The Great National Steeple Chase - we did it!
I suppose I could have visited one church per week, but where would be the challenge in that? It seemed better to make it as hard as possible and try to visit 50 in 50 hours. Our wonderful volunteer Janet Townsend Stojic worked out that we could visit a church in every county in the country in 50 hours, and this was the template. We changed it a bit to fit with the possible transport choices but we had a plan and a proper challenge which we could use for fundraising as well as celebrating. We linked the challenge to our Heritage Crime campaign and were ready to go.
We asked all of our friends, partners and friends of friends if they would help us or want to be a part of our madcap adventure. There has been lots of enthusiasm and we are particularly grateful to our major sponsor E-Bound AVX Ltd who supplied many vehicles, a great deal of company time and donated as well. OMI Architects and Buttress Architects also sponsored the event and provided vehicles.
As we set of from St George’s Portland, Dorset to the sound of a Town Crier and the Mayor waving, in a 1956 Sunbeam MkIII, I had no idea if this venture would be in vain.
I had no reason to worry as we were warmly welcomed across the country with poetry, with cake, tea and so many people as well as donations, even at 3.30am! The Mayor of Macclesfield greeted us with Champagne at midnight, the people of Worcester rang the bells as we arrived and had bag pipes to pipe us out! Bells and pizza at Kings Lynn, riding a unicycle in Bristol, having a great chat with Rodney, in his morris minor about the similarities in conservation philosophy between classic cars and churches!
I was set to work cleaning, learnt how to unicycle, had my first bellringing lesson and my second, had a ride in some beautiful old cars and touched down in the middle of Stamford in a helicopter provided by our sponsors, EBound AVX Ltd
What was also clear is that these buildings are important to communities and they want to see them used for community events, whatever these may be, beer festivals, theatre, music, worship, Champing™.
My journey of 1021.8 miles was not without incident as I was very nearly arrested at Old Langho, was bounced around in the back of a Land Rover in Norfolk, we saw the largest bats I have ever seen at around 3am (was it sleep deprivation or were they massive bats?) I got covered in cobwebs going up West Walton tower and to cap it all was played some very spooky music in All Saints Cambridge at 1am in the morning!
More people loving historic churches
I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Great Steeple Chase demonstrated the enormous interest that there is in historic churches by communities and that we have a great infrastructure around the country, great supporters and Friends who enabled this amazing event to take place. Everyone who took part are the stars of the show and it was a great ride! Would I do it again? Yes of course!