Whoosh 22 Day 4
May 3rd, 2022
Shortly after passing through the market town of Hexham on the last full day’s riding in this year’s Herne Hill Whoosh fundraising cycle ride, those taking part embarked on a lung-busting, steep 600ft of climbing. The ascent carried us up to the ride’s highest point, in the Kielder Forest hills. It also took us into a landscape that prompted thoughts of our place in history. The earthworks and stone works that the Romans constructed as the defensive system known as Hadrian’s Wall sliced clear lines across the bleak, hilly moorland. For much of the ride, we followed the Military Road built by General Wade, a Hanoverian general, to secure the peace following the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. Riding along the Military Road – ramrod straight and cutting across the contours of the country – was thrilling but relentless, with sharp climbs following many of the swooping descents.
In the bleak landscape atop the moors, it was easy to imagine the misery of the Roman soldiers brought to build and guard this frontier. The wind, cold and remoteness evident to us as 21st century cyclists must have felt still chillier and more isolating to conscripts from southern Europe sent to keep out the Barbarians. The conditions can barely have felt much friendlier to those detailed 1,620 years after the wall was built to demolish parts of it to build the road. It felt a little eerie to be enjoying the relatively trivial pleasure of cycling in a landscape so populated with ghosts.
It was extraordinarily satisfying cycling nonetheless. After the summit, each descent was a little longer than the climb that followed it. I had teamed up with another Whoosh rider who shared my eagerness to ensure we reached Carlisle in good time for our train towards London. We slid down the hills at close to 30mph before pedalling rhythmically up the hills. It was one of the days when it felt like a privilege to be cycling.
The truth, of course, is that compared with nearly all the generations who have lived in such places before we enjoy a remarkable degree of privilege, able to concentrate on the frivolities of leisure cycling rather than the basics of survival or making ends meet. We certainly enjoy, despite war in Ukraine and economic uncertainty, blessings of peace, stability and prosperity far greater than those helped by this year’s Whoosh charities. Afghan Aid is seeking to help the people of newly-impoverished Afghanistan, while Ebony Horse Club seeks to help children in our area of South London to enjoy experiences around horses that would otherwise be denied to them. I hope our efforts on their behalf will bring in still more money than the thousands of pounds already pledged.
In the moment, however, the ride was intoxicating. The route devised for us by Jonathan Raper, a regular participant, carried us on a mixture of main and more minor roads and cycle paths towards a final, rapid descent into Carlisle. We found ourselves at Carlisle railway station with hours to spare, tired but a little elated. We are blessed to have the leisure, health and finances to be able to take the camaraderie and excitement of such rides for granted.