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Wiltshire – Ride+Stride helps over 500 historic churches

This first appeared as part of a longer article written by Gerry Lynch in the September 2018 issue of Wiltshire Life magazine.

The Wiltshire Historic Churches Trust is one of 35 local church trusts across England which are often the first port of call for a church committee faced with a startling bill for repairs. It estimates that there are over 500 very historic churches in Wiltshire.

Typically, 40 churches benefit each year from help from the Wiltshire Trust with grants ranging from a few hundred pounds to £6,000. Money is raised from two main sources: the Friends of Wiltshire Churches and Ride+Stride for Churches.

Ride+Stride for Churches takes place throughout England every year on the second Saturday in September, seeing thousands of people across England go on sponsored tours of churches on foot, bikes, horseback or even on unicycles.

It’s hard to imagine a more quintessentially English day out, allowing people to see the wonderful architecture and heritage in these buildings, often walking or riding through unspoiled countryside. Many of the churches provide a bun or glass of lemonade.

St James, Bratton

St James, Bratton

If there’s a church that is the powerhouse of Ride+Stride for Churches in Wiltshire, it is St James in Bratton, near Devizes. This church knows all about the burden of fundraising falling on a congregation. In the face of that continuous financial challenge, explains treasurer Peter Sharland, Ride+Stride for Churches is a real morale booster.

“It’s a great community event,” explains Peter, “and not just for churchgoers. People value the church and appreciate that we keep it open every day, but don’t always understand how much is involved in making that happen.”

“At the same time, there is so much going on in the village, we need to be careful not to overstretch people’s capacity to support local causes. Ride+Stride gives people a chance to give us significant support once a year.”

Dedicated Riders+Striders give their recommendations

Much of the organisation of the event in the parish falls to Cally Walters and Jude Curtis, with around 60 people from Bratton taking part, and people from elsewhere coming to the church as part of their own efforts, which means a lot of planning and preparation.

“We ensure the church is staffed from 1Oam until 6pm,” explains Cally, “and refreshments are provided for those who have come slightly off the beaten track to visit us. Our own riders and striders visit other nearby churches; we have two favourite routes, but always make sure there is a stop for a good lunch at The Raven in Poulshot.”

Cally’s husband, Steve, is one of Wiltshire’s most enthusiastic participants, having visited hundreds of churches in more than three decades of supporting the event. His favourite spot is Monkt Chapel near Corsham, but he says: “The real highlight is the greetings you get in churches and from others you meet on the road. It’s a great social event.”

A sign of a gift of new life

For others, Ride+Stride for Churches has had even more profound significance. Roger Hayward, from Netheravon, who runs cycle proficiency schemes for Wiltshire Council, had taken part on his bike every year since 1984.

In 2016, after he was diagnosed with a type of stomach cancer so rare he was sent to London for treatment, he had to sit out a year through illness.

“Between people’s prayers and the medics’ skill,” says Roger, “I went into remission and got back on the bike for Ride+Stride last September.”

Taking part in Ride+Stride was a sign of a gift of new life for Roger. “My attitude to life has changed,” he concludes. “Every day I wake up and say ‘This is great.’”

Ride+Stride for Churches is on Saturday, September 8, 10am-6pm. Support the work of
Wiltshire Historic Churches Trust on foot, bicycle, horse or any other form of transport. For more details, visit the website.

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