Monthly Archives: July 2014

Wednesday 23rd July: All Saints Landbeach

Breakfast in Finedon — what a breakfast it was! The parishioner who hosted us had it all laid out before we even got up. As usual Jo was the first one ready, and I did feel sad as I got into a car to be driven to a station while Jo and Clive cycled off… but I made good use of my train journey to write a blog post on hospitality and vulnerability. Little did I know that the events of later in the day would drive the point home!

The plan was that I’d get to Cambridge, find myself some lunch, go back to our kind hostess there to retrieve my bicycle and meet Clive and Jo on the guided busway to cyclg into Landbeach with them. It seemed like a good plan, on the face of it; they could get in touch at Huntingdon and I could set out then, knowing there would be plenty of time.

It didn’t work out that way. I was packing my panniers when I got a message from Clive, so I gave him a ring; or maybe he rang me. He’d left his camera at Graffham Water, they’d come a few miles since then, and he needed to go back for it. Fair enough, there was still plenty of time… Jo agreed to stay with some of his bags so he could make his little detour faster, and I was on standby to go straight to Landbeach if necessary. I waited. I wrote half a blog post about leaving things behind. I waited some more. Clive found his camera (in his pocket…) and headed back. Eventually Jo started to worry about the time, so left Clive’s bags with someone else and started making her way to Landbeach, so that there would be at least two of us for the concert; not long after, I set out. Clive and Jo had my Sustrans maps so I used Cyclestreets to tell me how to get there. Unfortunately once the pink “you go this way” stripe is on the route it’s pretty hard to tell, on screen, whether it is a road, path, bridleway… it turned out that about 2 miles of it was indeed bridleway, with deep ruts and long grass; the direct route was not the fastest! But I made it in time, and worried about where Jo had got to. She wasn’t coming a huge distance and was by far the swiftest cyclist of us all, having been wise enough to pack lightly. I didn’t have much reception in the church, though, and in any case her battery had died. So I planned to re-arrange the running order a bit, playing the organ first, and if necessary doing more audience participation than usual and talking more to pad out the programme items I could do on my own.

Ten minutes before the start of the performance, breathless and sunburnt, Jo turned up. She’d had a flat on the way, and if someone hadn’t stopped to help her she would have been even later. Clive did eventually join us, part-way through Compline.

Again we needed to split up in order for our hosts to accommodate us. Clive and I lucked out and not only were fed supper and breakfast but also had all our laundry done and were given packed lunches. This really helped after a physically (for Clive, at least) and mentally exhausting day.


Hospitality and vulnerability

We’re a few days into the pilgrimage, and things are going well. We seem to be having a good journey, and our various host churches seem to appreciate what we have to offer.

Not all is straightforward, though: it never is with a project of this sort. A knee injury in the week before departure has slowed me down, and even resulted in some train journeys. My saddle clamp failed on the first day, too. Some of the scheduling has been a bit last-minute too (my fault). One of our number has had such difficulty preparing his own bicycle for the journey that he has not yet, in fact, joined us.

I love the feeling of freedom, of independence and supposed self-reliance, when riding along a quieter country road or a towpath. That becomes rather less comfortable when there is a Time By Which We Must Arrive, when the B roads start to get busy or we’ve no choice but to take an A-road, and a headwind and hills combine to make the going stressful and slow. So far we haven’t encountered serious rain. In truth we are always vulnerable to circumstances. I write this while on a train having decided, with reluctance, to err on the side of caution yesterday, and that too bears costs, vulnerabilities: my co-pilgrims and I are separated for a time, and face greater risks travelling separately.

We are vulnerable to error. Following the National Cycle Network routes where we can, little things like a signpost hidden behind foliage (or on one occasion, more signage intended for motorists) can throw us off course and result in substantial time spent poring over maps instead of pouring energy into pedalling. Our own errors are also an issue, Clive and I the other night were initially perplexed by the lack of house number 110 where we thought we were spending the night but it turns out that we ought to have been looking for number 26.

When we arrive at our host churches we face another sort of vulnerability. Tired and dusty we do our best to sing well, to take our audience on a sort of musical pilgrimage. There are three of us performing, each one to a part, which doesn’t leave a lot of margin for error. But here, the vulnerability is shared by our hosts, most of whom have never heard any of us sing or play before and have still gone to the trouble of organising a concert.

Likewise the vulnerability of our accommodation is shared by the people who are having us stay with them. Staying with someone you’ve never met before has potential to be a bit odd, but we’ve been made very welcome everywhere so far. Without that welcome the pilgrimage certainly wouldn’t be viable. But just as we are staying with strangers, so our hosts are inviting strangers into their homes, disrupting meals, routines and even sleeping arrangements.

But because people involved in this pilgrimage accept our vulnerability to circumstances, the elements, and most importantly one another, good things have happened. For me the highlights have included Morning Prayer in the garden after a hastily-arranged first night, people who have never been to sung Compline thanking us for it, a comedy moment with the tremulant at St Bene’t’s, riding alongside fields of ripening grain with wildflowers at the edges, and stopping to pick some cherry plums overhanging a path.

I hope in the next few days to be able to stop more frequently, take more pictures, and perhaps record some of our performances.

Happy trails,


Tuesday 22nd July: St Mary the Virgin, Finedon

Clive and I were staying nearer the route to Finedon than Jo was so she dropped by for us on Tuesday morning. Packing took longer than expected again — this was becoming a pattern. Despite ice and stretching my knee wasn’t great, but I still wanted to try to cycle. Our kind hostess loaned me a house key just in case I needed to store my bicycle in her garden overnight, and off we went, along the guided busway. It became clear by about Longstanton that I really wasn’t going to manage an entire day, so I sadly turned back toward Cambridge, had lunch with a friend, and tried to figure out what to do. Trains via London were not cheap; eventually I decided a train via Leicester was going to be a better course of action than a coach/train combination. That still only took me as far as Wellingborough, and I was grateful that the organist was able to pick me up there rather than my having to negotiate unfamiliar buses. Clive and Jo had arrived at the church a good hour or so before I did, and had a good rest in the churchyard and a natter with someone who later came along to the concert. There was time for a cold drink at the vicarage before rehearsing, much appreciated — from my perspective, the reminder not to feel guilty about my dodgy knee was especially helpful. The concert went much better than the one at St Bene’t’s had, and Compline was very well-attended. After that the three of us, the organist and the organ scholar were treated to a curry by Rev Richard Coles, and then got to bed, late but comfortable, in a parishioner’s home.

Monday 21st July: St Bene’t’s Cambridge

The journey to Cambridge was a little daunting, but we made our way back to the Lea and then followed National Cycle Network Route 1 for a while. Parts of this were excellent, wide flat off-road paths through parkland, and parts of it were a bit bumpy, or poorly signposted. The towpath along the river Stort was also of use, though perhaps not as wide as we’d have liked. My knee was complaining, and after the hills started getting a bit steeper and we were on some fairly busy B-roads, it was clear that I was holding back the others and wouldn’t make it in time. Eventually I decided discretion was the better part of valour, and took the train from Bishops Stortford to Cambridge. Clive and Jo made good time without me, as predicted.

Of all our performances this was the one I was least happy with: nothing felt quite right, and we all made silly, small mistakes of momentary inattention. The funniest part was probably while I was playing the organ, and accidentally turned the tremulant on: from inside the organ it sounded more like a strange knocking sound than anything else and I couldn’t figure out what I’d done. I kept playing and eventually Clive (who was turning pages) saw the reason for my distress, and pointed at the lever… from then my challenge was to keep playing without giggling audibly! It was good to have a break before Compline, though we didn’t leave quite enough time, and I had to search for the fabric pen again despite having put it somewhere safe.

Afterward Clive and I went one way to stay with one of my Cambridge friends; it took us a while to get there, because despite having the address written down I was looking for the wrong house number! Jo went another direction to stay with another friend (who was the contact with St Bene’t’s). I considered whether the next day’s journey would be wise with a knee injury, and thought about changing my bicycle (smaller front sprocket?) while we were in Cambridge to make the rest of the trip easier. In the end I decided not to do those things, but to be open to the possibility of needing to take a train or bus for part of the way on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sunday 20th July: St Andrew’s Leytonstone and St Michael and All Angels Enfield

All the usual Sunday morning fuss for me, but I got to St Andrew’s in time for the 9.15 choir rehearsal, and Clive and Jo both made it before the end of same. Having a couple of extra voices meant we sang the anthem unaccompanied rather than relying on the organ to fill the lower parts. In what was to become a very familiar situation, there was a bit of confusion over the whereabouts of the fabric pen for our shirts, and packing up the bicycles took longer than anticipated, but soon enough we were away… to Pete’s house. He joined us for the run up to Enfield and it’s a good thing, too, as he sorted out a dodgy seat clamp on my bicycle and some rubbing brake and gear cables on Jo’s.

Going to Enfield was a nice journey, an easy journey, mostly on towpaths along the River Lea, which wasn’t as crowded as it has been sometimes. That was a good thing: I’d injured my right knee rather badly the previous week, so had to take things fairly gently. Once we got as far as Ponders End there was a cycle route signposted most of the way to the station, but it wasn’t always easy to see the signs as they were often hidden by foliage or, sometimes, other signs. But we got to St Michael and All Angels in plenty of time. Pete went back to London: it was his wife’s birthday on the 21st, and he wanted to be around for it, which is fair enough. And he still needed to sort out one or two things on his bicycle…

Sung Compline at St Michael and All Angels was lovely: it had started to get cloudy and the light inside the church was enough to read by, just, but dark enough that the candle-light was very effective. A busy confirmation service that morning meant more people than usual had been told there would be sung Compline, and the turnout was good. Afterward we cycled on to the curate Karen’s house as she was hosting us; there are some hills in the way and I did have to walk up some of them despite the clouds threatening rain. Minutes after we arrived and got bicycles and gear under cover, the heavens opened! Dinner and conversation were plentiful and good, and we were fed a hearty breakfast the next morning. It was an excellent start.