All things must pass, and the dawn on day 5 sadly brought this year’s charity trip to its last day. Refuelling on a magnificent breakfast, the team started the home run into London. Although the shortest leg of the journey at just over 40 miles they needed to reach their destination in good time, scheduled to arrive at the headquarters of United Grand Lodge in Great Queen Street at 14:00 hours.
After the roasting start to the trip and the occasional electrical storm, this day of all days was marked by persistent rainfall, and if lucky, a few minutes respite when it just drizzled, but never enough to dampen the spirit. With no time to take in the scenery it was a rapid pedal to the first stop at Batchworth Lock located near to Rickmansworth. Situated nearby is The Royal Masonic School for Girls, instituted in 1788, with the aim of maintaining the daughters of indigent Freemasons, unable through death, illness, or incapacitation to support their families. It began in 1789 with 15 pupils and a Matron in Somers Town, St Pancras in Middlesex, and during its history has moved between premises three times, twice within London and finally in 1934 to Rickmansworth.
Leaving Rickmansworth the cyclists headed along through Cowley Peachey before taking the left turn at Bulls Bridge Junction, which is near to Slough, and along the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union. This stretch of canal is one of the longest in England without having a lock to contend with, 27 miles from Cowley to Little Venice at Camden. Skirting Southall and passing through Greenford the canal now enters the industrial sections of west London passing between Acton and Harlesden with the cyclists using the North Circular Aqueduct high in the air.
Surprisingly, this stretch of the canal is not as one would envisage, it is not a vista of unremitting doom and gloom and bygone industrial wasteland. Nature shows itself in all its glory as willows and wild flowers flourish alongside the canal banks, making this a rural artery and a wildlife sanctuary. It is only when the tranquillity of the canal is left behind, as the riders discovered, that you enter the industrial acreage which still abounds. A pre-planned rendezvous with the support vehicles was made at the bridge near to Wormwood Scrubs prison, but with parking not allowed on the bridge and roads, a nearby kindly scrap metal dealer gave the use of his yard to the team to have their break. Not an ideal spot but very much appreciated at the time.
Continuing on after the break, one of Britain’s largest railway depots was passed at Old Oak Common before arriving at Kensal Green were a number of piers were passed jutting out from the canal bank. These were in use many years ago when the coffins holding the dead were brought by canal to the large Victorian age Kensal Green Cemetery. Now a tourist attraction, it is laid out with avenues of trees and huge monuments with notable Victorians like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Anthony Trollope, William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Blondin whom are buried there. Blondin himself deserves a paragraph.
Born on 29 February, (a leap year), at St Omer, France in 1824 he became the world’s most famous funambulism (tight rope walker), his death from diabetes coming on 22 February 1897 at Ealing, London. His real name was Jean-François Gravelet, known simply as ‘The Great Blondin’. When five years old he was sent to the École de Gymnase at Lyon and after six months training as an acrobat, made his first public appearance as ‘The Little Wonder’. His superior skill and grace as well as the originality of the settings of his acts, made him a popular favourite. He earned his celebrity status and fortune due to his idea of crossing the gorge below Niagara Falls on a tightrope, 1,100 feet (335 m) long and 160 feet (50 m) above the water.
This he accomplished, first on 30 June 1859, followed by a number of times after that. The crossings were always with different theatrical variations: blindfold, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying his manager Harry Colcord on his back and once even sitting down midway while he cooked and ate an omelette. In 1861 he first appeared in London, at the Crystal Palace, turning somersaults on stilts on a rope stretched across the central transept, 70 feet (20 m) from the ground. In 1862 he again gave a series of performances at the Crystal Palace and elsewhere in England and on the continent. In 1873 he crossed Edgbaston Reservoir in Birmingham and after a period of retirement reappeared in 1880, with his final performance at Belfast in 1896.
Leaving Blondin and his neighbours at rest, the group soon reached the Regents Canal basin and had to travel a short distance along the road before picking up the canal again. This final ride along the canal bank was of a picturesque nature before passing through the aviary at London Zoo and dismounting at the next bridge to carry the bikes up the steps, crossing the said bridge into Regents Park. After quietly traversing this large green oasis of tranquillity they then took their lives into their own hands by negotiating the maniacal traffic making their way through the edge of Soho, through to Drury Lane and finally reached their goal, the headquarters of United Grand Lodge in Great Queen Street. It was 2:30 pm., 30 minutes behind schedule, having completed the 42.55 miles from Hemel Hempstead, which made a grand total of 279.72 miles actually pedalled during this marathon ride.
With a group of well-wishers in attendance awaiting their arrival, it was time for the obligatory photo-shoot, before loading the bikes into the support van, with a friendly traffic warden deciding not to take much notice after it was explained what was happening. Among the well-wishers it was nice to see Steve’s son Kevin, who although living in London, had been up to Liverpool for a few days and had drove down that morning to see his dad arrive safely. Stu Hyde’s daughter Gina was also there with her partner just making it in time having rushed across London.
Welcomes were soon followed by farewells as John Bruffell and Stu Hyde set off back north with the two vehicles and the equipment while the five riders made their way to Euston Station for a quick relaxing trip back to Lime Street, courtesy of Virgin Train.
A successful ride completed for the third year in a row and the total raised when all is gathered in is expected to exceed £15,000 overall. It must be noted that the efforts of those in the background ensured the success of the project, particularly Angela and Loren at ‘The R Charity’ back in Liverpool, the friends and families of the team and those individuals, lodge’s, chapter’s and other Masonic bodies who gave their time and donations so freely, a heartfelt thank you to all.