With so many COVID related curveballs, it’s surprising that this ever took place. Less than five weeks before the bike ride, the charity cyclists had nowhere to stay for the night on their 200 mile journey.
Following the route of the 12 Queen Eleanor Crosses from Lincoln to London, the 32 cyclists retraced the path taken by King Edward 1st in taking his wife’s body back from Harby, just outside Lincoln, to Westminster Abbey. Everywhere the cortege stopped overnight during the winter of 1290 the King had a cross built to provide a focus for prayers for his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile.
This year the charity cycle ride still went ahead with overnight stays in Grantham thanks to St Wulfram’s; Geddington, hosted by the United Reformed Church and St Mary Magdalene Church; and Dunstable Conference Centre! The floors were hard and cold but that didn’t deter the exhausted fundraisers from snoring the night away.
The driving force, apart from an ample supply of cake, was to raise funds to support the work of The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields with homeless and vulnerable people in central London. Funds are urgently needed to help more people make a fresh start away from the streets. The Connection is based a few yards from the site of one of the original Queen Eleanor crosses in Trafalgar Square.
The cyclists route included:
Harby Church in Nottinghamshire, close to where Queen Eleanor died in 1290, and the starting point with cyclists descending on the village from all around the UK.
Lincoln, where Queen Eleanor’s visceral tomb sits proudly in the corner of the cathedral, plus the fundraisers visited the site of the original Queen Eleanor Cross which once stood in St Catherine’s, just outside the city.
Grantham – the cross in St Peter’s Hill may have largely vanished during the English Civil War, but there’s a plaque to commemorate the funeral cortege stopping in Grantham and the building of the cross. The cyclists stayed overnight on Friday on the stone floors of St Wulfram’s Church, plus they even had a whip-round at the local pub, the Blue Pig. Without the kind intervention of St Wulfram’s the ride just couldn’t have gone ahead this year.
Stamford – quite where the original Queen Eleanor Cross was sited is subject to debate. What’s not in question is the quality of the lunch at the All Saints’ and St John’s Unity Centre or the location modern Queen Eleanor memorial. A late arrival at the cross was Rob Persani of Rutland & Stamford Sound, always with a microphone to hand.
Feeding bellies not bins meanwhile is the motto of Second Helpings, Stamford, and when help was sought in feeding the cyclists Rev Andy Fyall, Chair of Second Helpings, responded: “A charity saving food waste helping a charity to help the homeless – seems like a no brainer to me!”
Geddington – home to probably the best remaining Queen Eleanor Cross, cyclists were dotted round the floors of the village for the Saturday night, some being kept company by the tolling of the church bell every hour on the hour. The procession into the village was led by the Queen Eleanor fire engine, a 1953 fire tender which was originally based at RAF Bitteswell near Lutterworth.
Northampton included lunch in Delapre Abbey where Queen Eleanor’s body rested in 1290 and a visit to the recently restored Queen Eleanor Cross, standing proudly up on the hill.
Stony Stratford once was the site of one of the crosses. Now the stunning Queen Eleanor mural adorns a wall in the middle of town. Tea and cake meanwhile awaited at St Mary & St Giles church with the town alive with classic cars.
Woburn is famous for its Abbey – another resting place of Queen Eleanor – and it was also once home to an Eleanor Cross.
Dunstable was the last stop after a long day’s cycling. The Square Methodist Church in Dunstable has in the past received the cyclists royally. No surprise given a Queen Eleanor Cross once stood in the middle of town. This year though the cyclists were welcomed by the Com Church, based in the old cinema building which became a theatre of dreams for the night.
St Albans has a plaque on the Clock Tower which commemorates the Eleanor cross. Retracing Queen Eleanor’s journey the Lycra clad cyclists visited the Abbey, seeing where Queen Eleanor’s body rested overnight before the high altar, and the monks celebrated with a holy vigil deep into the night.
Waltham Cross not only has one of the three remaining crosses but also a new square named after Queen Eleanor. It was then onwards to Waltham Abbey and down into London via the Lea Valley Navigation.
Cheapside has all the hustle and bustle of London, plus a new commemorative stone celebrating the cross that once stood there.
Charing Cross was almost the end of the cycling challenge. The replica cross was built in the 19th century to market the railway station and its hotel.
Westminster Abbey is where Queen Eleanor’s body rests in a tomb tucked away in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor, complete with a gilt bronze effigy cast in 1291. A wooden cross and heart carried 200 miles by the cyclists and carved in Harby was placed on Queen Eleanor’s tomb.
After over 200 miles cycling it was then off to The Connection – the very reason for the fundraising where Charles Woodd, Chair of the Friends of the Connection, made a quick calculation of the sponsorship raised so far and announced that it was at least £25,000.
The Connection at St Martin’s is at the heart of the capital’s response to homelessness. About 1 in 13 of everyone forced to sleep rough in England is found in Westminster, more than any other local authority.
Lisa Wilkinson from Geddington has had the huge responsibility of finding places for all the cyclists and their bikes to stay – a huge challenge with the shifting sands of everyone’s differing responses to COVID. She says: “The lockdown has been difficult for so many of us. The bike ride brings people together at a time when we’ve all experienced the isolation and loneliness of the past year. In raising money for the homeless, it helps those most in need – people who don’t have a home that’s warm and safe for the night, let alone a lock on the door.”
Keith Busfield from Stamford first joined the ride over 10 years ago, since when it’s grown year by year. He said: “I have a bed for the night. I have a roof over my head. A lock on the door. A hot shower after a hard day’s cycling. Then there’s food on the table each day. I feel so lucky!! That’s why I’m raising money to assist the homeless.”
Phil and Helen Britton, also from Stamford, joined the ride for the first time this year. In summing up the experience Phil said: “Thank you to all the supporters and participants. Helen and I found our expectations exceeded at every turn – even the wrong turns. We had the most memorable and enjoyable Bank Holiday for a very long time.”
For more information on the bike ride visit www.queeneleanorcycleride.org All donations, however large or small, are hugely welcome. See: Virgin Money Giving | Events | Queen Eleanor Cycle Ride 2021