Sunday 12th July 2015 to Saturday 18th July 2015
Funds raised: £86,891
Number of riders: 206
The Paris to Hayling Cycle Ride arrived back triumphantly on 18th July with the announcement that after its 30th event more than £1,500,000 had now been raised for charities. As always riders were full of stories of the great experiences they had had over the past week. The ride has become notable not just for the tough challenge of cycling nearly 400 miles but also for the entertainment and camaraderie and fun generated along the way. This year was definitely no exception.
In a week of generally good weather, things didn’t start that well as riders headed off from the overnight ferry on a rather damp morning for the 90 mile ride to Evreux. After a few miles of flat cycling to picture postcard village of Beuvron En Auge, we were soon climbing some thigh clenching hills through the splendidly named and temptation abundant “Route du Cidre”. However I believe that all resisted stopping at one of the many cider farms conscious no doubt that there were quite few miles still to pedal. As we headed on to lunch in Bernay we were in large part covering a new route plotted by our noted route master “Mad Fred” Dyer. It was well received and I believe generally seen as a significant improvement on our previous ride to Evreux. .
By mid-afternoon the weather was much brighter though still with some cloud and that would be the same for the following day when after our night in Evreux we headed for Versailles. It was the 14th July, Bastille Day and above us - as we cycled through the cornfields - we could see what seemed to be the French equivalent of the Red Arrows performing some impressive acrobatics. Naturally I emphasised that this had been organised specifically for Paris to Hayling Riders. On the way, ride regulars Team C along with newcomer Alice Hume came upon a 14th July celebration in the village of Le Mesnil-Simon . They were invited (or possibly invited themselves) to join a special lunch and were treated as guests of honour. Speeches were made, wine was drunk and in consideration of their visitors there was a rendition of God Save The Queen as well of course as La Marseillaise. This “cultural diversion” delayed this cycling group’s progress for a few hours but they got in with a story that adds colour to the amazing tapestry that has been created this past 30 years.
Riders loved finishing in the park at Versailles. The gardens really are exceptional and of course the Chateau provides a splendid back drop. One rider, Joy Forrow, fell onto another bike and suffered a nasty injury to her arm. But after being patched up at a nearby hospital she was back on the bike the following morning. The next day we had a long ride (over 80 miles) to Rouen. Although starts have varied between Paris and Versailles much of this route had been the same for many years and personally I have always had a sentimental attachment to it. Having cycled through the Forêt de Marly in the early morning we soon crossed to the north bank of the Seine and after a short coffee break climbed through the Parc du Vexin along Routes des Crêtes to reach some splendid views of the Seine before a spectacular downhill to Giverny, location of Monet’s Gardens and then on to Vernon where most riders stopped for lunch. Many bought food for a picnic and stretched out on the picturesque river bank next to this charming town’s notable 16th century mill, painted over the years by 100s of artist including Claud Monet. Other selected from a variety of cafés and restaurants in town which although heavily bombarded during World War 2 still has many streets that look like they have come straight out of the Middle Ages. However for me the highlight of this day and indeed one of the big features of the week was the visit to Muids. It’s always been memorable and this year was no exception. The Bar De La Poste greeted us with an accordion player, bunting, an official photographer and last - but certainly not least - a good supply of local cider. Many riders lingered quite a while here , some bathing in the Seine and I hear that by the end of our visit Madame Koleno proprietor of Bar De La Poste was even dancing with some of our jolly pedallers.
Approaching Rouen we swept down the steep Bonsecours Hill but of course that was a reminder of that fact that we would have a corresponding need to climb out of this historic city the following morning. And after perhaps too little time in the splendid Normandy capital with its famous cathedral, an abundance of fascinating buildings and great restaurants that is indeed what we had to do! In fact we had 25 miles of intermittent climbing as we headed out of Rouen and into the hills that lie to the north. Deputy Chairman Pete Alloway and I were in true grumpy old men mode moaning about these inconvenient inclines and wondering why on earth we were still doing this.. However after a mid-morning coffee at Yvetot all was different as we set off for our lunch stop at the Relais St Sauveur in Ecrainville just over 20 miles away and now all was all different. The terrain changed to the gently rolling from the uncomfortable lumpy and cyclists had a warm wind on our backs. Many I spoke agreed with me that it was a wonderful vignette from the week only slightly marred by that fact that arriving at the lunch stop we discovered we were all covered in small flies inadvertently swatted along the way. This was our one organised lunch stop of the week. We had used this some years before and it had been as excellent then as it was now. We were welcomed by a piper. However we hadn’t booked him and neither had the restaurant. He just turned up to play! The bizarre thing was that he had done the same thing last time we were there, seven years ago. In Le Havre we finished in the afternoon sunshine at a newly found beachside bar , many taking the opportunity for a refreshing swim in “La Manche”
The following morning augmented by nearly 30 extras cyclists and an additional support team that had arrived especially for the last day we set out from Le Havre to Caen. Today was fancy dress day and we had some great outfits. , The Clowns (Mel Johnson and Jo Bridle) would go on to win the prize at our awards ceremony but among very many other impressive outfits were Peter Collins dressed as a SatNav and support team member Sylvia Randall dressed as The Queen. Team Burras came as babies dressed with the same T-shirt design as I had worn when I first rode for Cot Death Research – I found this quite moving. Pascal Pichon’s Snow White was intriguing but any chance he had of being really convincing was somewhat marred by the fact that when he appeared for a photo call he proceeded to smoke a cigar which definitely wasn’t in the fairy tale I read or indeed in any of the pantomimes or films. Even less convincing but highly amusing was Johan Coorg our new motorbike rider who was dressed as a nun – Easy Rider meets Mother Theresa, an intriguing combination!
We were all a bit nervous crossing the Pont De Normandie. While there is a designated cycle path, it is high and heavy traffic runs close by! Having got that over we gathered for coffee in the splendid town of Honfleur. We then took the coastal road via the “Côte de Fleurie” towns of Trouville , Deauville St Villiers and Dives before passing Pegasus Bridge to Café Gondree , famous as the first house liberated in 1944 and a frequent location of 'Paris To Hayling' finishes. A fantastic party followed at the Mercure starting with a drinks reception featuring past photographs , cycle jerseys , shirts and one other notable memento , the Dawes Tourer that I had used 30 years before on the first ride. Professional musician Johnathan Griffiths had assembled a fantastic band which included his fiancée and fellow rider Chloe Swaby , an amazing vocalist , and also Adam Alloway who had participated in the weeks cycling as well. And as in the 20th Year we had a performance by “Can Can” dancers which was tremendously popular. They had worked hard to bring us this entertainment and they were generally self-deprecating about the accomplishment – I know I speak on behalf of all riders in saying once again “ Well done ladies !” A most impressive feat after a day’s cycling. Hangovers and few hours’ sleep later we were boarding the ferry for home.
The 30 years and £1.5 m was beginning to sink in, it was all getting a bit emotional. While I am used to speaking in public I knew I would find presiding over our awards session a bit of a challenge and I was right! My fellow committee members had unanimously nominated a non-existent rider for one of our awards The Meryl Browne Trophy. This is generally given to a rider that has overcome a challenge or challenges to complete the event. I duly announced the award winner only to find out when deputy chairman Pete Alloway appeared on stage, that it was a hoax and that they had decided that I should receive the award myself. I was speechless. And indeed someone referred to that as itself a unique bike ride moment in itself! I also felt very honoured though I guess over the years I have indeed overcome one or two challenges both as an organiser and as a rider. I am sure that Meryl Browne, herself a massive contributor to the ride’s success, would have found it all very amusing. We had a moving speech from Barrie Dawson following a special award for his magnificent fund raising these past 15 years (£67,000). He explained in very moving terms how determination to take part in the next ride had kept him going through the time when he was recovering from cancer. “The Bike Ride” said Barry “Has saved my life”. Lumps had appeared in all throats buy this time. Fred Dyer presented the Support Trophy, which is in memory of his wife and great 'Paris to Hayling' team member Judy. He fairly pointed out the huge combination of all in support under the amazing leadership of Jo Macey but his presentation of this award to the lead baggage team of Mike Harrington and “Skippy” Gridley was very popular. Mike has been key to this essential component of the ride for some years and particularly since he teamed up last year with Skippy has brought immense humour to what might seem such a mundane task. Mike even got himself sponsored and raised over £1500 for St Wilfred’s Hospice. Julian Simms won the prize for the most impressive newcomer and John Stein received the award for the most improved rider. Bobbie Lambert was Young Rider of the Year. In this context mention was also made of the continuing contribution from Ditcham Park School and Andrew Smith was cited as a pupil who particularly merited recognition. Ride regular Jeff Jeffrey received the Veterans Cup to popular accaim and the team prize went to the “Can Can ” team. The President’s Trophy for the outstanding committee member was awarded to Sarah Jeffries who meticulously and very successfully executed two key tasks namely finalisation of hotel arrangements and the organisation of the last night party. Special mention was however made of bike ride administrator Lori Poore for her tireless work throughout the year. Rear of the Year was Maddie Stokes and Cute Butt of the Year was Christian Reynolds .
We negotiated the final few miles to an excellent organised finished at The Olive Leaf. Thank you to all who made this a success ! At Langstone Technology Park I had exchanged my current bike for the original Dawes and finished the ride on this piece of cycling nostalgia , hand-made in Britain. Thanks to Tony Hart and others (principally Team Axiom) for stewarding the safe procession of 250 cyclists back to the Island.
I am sure that on Sunday morning all involved in this year’s ride felt rather deflated. After months of preparation it was all over ! For me personally it took a few days to recover physically but probably longer to deal with the emotional side. I felt very privileged to have been at the centre of something so special. I thought of all who had contributed to it going right back to the beginning. Sometimes it was riders unknown to many such as former Hayling club owner Barry Maloney , a participator with friends in four early rides who had introduced a fun atmosphere to the event which has been with us ever since. But of course I also thought the current committee who had all played such a role in this year’s success and of others whose support has been so vital. I also thought of my wife Maryon and my children Chris and Alice and the fact that none of them has known a year of family life when mid-summer was not dominated by Paris to Hayling preparation - their support and understanding has been critical . I have made so many good friends through the ride and I know that is not unusual. Indeed I have lost count of the number of people that have told me that the ride has changed their lives. That is a legacy in which all involved can take credit
Finally, it is important to remember that while it attracts riders from all over the country and all over the world , it is the Paris to Hayling Charity Cycle Ride and around 30% of riders still come from the Island. But in addition to the hundreds of residents who have got on their bikes to raise money for deserving causes , many more individuals and businesses have helped in some way to make this a great Island institution including, I should emphasise, the Hayling Islander under different ownerships and editors. So a big thanks to all of you. Hayling is home to what is probably the world’s oldest multi-day charity ride which has raised a fantastic sum for so many charities , and that is something the whole Island can be proud of.