacious rooms and an enormous annex at the back which provides a great light-filled space, large enough for the monthly Community Gatherings, the next due to be held tomorrow. The main focus of the L'Arche day is the evening meal sitting around the table. It's a profound experience which reveals the heart of L'Arche – mutual relationships. Conversation flowed naturally this evening: people could just be themselves. Great importance is placed on listening respectfully to whoever is saying something, whether in words or gestures.

Whilst everyone else had a house meeting after supper, I helped out with the washing up and then caught up on the blogs before going to bed.
Monday 9th June

Route: Milton of Pitgur, near Pitlochry to Knock of Muir near Aviemore
Mileage: 69 399 miles total; 1,101 to go
Weather: Overcast

Well fuelled for the road, I said goodbye to Elizabeth around 8.30 am and set off back to Pitlochry. Here I found a RBOS branch to deposit the cash fund collected so far. It's a feature of our technological era that things are not quite as simple as you would expect. Despite the Royal Bank of Scotland owning the NatWest, I was told that it was not possible to pay into the L'Arche account without a pay-in slip! Fortunately a call to Debbie in Silsden sorted the problem as L'Arche in Scotland uses the RBOS. Despite this technicality, the staff were very patient and there was a really friendly atmosphere to the branch. Andrew deserves a special mention.

I was anxious to find a wireless internet point but the internet cafe in town was closed so I thought of sweet talking a hotel to let me use theirs. Then I spotted Perth College on the High Street and found a very helpful person, Jane, who allowed me access to one of their computers. Here I also met Barbara who was doing an assignment on one of the computers. I'm aware it would be ideal to upload a blog each day, but after a long ride and spending time with my hosts, sleep comes easier than writing. So please be patient if they take a day or two to come!

Before leaving Pitlochry at around 11.00 am I popped into The Scottish Shop to buy a couple of postcards and left a BBR card with the Sikh owner. No sooner than I had left the shop, than he rushed out and gave me a wee blue teddy bear which I've named Archie. Thanks so much Kirpal. Interesting to hear of your Ipswich connections where we have a L'Arche Community.

The next stop on the quieter B8097 road from Pitlochry, past the turning to Loch Tummel, is Blair Atholl. Nearby is the impressive House of Bruar, an upmarket visitor shop selling everything from smart raincoats to fresh raspberries. Something said I should pop in and ask if they would be interested in sponsoring my ride. I was able to explain what I was doing to Oliver Platts who kindly offered to put it to his Director. So here's hoping they will find their way to supporting L'Arche.

The weather started to deteriorate as I headed into Glen Garry, though the road in places was a high grade tarmac surface with only me on it. This was the start of the big climb up to the Drumochter Summit. Wind and rain are the cyclist's worst enemy when it's particularly important to keep dry and warm. The direction of the wind was from the north west for quite a stretch making it difficult to make headway, or at least that's how it felt, It was a really testing time and the only option is to keep pedalling and dream of that hot bath. Judith from Silsden had mentioned a good cafe along the A9 at Dowally, but I suspect I missed it because of the cycle track taking a separate path. I thought there might be something warming in addition to whisky in the Dalwhinnie Distillery visitor centre. Sadly not, but Simon directed me towards Newtonmore where there was a cafe and pottery on the way there. No sign of it from the cycle route so it was onwards to the Ralia cafe where I refuelled with a late lunch and got onto the wireless internet thanks to Kinga and Eva.

It was about another 2 hour journey from here to Muir of Knock, six miles north east of Aviemore, eventually reaching the River Spey and the Abernethy Forest in the shadow of the Cairngorms where patches of snow punctuate the higher summits.

The only stop was to check with a local resident, David Alexander on directions to verify Sal's verbal instructions. The SatNav had brought me on the right road but directed me to the wrong house due to the fact that The Muir of Knock had the same post code as a number of other houses in the far flung surrounding area! After a phone call I eventually spotted Sal who had walked to the end of her drive to greet me.

It must have been over 10 years since I called here by car from L'Arche Inverness. I had got to know Sal when she was a member of the Local Committee there and where she also volunteered in the workshop. So there was much news to catch up on after the longest leg yet (69 miles) and a wonderfully relaxing bath. It was very good to meet David who runs the local Landmark Centre in Carrbridge. When I mentioned I had been staying at the Templetons, the name rang a bell with him and he produced a 1957 photo of the Officers of the Black Watch lined up with the late Queen Mother, where there indeed was a DA Templeton in the back row! I must ring Douglas and check.

After a wonderful meal I was grateful for the use of David's computer to upload some photos to the blog. Then to bed. Thank you for your excellent hospitality, Sal and David.
Sunday 8th June

Route: Perth to Milton of Pitgur, near Pitlochry
Mileage: 37 miles; 293 miles total; 1, 207 to go
Weather: Blue sky, light breeze

I woke this morning to blue sky. After a good cooked breakfast at Kinnaird Guest House, I dropped the bags off at Ann's and headed up the hill for Mass. A Kenyan priest who was on a renewal course was the principle celebrant, so I was able to tell him about Jean Vanier's recent visit to his country to lead a retreat at Nyahururu, and the plans for a L'Arche Community in that country.

Thanks to Ann McIntyre's request, Fr Tom, the resident priest, kindly allowed me a few minutes before the end of Mass to give a brief explanation of my ride and the reason I was fundraising. The response from the congregation was really encouraging and spontaneous donations of over £100 resulted. Thanks to all the generous donors. Afterwards at coffee I had a chat with Peter Kaye and Bob Dollman who turned out to have been at St Andrews University soon after I was at Dundee. Peter and his wife were married by Jock Dalrymple's uncle, then University Chaplain. I also met Sister Jude who sent her warm wishes to Richard Popplewell whose mother she knew. Extraordinary the connections I'm making.

I returned to the McIntyre's flat to find a platoon of the army, navy and airforce service men and women, complete with military band, lined up outside St John's Kirk. After a quick once round the Kirk, the Sargent Major brought them to a halt and shouted “Remoove yer heeddrees an weep yer brew” So I did what I was told, took off my helmet and wiped my brow.

Ann and Donald's apartment in Beaumont Place is an impressive conversion with its own roof-top garden and disabled access for their son Ewen who has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user. By the time I returned, Ewen had arrived, and we all had lunch together. Ewen's zest for life is inspiring and he is not afraid of expressing his needs. It was a real privilege to be able to spend time with Ann, Donald and Ewen – thank you all for your generosity, and Ann for your work in promoting the ride.

The route out of Perth is pretty straight forward and I was soon gliding along some stunning countryside on a baking hot afternoon, skirting fields of potatoes and what may have been fleece covered soft fruit, though no evidence of raspberries for which this region is famous. I was now on Route 77 heading for the south side of Pitlochry.

Then I saw it - the white and brown Jack Russell ferreting around in a long garden below me. It seemed a tranquil scene. Then it saw me and bolted parallel with the road towards the house. By that time I had noticed with some alarm that not only was there no fence, but a steep incline on the road ahead. My thighs were poised for a race. Before I knew it the dog had sprinted through the hedge and was making ground fast. I remembered the pump, conveniently fitted to the bike’s back frame. The terrier caught up with me barking angrily, it's teeth poised to take a chunk out of my ankle. As I was returning a string of expletives, the dog’s owner spotted what was happening and called the brute off. I've never pedalled so fast up a hill. No that's not quite true - the last time was when being chased by a 3 legged dog in Donegal!

After the bridge in Dunkeld, the route takes you left through the grounds of a rather posh hotel along the banks of the Tay. A little way along the riverside path I met Don and Lynette MacLennan who were on holiday from Inverness (thanks for your generous support) and Lorna and Dianne who confirmed there was a way ahead crossing the river.

The next stretch along the B898 was the best of the day, hugging the forest on the left with dappled light through shady stretches then out into open countryside and fields of quietly grazing sheep. At one point I stopped to chat to local farmer, Peter Stewart, and his friend, Alan Hannah, and admire Alan's magnificent laburnum tree. It transpired that Peter's wife had helped run the special needs support services in Fife.

I was due to arrive at the Templeton's farmhouse at around 8.00pm so found a place for a meal at Drummonds overlooking the River Tummel. Fellow diners were Willy and Kathy Burns and their dog Bud. Willy's business is building Fire Engines which he supplies to the West Yorkshire brigade. Hope you had a safe journey back to Glasgow!

I now doubled back to Milton of Pitgur on the opposite side of the valley. Some really steep climbs here which weren't helped by the pint of Belhaven. By the time I arrived after 8.00 pm I had clocked 37 miles which was one of my less strenuous days. Elizabeth Templeton had just arrived back from Edinburgh, Douglas unfortunately having to stay there till the morning. The sun was still quite high when I got a tour of the garden – as we approach the longest day, it must hardly get dark up here. After a wonderful bath, it was good to sit and chat with Elizabeth and learn of her original connections with Roland Walls, and Roslin, and to share something of my own journey over an excellent dram.

Overshadowing the Templetons' life is the daily challenge of coping with the disappearance of their 26 year old son Alan who went missing 18 months ago. It's difficult to imagine the daily nightmare of not knowing that the family have to live with. I appreciate you letting me mention Alan, Elizabeth - my thoughts and prayers for his safe return. Many thanks for making me feel very much at home in your lovely house. It will be good to meet with you and Douglas later this summer.
Saturday 7th June 2008

Route: Leith, Edinburgh to Perth via Milnathort, Fife
Mileage: 49 miles; 293 miles total; 1, 207 to go
Weather: Blue sky with broken cloud, light breeze

Last night I weeded a few unnecessary possessions to lighten the pannier load and left them to be sent down to Silsden. The bags still felt heavy. What's really important on a trip like this is to know exactly which of the two bags you've packed things. If I haven't anything better to tell you, I can always tell you what they contain!

I was up early and ready by 8.15 am by which time John Norman came over to see me off from The Skein. The majority of house members were enjoying a lie in, but Alison was up, and made me a cup of tea.

John came with me as far as the Kramers house where we met Kirsten who had just finished her exams. Then it was on to Cramond to visit Des and Jean Farmer. I had worked closely with Des when he was National Chair of L'Arche. Fresh scones and tea in their sun drenched conservatory set me up for the journey ahead: the china cups and teapot really do make a difference, Jean! Many thanks for a welcome stop – we'll catch up another time on the India/Nepal trip.

The cycle route to Queensferry from the Barnton Roundabout avoids the busy approach road to the Forth Road Bridge, and passes Dalmeny and where the army HQ used to be and perhaps still are. In my teens I had attended the beating of the retreat here one year with a girlfriend whose father was in the army. I recall the start of the programme was delayed for some time until a long black car with outriders pulled up and a tall African stepped out who I later discovered at the ensuing cocktail party was Idi Amin who at that time, I believe, was being wooed by the British Government.

Getting onto the Forth Road Bridge from South Queensferry was easier than I thought, thanks to James McKee who kindly gave me directions to the cycle/footpath. The western path was closed so I had to loop down and round a service road to get to the eastern side. The weather was perfect so there was a good view of the Forth (railway) Bridge, now part enshrined in white sheeting while they apply an epoxy resin coating of more durable paint.

Here on the road bridge they are also carrying out major maintenance work, and I stopped to chat to Ross Cambleton, the construction supervisor for Spencers. He explained that the main load carrying cable actually comprises 11,500 wires some of which have started to corrode with the salt laden atmosphere. To combat this they are wrapping a rubber membrane round the composite cable and forcing de-humidified air through sections to arrest the corrosion. Quite a major project due to take nearly 3 years to complete. Hope I got that right Ross! Many thanks for your sponsorship.

At the northern end of the bridge I met a party of school children from Livingston Salvation Army raising money for a water well in Kenya. Good luck kids, and thanks to Margo Stevenson for stopping for a chat and a photo.

The path soon peels off the dual carriageway onto the B961 at Inverkeithing and then alongside the noisy M90 into quieter countryside heading for Cowdenbeath. This was mining country and where my late father did his mining engineering apprenticeship. He would have had to get used to dropping daily into the dark depths with the miner's lamp now sitting by my fireplace. In those days it must have been particularly dangerous work. As I rode through Cowdenbeath, I wondered where he had his lodgings and which pub he might have frequented. It was from this early experience, and his studies at what is now Heriott Watt University in Edinburgh, that he set out to India to make a career for himself, initially as a Coal Superintendent with the East India Railway Company and latterly with the Coal Board of India, prospecting for open cast seams in the jungle of West Bengal.

There's something warmly evocative about these Scottish villages – I don't know what it is. Perhaps there's an unconscious awakening of early memories of accompanying Dad to his work out at Newbattle in Midlothian through similar mining communities.

Onwards to Kinross and Milnathort for lunch with Margaret Mead and husband John. I had estimated a 1.30 arrival and was pretty much on time. On the way, I stopped to talk to a group of ladies outside Kinross Church Centre. Thanks Joanne, Barbara and (Tea Shop) Linda for your interest and agreeing to spread the word of my fundraising efforts for L'Arche.

Marg was outside her cottage to welcome me with balloons and a newly mad Faith and Light banner. She has been the Scottish Co-ordinator for F&L until recently. Faith and Light is a sister organisation to L'Arche, set up by Jean Vanier and Marie-Helen Mathieu in 1971. It provides an invaluable support network for people with learning disabilities and their families and friends who meet once a month for friendship and sharing, celebrations and prayer. It's ecumenical like L'Arche, and there are now 1,500 communities round the world.

Marg's daughter Elaine is the leader of The Skein where I have just stayed. It was good to learn more about Marg and John's link with L'Arche, John having helped build the chapel in The Cedars, Daybreak, Toronto where Henri Nouwen lived. After a sumptuous lunch, Margaret and I went for a walk around the village, visiting the local pottery and the church and village fete where I met Linda and her husband John Heggarty, retired Church of Scotland minister who met Jean Vanier in Glasgow, and Robert Pickles, the current local minister.

Marg then cycled with me to Glenfarg on what had become a gloriously warm afternoon, stopping for a photo beside a lion topiary before leaving me to head north to Perth. Thankfully the cycle route took me away from the A912 and dropped me into Bridge of Earn, before joining the main road then a steep climb to Craigend which overlooks both the Earn valley and the more northern River Tay on whose banks Perth stands. The SatNav did its stuff and I was soon standing outside the Kinnaird Guest House. Douglas and Emma, and children Harriot and Henry, gave me a warm welcome and relieved me of the bike for safe storage. It's an imposing stone terraced property overlooking South Inch Park. with a real family run feel to it, beautifully decorated and furnished. The flapjacks in the room were much appreciated. Thanks for a really comfortable stay and good luck with the business.

Ann McIntyre had generously sponsored my stay there, and invited me to spend the evening with her husband Donald and friend Roger who have both worked with Ken Iverson in developing computer programming languages. When in California, Donald pioneered computer analysis of geological samples. We were also joined by the McIntyre's good friend Marina McGourty whose daughter Christine is a BBC Science Correspondent. A wonderful meal and great conversation – thank you!

Marina very thoughtfully showed me the route up to St Mary's Spirituality Centre in Kinnoull, where it had been arranged for me to say a few words at the 10.00 Mass. I was glad that I would be travelling without panniers as the hill looked somewhat challenging.
Friday 6th June 2008

Rest Day – 0 miles
Weather sunny and dry


I had arranged to go into the L'Arche office in Edinburgh at 10.00, but didn't mange to make it before 11.00 am, so missed seeing Michael Bentham a UK Team member with whom I worked closely and who had been attending a meeting of the local management committee the night before. I was sorry to hear Robin Watt the Chair had been in hospital and do hope he is soon on the road to recovery.

My rest day hadn't been filled with planned activities so I spent the morning writing my blog and the afternoon uploading photos to illustrate the trip. This blogging business is remarkably easy, so thanks Steve for setting it all up for me. Steve's the resident techno whizzo in Silsden who brings calm and order during computer user meltdown. That's a real gift.

Jane Salmonson, the L'Arche Overseas Development Co-ordinator, came in after lunch, so it was good to review fundraising progress and plan a few new approaches. Quicky running out of time, I made a telephone call to my old Primary School, St. Peter's Falcon Gardens and left a message with the head teacher's secretary asking if the school might consider sponsoring the Bike Ride. Friday afternoon's not the best time to be ringing schools – it would have been better to go in personally this morning. There were also telephone calls to make to arrange onward accommodation, and I was relieved to secure a bed in Fort William. I had given up the idea of visiting friends in Edinburgh, as I really wanted to spend as much time with Community members.

One of the founding members, George, is moving to his own flat shortly which is a wonderful. I remember visiting the house when George first arrived, and how he opened the door to me and held up a key. “I've got a key!” he exclaimed with delight as he held up his front door key. I reached into my pocket and reflected how much I take my own keys for granted. For George, a key had meant being locked the wrong side of the ward door in the institution he had lived in since his teens. He had found new freedom, and now, thanks to L'Arche and his Social Services he was to experience more independence, but remain firmly a member of the Community. That seems to be L'Arche's strength – the committed network of friendship and support. As the L'Arche Identity statement says “Mutual relationships and trust in God are at the heart of our journey together”.

One of the aspects of my job as General Secretary was the constant series of meetings I normally had to go to when visiting Communities so it was just great to be able to 'loiter with holy intent' as my friend Brian Gregory puts it. I joined the members of the Skein for supper and spent the evening with those who were around. George then went to his club while we all went along to the fun fair on Leith links where Alison and I had a go on the dodgem cars with Lotte and Jonathan. It was great fun, Alison!

It was soon time for bed.