In scorching weather over the August Bank Holiday weekend, 11 intrepid cyclists followed the Queen Eleanor Crosses, travelling 210 miles from near Lincoln to Westminster Abbey, raising over £8,000 to support the work of The Connection.
This was the ninth Queen Eleanor Cycle Ride, organised this year by the Friends of the Connection. The cyclists set off from Harby church, near where Edward 1’s Queen Eleanor of Castile died in 1290. After a visit to Eleanor’s tomb in Lincoln Cathedral and an excellent tea at Brant Broughton Quaker Meeting House, Friday evening saw then bedding down in Harrowby Lane Methodist Church in Grantham.
After stopping briefly at the former site of Grantham’s Eleanor Cross, now occupied by a statue of Isaac Newton, Saturday’s route took them to South Witham, Stamford (where there was once another Cross), Fotheringhay and Geddington, where one of the three surviving Crosses still stands proudly in the centre of the village. They arrived in the village in style, led by ‘Queen Eleanor’, the ancient fire engine maintained by the Geddington Volunteer Fire Brigade, spending the night as guests of the URC Church.
On Sunday, they found themselves greeted by the bright colours and pulsating rhythms of a Hindu wedding at Sywell Aerodrome, they joined families enjoying the sunshine in Delapre Abbey grounds near Northampton, and then met up with Don Kennedy and Helen Murphy, who are campaigning for the restoration of Hardingstone’s Eleanor Cross, just outside the city. After enjoying the customary generous hospitality of Stony Stratford Methodist Church (the site of another Cross, long gone thanks to Oliver Cromwell), they followed Milton Keynes’ excellent cycle paths, up Bow Brickhill, the steepest climb of the trip, and on to Woburn Abbey Church, where they were once again greeted by the church’s magnificent organ. Passing the likely site of the Woburn Cross, the last 10 miles took them eventually to Dunstable Methodist Church, their home for their last night and the site of yet another Cross.
Sunday’s itinerary included St Albans, where the Clocktower stands on the site of the Cross, Waltham Cross, which still stands in the shopping precinct after heavy restoration, and on down the Lea Valley Navigation tow path to Westminster Abbey, where they were privileged to hold a short service by Eleanor’s tomb in the shrine of St Edward the Confessor.
The final leg took them via the last of the 12 Eleanor Crosses, Charing Cross, a Victorian replica not on the original site, and into The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields, the object of their fundraising.
Each of the riders has their own reason for joining the ride. Charles Woodd, Chair of the Friends of the Connection, sets the scene: “The number of people sleeping rough in central London every night has doubled in 5 years. The Connection at St Martin’s provides a range of vital services to help homeless and vulnerable people take the steps they need to in order to get back into society.”
For Peter Watson, from Cardiff, it’s his second time on the ride: “Since the last ride I have met a few homeless people and realised how valuable the work of the Connection and similar charities is. ‘J’, who I met recently, is a middle-aged professional man who I knew years ago, when he was working. Through losing his job and being unable to find any more work he is now wandering from city to city. Meanwhile ‘R’ I got chatting with in church – he had been an old-fashioned tramp. For 20 years he has moved from city to city, but now in his forties, he said that the life was getting too tough for him, and so he was trying to organise somewhere to live and get some work.”
Richard and his son, Matthew, came down from Cumbria to do the Ride: “I have been concerned about homelessness ever since I started teaching years ago, which involved, in my first school, teaching a module on the issues of homelessness. Sadly, homelessness remains an urgent issue.”
Simon from Salisbury meanwhile simply puts it: “As someone who has never had to worry about having a roof over my head, enough money, nor enough to eat I am very proud to be able to support those who go out and help homeless people to rebuild their lives.”