TV Presenter Fern Britton joined five hundred cyclists of all ages and abilities in Rennie Grove Hospice Care’s sixth annual Chilterns Cycle Challenge on Sunday 20 March. Fern, a keen cyclist and long-term supporter of Rennie Grove, undertook the 35 mile challenge, tackling the hills of the beautiful Chilterns countryside to support the nursing services the charity provides for patients in Bucks and Herts with cancer and other life-limiting illnesses.
Fern has taken part three times previously and explains why she signed up again this year: “I love the spirit of the participants and I love the countryside; the Chilterns are just beautiful. I’ve ridden the 10k route previously as well and that’s fantastic too – perfect for kids as it’s all on cycle paths. Together we’re raising a great amount of money for the Rennie Grove nurses to care for patients in their own homes.”
Fern cycled with two friends from the week-long cycle challenges she has undertaken in the past. Caroline Grange travelled up from Southend on Saturday to join her Bucks-based friends for the event, staying with Cath Powell at her home in Bierton. Together the ladies have taken on routes in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam – averaging 60 miles a day over five days - and completed the famous Lands End to John O’Groats route of more than 1,000 miles. The challenging Chiltern Hills were good practise for their next long-distance charity cycle, touring the Scottish Highlands in May.
First back from the 35 mile route were Steven Poulton and Justin Dent, also from Bucks. “Chilterns Challenge is definitely the right name for it,” joked Steven, “but it’s a great selection of hills and the route is well-marshalled and well-signed.” Justin agreed: “We were so glad to take part and raise money for a worthy cause,” he said. The friends were cycling and raising funds for a mutual friend, diagnosed with a brain tumour last year.
Other cyclists taking on the 35 miles out to Kimble, Longwick and as far as Bledlow Ridge, then returning to Aylesbury through the Hampdens and Butlers Cross, included a ten-strong team named ‘the Disraeli Pelicans’. So-called because of their proximity to Hughenden Manor, the country abode of former PM Benjamin Disraeli, and a pun on the collective noun for cyclists. This particular ‘peloton’ included three generations of one family: team leader Leslie Hubbard, aged 80, took part for the fourth time, having roped in this year not only his son, Geoff Hubbard, from Milton Keynes, but also his grandson, Mark Lightfoot, from Southall.
Brothers Kevin and Dave Patrick also took on the 35 mile route. Beaconsfield-based Dave’s entry fee was a Valentine’s gift from his wife (in return he bought her a half-marathon place!) At the start line, Kevin was hoping his cycle commute from Aston Clinton to Chesham would stand him in good stead for his first-ever 35-miler.
Participants travelled from as far afield as London – Rob Marriner and Dan Doherty had discovered the event when searching for a challenging ride around the end of March – and even the South West. Six family members and friends came all the way from Bristol to take part to support Rennie Grove after the charity cared for Karen Harborne from Chesham last year. Karen's brother, Kevin Grainger and his wife Carole were joined by Natalie Grainger, Ben Jones and John and Margery Carr, with the men taking on the 75 mile route and the ladies the 35 mile option. Carole said: “What an amazing day; we’ve had such a great time. We are all absolutely shattered but it’s for Karen today. We wanted to do something together in her memory and we hope she would be proud of us. Rennie Grove were wonderful in their care for Karen and she was able to stay at home right until the end. We're delighted that we've been able to take part and raise over £1,000 to help the charity continue to care for other patients and families. Thank you to everyone for making it such a memorable day.”
The group had a drama on the way up the M4 after their new bike rack decided to relinquish its hold on Kevin’s bike in the middle lane of the motorway. The bike was retrieved safely and even its slightly battered condition did not deter Kevin from taking part.
Pinky and Jay Gahir from Aylesbury took on the 35 mile challenge for the first time this year. Although normally keen cyclists, this was their first time on two wheels for nearly eight months. Pinky said: “It's a great thing to get out of bed for on a Sunday morning. We’re really looking forward to the beautiful scenery and to doing something to help a good cause. We love the teamwork and atmosphere at these events – it’s so much better to have other cyclists and marshals to spur you on than to go out for a ride on your own.”
Aylesbury resident and Aylesbury Cycling Club member, Alastair Anderson was also new to the event and accompanying his father-in-law who had taken part previously. Husband and wife team, Abby and Richard Fermont from Wilstone, were taking on the 35 mile challenge for the first time following good experiences in another of Rennie Grove’s mass participation events and a recommendation from friends. “My sister and I have walked the Chilterns 3 Peaks Challenge several times,” said Abby, “but this is the first cycle challenge that Richard and I have done together!”
Five employees from Eltek in Hemel Hempstead came together to ride the 35 mile route for the second year running. Debbie Lewis, Phil Hardy, Alan Petty, Sean Power and Ian Lewis were looking forward to their first cycling event of the year. Phil said: “The Chilterns Cycle Challenge offers great routes and is very well organised, so we’re really pleased to be back and raising some money.”
Of the 500 people taking part, the vast majority opted for the 35 mile route, with the next generation of cyclists being represented in the 10k family ride. Sophie Munson, 7, from Henley-on-Thames, was excited about trying out the new bike she’d been given for her birthday. Mum Helen is a keen cyclist and Sophie loves to accompany her whenever she can. “We’ve been out every day this week, practising on the new bike,” said Helen.
The Cookson family from Rickmansworth were also taking part in the 10k. Dad Steve cycles regularly and six-year-old Hayden was keen to join in. “So we found a family-friendly event,” explained mum, Karen, “which we could all enjoy together.”
The youngest participant was 15-month-old Raphael Hicks, who travelled the 10k round Watermead, Fairford Leys and out towards Berryfields in style, seated cosily behind his dad, Marcus. Pre-Raphael, Marcus and mum Lucy had ridden a tandem in the 60-mile London to Brighton night ride. Still keen cyclists – Lucy cycles to Wendover station and then takes a Boris bike out to Whitehall for her MoD job – the family cycled around the same distance from their home in Halton as they did in the actual event. And they still had to cycle home afterwards!
Those taking part in the 75 mile route were experienced cyclists who wanted to push themselves. For Neil Joyce, from Tring, the event was a real comeback success story: “I fell off my bike two years ago and broke my legs and couldn't walk. I saw this challenge and really wanted to push myself to get back on the bike. Throughout the whole of winter I trained really hard and it’s so rewarding standing here today at the finish line having done 75 miles. I thoroughly enjoyed it and saw some amazing views. If anyone out there thinks they can't do it - trust me - they can! It’s been a great day for a great cause.”
High Wycombe resident, Richard Whittle, returned for another go at the event, saying: “I've taken part in the Chilterns Cycle Challenge before and once again it lived up to all my expectations. The Chilterns are absolutely beautiful. The ride is challenging with all its hills but it’s so worth it. I'll definitely be back again next year!”
Rennie Grove’s Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Gillian Barnett, said:
“It’s been a fantastic day with support from so many people. We are absolutely delighted with the response from the local community. It’s been great having Fern with us once again and we’re really hoping that we’ll be able to smash our target of £40,000 for this event and fund thousands of hours of specialist care so more local families can benefit from our 24/7 responsive service in their own home.
“We’d like to thank everyone who took part today for the wonderful support. It was obvious that participants enjoyed the challenge and everyone was so appreciative of our lovely marshals who stood for many hours to ensure our cyclists’ safety and to cheer them along the way. Without these fantastic volunteers we would not be able to run the event and we are so grateful to them for the time they gave up today and to the many other people who have helped in so many ways. I would particularly like to thank staff from the Kingsbury Pub for getting up early to serve food and hot drinks to participants, Buckingham Bikes for their help in ensuring that our cyclists’ bikes stayed in good working order and GBEMS for their help with first aid. It is heart-warming to see a community come together like this to support a service that is making a real difference to so many right on our doorsteps. Thank you everyone – and we look forward to seeing you again next year!”
Find out more about the rest of our Active Events this year.