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 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.