Having narrowly escaped being marooned in Chile at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, Sally & I returned to the UK with little chance of another overseas cycling adventure any time soon.
A friend of mine (Nick) had been doing the British Cycling Quest for a few years and that set me thinking that this was something that could be done during lockdown and foreign travel restrictions and would be a great way to explore the UK.
In November, after a trip to South Wales I reached 202 completions, just over halfway, and so I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the experience.
The “British Cycle Quest” (BCQ) is run by Cycling UK (formerly the CTC). For each region (normally a county) in England, Scotland & Wales six checkpoints have been devised giving 402 places to visit in total. Each checkpoint has a lat/long and a question to answer. The question booklet and an annotated Google map showing the checkpoints is provided on the Cycling UK Website; British Cycle Quest | Cycling UK
- The rules are very simple.
- Answer a question as evidence that you have visited the checkpoint.
- No time limit – take a lifetime to complete if you want.
- Make up your own routes to visit the checkpoints in any order.
- Visit by bicycle!
- No limitations on the distance cycled to reach a checkpoint.
Obviously, you could drive very close but that would be missing the point. I decided that I would try to average at least 20 miles per checkpoint. Some rides you can easily visit 4 or 5 checkpoints but others you can only visit 1 or 2 in a day.
Some questions you could answer using Google but again that is missing the point!
I started in June 2020 with the checkpoints I could easily do starting and finishing from home. Most members of Anerley would have cycled passed many of the local ones; here are a few you will know;
Box Hill: At the viewpoint wall, where did Leopold Salomonds come from?
Church Town: In Church Town, east of Godstone, are the St. Mary’s Alms Houses and chapel, which were designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. On the north end of the building next to the church, on the roadside, is a plaque, what number S. C. C. Building of Special Interest is it?
Shere: Who was the original user of the public convenience building?
Greenwich: At the Royal Observatory beneath the Shepherd Clock and above the Standard Measures is a plaque. What is the height above sea level at Newlyn?
Ditchling Beacon: On the left of the car park at its entrance is an information board. What rare orchid may be found if you look closely?
In the Groove
To start with I didn’t really expect to visit all the BCQs, but as I completed the local ones, I roamed a bit further and really enjoyed the rides on unfamiliar roads. Rides from home became a drive plus a day ride and then, weekend trips and then short multiday trips. Now I’ve invested so much time (& money!) I’m starting to believe I should try to complete the whole list, especially as Covid still makes travelling abroad uncertain and long cycle tours hard to plan.
The regions I’ve completed so far;
- June 2020: Greater London, Surrey
- July 2020: Kent
- August 2020: East & West Sussex, Berkshire
- September 2020: Buckinghamshire, Dorset
- October 2020: Hampshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire
- April 2021: Essex
- May 2021: Wiltshire
- June 2021: Isle of Wight, Suffolk
- July 2021: Gloucestershire, Herefordshire & Worcestershire
- August 2021: Northamptonshire, Somerset, Cornwall, Devon
- September 2021: Cambridgeshire, Norfolk
- October 2021: Oxfordshire, Warwickshire & West Midlands, Leicestershire & Rutland, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, East Riding of Yorkshire
- November 2021: South Wales
Regions partially completed; Shropshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Powys, Carmarthenshire, South & North Yorkshire.
Cycling UK provides you with a spreadsheet to record your answers, summarises where you have got to and the miles completed. Periodically you return the spreadsheet to have your answers validated and then Cycling UK will update a leader board on their WEB site.
So far 22 people have completed all the checkpoints and one of Sally’s “Breeze ride” ladies enjoyed it so much she is starting to do them all again with her husband!
I’ve done a few rides on my own but the vast majority have been with other people. Of course, Sally and Nick, who introduced me to the Quest, have accompanied me on most of the rides. I’ve been keeping track who has been riding with me during the quest just in case they want to enter at a later date.
The following Anerley members have completed BCQs even if they haven’t entered yet!
Sally Styles 123
John Diamond 22 (John has done more than this with Nick)
Steve Upson 14
Gerry Upson 6
Sue Diamond 5
Tom Moody 1 (Part of a camping trip to Battle)
Nick & I have done 96 BCQs together so far.
In addition, there were two Anerley rides where I scurried off to find the checkpoint as they were so close; a Brighton ride (Ditchling Beacon) and Eastbourne (Beachy Head).
- Encounter with Royalty in Windsor Great Park.
Just as Nick and I got to the long road that sweeps down through Windsor Park and ends at Windsor Castle, a car came through. The automated gates shut behind it and the driver got out. It was Prince Andrew. As I had cycled through with no problems in the past I asked if it was ok to do so (despite the sign that said it wasn’t!). He very grumpily said “No it wasn’t” and drove off. As the clue was halfway down the road in the centre of the park and we had cycled from home to reach it, there was no way we were going to be compliant. Once the coast was clear we heaved our bikes vertical on their back wheels and with some difficulty negotiated the pedestrian gate. Back on our bikes we cycled sheepishly down the road. It wasn’t long before the Royal Park Police vehicle was heading in our direction and we got off and walked our bikes. We explained what we were doing and said we were only a matter of yards from the checkpoint but he was having none of it and made us walk all the way back to the fence, lock our bikes and walk all the way back to find the BCQ and walk out again!
- Caught short in Alresford?
This clue was at the picturesque Steam Railway in Alresford, however the clue was a plaque on a rather plain modern brick building at the other side of the car park; a public convenience! The question was “To whom does this refer, and to what group did they belong?”. The answer was quite surprising but I’d better not give it away. We took a hurried photo and headed for the station café quickly before we were done for loitering around public toilets!
- The kindness of strangers
Sally & I took a trip to complete the Devon, Cornwall & Somerset BCQs in August 21. On the final day we planned a hard ride circling Dartmoor taking in 2 clues; Manaton & Lydford; 56 miles and nearly 5000 feet of climbing. Two miles from Manaton my rear gear cable snapped and I was stuck in top gear. With lots of short but steep hills it looked like these two clues would have to be abandoned and we would have to return to Devon just to tick these off at some future date. Very frustrating! We decided to scoot, walk and roll our way over the last 2 miles to get to Manaton. We picked up the clue and sat on a bench outside the church overlooking the green trying to figure out how we were going to get back to the car. Option 1: Fixing or bodging didn’t seem to be an option as all my cables are internal to the frame. Option 2: Sally to cycle back to the car and then drive back for me. This didn’t go down too well with Sally! Option 3: I cycle back on Sally’s bike. This didn’t go down too well with me but seemed the most likely answer. That was until we noticed a plumber walking back to his van from the church. “All right?” he asked, “Not really.” said Sally explaining our predicament. “I’m on my lunch break I can take you in the van if you give me a minute”. Little did he know that we were 13 country miles from our car! We gratefully gave him the equivalent of the taxi fare which he was reluctant to take. We drove to a cycle shop in Tavistock and managed to get my bike fixed in time for a quick ride up to Lydford for the 2nd checkpoint. Mission accomplished!
- Tom Simpson’s grave
The BCQ at Harworth was Tom Simpson’s grave. Tom won the 1961 Tour de Flanders and, on the 1962 Tour de France, he was the first British cyclist to wear the Yellow Jersey. He finished 6th overall. Tom Simpson died on the climb up Mont Ventoux in the 1967 Tour de France aged 30.
The question asked for the inscription on his black gravestone. Unfortunately, the graveyard seemed to be full of black headstones. It took us quite a while to find Tom’s grave!
I need to thank Nick for introducing me to the BCQ, it has been a great experience. The second half is going to be a challenge as the remaining BCQs are so far away. I think the furthest are on Shetland but I will also have to visit the Isles of Man, Aran & Mull, the Outer Hebrides & the Orkneys. So, some great riding ahead!