The Royal College of Physicians' (RCP's) registrar Dr Andrew Goddard's attempt to cycle 2,018 miles around England and Wales began on 1 June with a trip to Reading followed by a visit to Basingstoke the following day. Here he recounts the first two legs of the RCP Charter Cycle, which is raising money for Physicians for Africa – an RCP project to improve access to well-trained physicians in east, central and southern Africa.
The first day of the ride started at the original home of the RCP in Knightrider Street near St Paul’s. Now a Grange hotel (with a remarkably tall concierge and a very helpful manager) we managed a few photos before the off with the PRCP in full bling mode which is definitely more flattering than lycra. It is hard to smile for photos and suck your gut in at the same time. The photographer had a rather loose concept of an 8am start time and we eventually left at 8.30-ish.
I say ‘we’ as I was joined by Ian ‘knees’ Bullock, the RCP CEO, and the sylph-like figure of Pete Belfield (the RCP’s director of invited service reviews), the latter being a late-night recruit in Pizza Express the evening before. It was great to have both along although Pete made Ian and I look a little foolish as he overtook us on his ‘Boris bike’.
Apart from circuits of Regent’s Park I’ve not done any cycling in London and it was a revelation: tourists to the left of me, traffic to the right. You need your wits about you and a steely nerve but the views of the sights as we criss-crossed the river were fantastic, and Ian’s back light made a break for freedom near the ITV studios. Pete peeled off near Chelsea Harbour and Ian and I followed the river westwards.
We took a break from the river through Richmond Park – a beautiful interlude – and rejoined the Thames Path at Teddington Lock. We said hello to Hampton Court conscious of our debt to Henry VIII for making the ride possible all those years ago. The clear blue sky was fantastic and I was glad I had my sunscreen on (the boys and girls at the British Association of Dermatologists would be proud). It was definitely jolly boating weather but not-so jolly running weather. We had to dodge about 150 runners just after Hampton – some looking like they were about to explode. The coastal path was stunning but also bumpy as we discovered near Walton-on-Thames as Ian’s tyre made like a runner and exploded gently.
Things got a little tense at that point. My pump didn’t fit his tyre (my fault – I should have checked) and we chose the point of least civilisation to break down. I set off to find a bike shop and whilst away a knight in a shining Mini convertible (yes, you can fit a road bike in the back) called David scooped up Ian and we met at a bike shop in Addlestone. Back on the road we added some unnecessary miles getting back on the right track (bike sat navs are as useless as car ones) and made good progress towards Reading.
Highlights of that bit included cycling through the Wentworth estate (big houses and shady trees), some easy miles on country roads and a little diversion around a country park. As the trail got bumpy and stony Ian did well not to swear at my route planning skills.
After a tortuous ride through suburban south Reading we arrived during the coffee break of the Oxford and Thames Valley regional update at the Reading Hilton. It was great to see so many people there and given they had just had a lecture on the risks of exercise in middle age I think they were waiting for Ian and I to go into atrial fibrillation and collapse. The charter came out of the panniers no worse for wear after the journey and was signed by 80 people. Lots of water, tea and a shower made the perfect end to a great day.
My body felt a little jaded after the previous day’s exertions but it wasn’t too painful getting back on the saddle. A quick ride through the rush hour traffic took me to the Royal Berkshire Hospital to meet those who hadn’t been able to get to the regional update, as well as the CEO and MD. After a few more signatures had been obtained the charter went back in the bag and I headed towards Basingstoke.
The ride was less eventful (and substantially shorter) than the day before but the Garmin produced the goods again, expecting me to cycle through a field. The byway on the map could hardly be called a path let alone anything else. I re-routed (‘off course’ as the sat nav kept telling me) and found myself next to Silchester Roman fort – a very impressive bit of engineering but, like all Roman forts, on a hill.
I was doing really well until I hit a ‘road closed’ sign. The machines doing the re-tarmacing and the workmen next to them didn’t look very hospitable so I did a bit more ‘off course’ cycling. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I cycled through some very pretty Hampshire scenery and joined the road I meant to join only half a mile a way from the hospital. This road was busy with trucks and full of potholes so for once a road closure was helpful.
Many thanks must go to Andrea Norris (the trust college tutor) and Tahir (the trust chief registrar) for rallying everyone to make the visit successful.
The Hampshire Hospitals Foundation Trust site in Basingstoke is blessed with a very plush conference centre called the Ark. The (brilliant) RCP team were waiting with a very welcome towel and water but more importantly flip-flops as the Ark floor has a no cycle shoes policy. I was bowled over by the enthusiastic response of trainees and consultants to the charter and lots of signatures followed. Many thanks must go to Andrea Norris (the trust college tutor) and Tahir (the trust chief registrar) for rallying everyone to make the visit successful.
So, the first leg over, I have returned to normality to start planning the next few legs (Cambridgeshire and the south-west). I’ve learnt a few lessons and have been grateful for kind weather. I have the sneaking suspicion the UK weather is not going to be so kind for all the legs.