I caught the three carriage train from Warminster down to Salisbury this morning. The route follows the Wylye Valley. It is an area with a long history. Just down the road from Stonehenge it is guarded by great rounded hills with long abandoned forts. For such a quiet and rural place it is has had a long association with warfare and the military. The Land Warfare Centre and Barracks lies at the Warminster end. The valley, with its transport links, was chosen in the First World War as the site for huge tented camps.Soldiers came here for training as well as to prepare for embarkation to France and the trenches. Many of the churches have Commonwealth War Graves in them. Sutton Veny has an annual ANZAC service to which the New Zealand and Australian embassies send representatives.
The trip takes twenty minutes. There are no longer any intervening stations. I usually find some piece of work to do, but this morning I just looked at the valley with its fields and trees, trying to appreciate where I was rather than moving on to the next thing.
I haven’t adapted to life without the car yet. It’s not that I miss the car particularly. I think the problem is that I usually bike, run or row in order to relax, and find some part of my life which is not work. I enjoy my job, but I need refreshment.
At the moment it feels as if my relaxation has simply been absorbed into work. Twenty five miles seems like a long trip. If you asked me along for a twenty five mile ride outside Lent, my usual reply would be let’s make it 50 or a 100. It’s as if the separation, the boundary, between work and recreation has been dissolved only to find that everything is work.
This is not good. More looking out of the window is needed.
When we drew back the curtains this morning everything was bathed in a remarkable golden light. I was off to Chitterne for the early morning service. Chitterne is across Salisbury Plain. The deserted village of Imber lies in the centre of the downs. Its population was asked to leave in the middle of the second world war and never went back – only the church remains.
Chitterne is a village of a couple of hundred people 9 miles from where we live – or 8.82 miles according to the Garmin. I took the Pashley 5 speed as I had time. I realise that too much of the time I am cycling as if out with my old friends from the Canterbury Velo Club, a friendly rivalry keeping us near to the edge of our physical capacity. Too much hurrying after a receding future.
So it was a pleasure to travel slowly. I strap my Bishop’s staff to the top tube of the bike with insulation tape – or technically the bottom of the two top tubes. The cassock goes in the Ortlieb pannier along with the mitre. The Garmin said it was 17.64 miles there and back but who cares?
There were twenty or in church using the old familiar words of the Book of Common Prayer. The parish church was built in 1862 to replace an older building. If you really want to find a holy place go to Chitterne and look for the chancel of the old church which stands on its own in a field, plain and simple.
And tomorrow into Salisbury with the Dawes on the train. In the evening over the hills to Combe Bassett for a lent talk in the parish church there, I think I’ll come back by train too as I have to be in London early on Tuesday.
Giving up something for Lent has been replaced for many of us by doing something positive. I liked the story I heard last year of the woman who decided that rather than give up cake she would bake a cake every day and give it to someone as a present.
Somehow I missed out on the cakes, but it was a good idea.
When I gave up the car last Lent, some people with wise insight said it was because I liked cycling. Of course they are right. I love cycling. But at the same time I thought I could make a statement about sustainable transport and climate change.
In the intervening year I’ve become a trustee of Sustrans, an excellent organisation which has done much to promote sensible transport policies, as well as practical action.
This year I’ve added local and Fairtrade food. Not because it makes life more difficult, but because they seem to me to be part of the same arena: our concern for the world, for the future, for fairness.
It’s Fairtrade fortnight. Fairtrade seems to have gone off the boil a bit. Sales are down in the shops, it was reported this week. That’s bad news for the world’s poorer producers. The local Fairtrade group asked me to support them in Lent. I am pleased to do so.
Fairtrade food is good quality and moral at the same time. A double winner.
Anyway adding Fairtrade positively means I can still eat chocolate and bananas.
Well, the BBC came with cameras and microphones. They were a great crew, and we had an excellent time. They insisted that the presenter, David, should come on the back of the tandem.
It seems a long time since anyone other than Sarah sat on the back – what the professionals call the stoker’s seat. We had our wobbles to begin with but it seemed to work in the end.
I was surprised how much of the interview was based on the idea that I am trying to use only locally produced food. We went into the country market in the town centre. We went to Linham’s the butchers, and the people talked with fervour of local produce.
The BBC man asked if I thought there was a deeper purpose to cycling. So I talked about how I feel that prayer and meditation have taken an entirely interior turn whereas I feel that prayer is as much connecting with the world- not all hands together and eyes shut.
We managed not to fall off, although the right front pedal fell off having stripped its thread. Anyone know what kind of front crank a 1988 Dawes Super Galaxy tandem should have?
Train to Westbury and from there to Pewsey. I was met by Jennifer the vicar who strode off towards St John’s. She has a reputation for walking at speed. Entirely justified. I’m now in the waiting room at Westbury Station and my legs feel as if they have been racked.
In the mythical past vicars used to visit. I suppose these walks are in much the same vein. At each church a small posse had developed. Cake and prayers, with coffee for the Bishop’s visit.
We walked along canal towpaths, through woods, climbed the downs. Minty the vicar’a spaniel was a happy accomplice. Six roe dear standing in a distant fI eld. The woods and churchyards are full of snowdrops. Eighteen miles in rain and wind.
On my way home now to check that the terriers are OK. The BBC are coming tomorrow morning to film something for Songs if Praise about giving up your car. I have to get the tandem ready as it seems the reporter wants to do the interview from the stoker’a seat.
The problem with giving up the car is that it shows me that it would be really difficult to give it up and use the bike full time. Why? Because so much of my job depends on having a car.
It’s not the time. This morning I had to get to Amesbury which is over the rolling hills of Salisbury Plain from where I live. So I caught the train into Salisbury and then the Red bus out to Amesbury, the X5. Those of you who know Wiltshire will know that this is quite a dog leg, but it only took me one hour twenty minutes which isn’t hugely longer than it would have taken by car with early morning traffic.
One of the main differences is that you are dependant on other people’s timetables. You can’t just jump in the car and go. But you can plan well and this becomes no problem. It does not take much longer if you give up the car.
The main difficulty is simply that cycling there and back today would have been the best part of 50 miles. In the country it’s not like the choice between a three mile town commute in the car or on the bike. I’m used to cycling fairly long distances but 50 miles leaves me both tired and (sorry for the intimate details) sweaty. I don’t think I would have enough energy to cycle and then interview four people for a job as I did today.
Tomorrow I am off to Pewsey for another 20 mile pilgrimage walk around the parishes of Wiltshire. I’m getting there by train from Warminster. Very much looking forward to it.
Thanks to everyone for your helpful suggestions. I have now got my Brompton booked in for major surgery in Bath. I have recommendations for video conferencing. And, yes, I am going to write about the disappearing footpaths.
Today’s problem: I am planning another long distance ride with friends. This time it is from Nordkapp (Norway) home to Wiltshire. Does anyone have any knowledge of places to stay (hostels B&B cheap hotels) on the route, especially from Nordkapp down to Stockholm, for about, say, 8 people?
I missed my train at Salisbury by a few minutes as the bus was late. So now I have an hour’s wait. That’s the advantage of lap tops and WiFi, however. I can carry on with my work over a cup of coffee in the station caff. And I have a good book for when I have finished my emails.
There are 261 churches in the Ramsbury Suffragan See (which being translated is the area for which I am responsible). So I visited another ten today and said prayers with people from each church.
Twenty miles of slippery mud with sun shining. Tea and cake and a warm welcome. Heartfelt prayers and invitations to come back. Southwick church, built in 1904, has a complete baptistery built-in which I think must be one of the very few in the Church of England. North Bradley housed the remains of the mother of a fifteenth century Archbishop of Canterbury. All the churches were loved and cared for.
Walking is the best way to do a pilgrimage walk. Cycling is next to Godliness. But walking slows the mind and sharpens the senses in a deeper way. Several people joined me and it is always good to stroll along and exchange stories.
I was surprised how many of the footpaths were closed or obstructed. I can understand people (not all farmers) not wanting people coming across their land treading on crops, leaving litter, leaving gates open. But if the ancient rights of way are blocked with electric fences barbed wire brambles rose thorns and locked gates as they were today the all that happens is that people will wander further over the land trying to find a possible route. My trip was planned on the Ordanance Survey 1:25000 maps which clearly mark footpaths and bridleways, but there were many times when I simply could not find the path. Frustrating. We depend on each other. Town depends on country and vice versa.
The mud today was frequently over my boots. Several times I had to lever my feet out of the sticky clay.
Thanks also for comments on the blog. Very encouraging. And useful. I know now that I must look for a Brompton dealer with two sprockets to get my rear triangle mended. Essential info.