I have been impressed by the accounts of the pilgrimages that some of our friends have done. Anne Hayward’s journeys with rucksack and tent around Wales and also further afield, and Roger White’s long walk across Northern Spain to Santiago di Compostela – but like many others, I suppose, I’ve never been able to organize enough time or funds to do anything on that sort of scale. It occurred to me, however, that in order to mark both Mission Together and the end of my time of service in the St Catwg Ministry Area I could make a pilgrimage by bicycle around the 10 churches of the MA in one day.
After looking carefully at the weather forecasts, I chose Friday 18th May for the ride and it was a wise choice, dry and sunny but not too hot. The starting point was St Edmund’s, Crickhowell; the time was 8.30am and the initial destination was St. Mary’s Brynmawr whose altitude is 981ft higher than Crickhowell bridge. The only available cycling route which stays within the MA is the Blackrock Road – a steady climb through a landscape which is continually being regenerated. At the time of writing it offers spectacular views of the heroic civil engineering being carried out on the Heads of the Valleys Road.
The ’10 Churches Ride’ was not simply an athletic endeavour, there was a prayer element to the day. I couldn’t say that I went into every church to pray: some were locked and at some others I had to concentrate on getting my breath back. One of the advantages of cycling for me, however, is that it’s much easier to pray when cycling than it is when driving. I think that the steady rhythm of pedalling and breathing is conducive to prayer.
One of the easiest churches to get to in the MA is St. Elli’s, Llanelli, but only if you start from Brynmawr! Straight out on the Hafod Road and then straight down the lane and you’re there in no time. When I arrived at the church it was a hive of activity – the cleaning and flower-arranging party was hard at work. It’s easy to overlook the vast amount of effort that goes into keeping our churches looking so good. They all know me well there when I’m robed up for Morning Prayer but they were initially puzzled as to who this guy in crash helmet, shades and cycling shorts was.
Onwards then down to Gilwern and across the Usk on the Ha’penny Bridge, which was the lowest point of the ride. Then of course, the climbing had to start again towards the second highest point of the day. First, however, I had to stop at St Cenau’s, Llangenny for the obligatory selfie. At each location I have a digital photo which contains time and location data. Isn’t technology great!
The last 1.5 miles to St Issui’s, Partrishow are insanely steep so this was the only point at which I climbed off the bike and walked – very slowly. I ought to have been reminded of someone else dragging a heavy object up a hill in the hot sun but that only occurred to me subsequently – at the time I was concentrating on maintaining the steady plod. However painful and however slow the journey there, the church at Partrishow always lifts the spirits. I always make a bee-line for the copy of the Bishop Morgan Bible in the sanctuary. Having reached this second high point I felt that a spot of lunch was called for. Is there a better place for a picnic?
After this, you might think that it was all downhill but on a bicycle it is never “all downhill” and so “somewhat easier” is all I will concede. It was indeed somewhat easier getting to St Peter’s, Llanbedr. When I passed the school, Royal Wedding celebrations were in full swing in the yard. Then back to Crickhowell. With only four churches remaining, I was badly in need of an infusion of energy and enthusiasm, so Gill met me at Pavlova’s for an ice cream and a large cappuccino. While sitting at one of the small tables outside I noticed that in 1956 a boy had written his name on some wet cement. That once naughty boy, John Games, is now a much-loved member of the early congregation at St Edmund’s.
On the road to St John’s, Tretower the battery in my bike’s GPS computer ran out. Isn’t technology disappointing! It’s a good job I was only using it for recording the route. I was back now on very familiar roads.
The most northerly church in the MA is St Michael’s, Cwmdu with its memorial to “Carnhuanawc”, the Revd. Thomas Price, who did so much to promote Welsh culture in our area. From there, there is a lovely quiet and largely flat road from Felindre, round the back of the Roman fort and up to the A40. There’s then a short cut across to Llangynidr bridge where I crossed the Usk for the last time.
In the churchyard of St Cenau’s, Llangynidr there was a gentleman cutting the grass who was only too willing to take my photograph. Though I go to the church regularly I didn’t recognize him, and I subsequently found out that he attends another church! We are so fortunate to enjoy such good-will!
All that then remained was a quiet trundle on the road parallel to the canal along to St Catwg’s, Llangattock where, for some reason that I can no longer explain, I took my final selfie standing in front of the village stocks. The time was 16:09, which means that the total statistics were as follows:
|Total distance||38.9 miles|
|Total time taken||7:36|
|Average moving speed||9.1 mph|
|Maximum speed||23.2 mph|
|Height climbed||3174 feet|
The principal impression I gained from the ride is how connected we are as parishes, not just by the network of water-courses all draining down to the Usk, and not just by the network of roads, some of which are in dire need of repair, but much more by the bonds of faith, worship and service that join us all in the Body of Christ.
Peter Madley, May 2018