Ex-Chair raises over £4K (so far) for Refugee Support

06 Nov 2022 | ICG News & Announcements

Andrew Smith, long serving committee member and ex-chair, recently put himself through a gruelling trip to raise funds for Refugee Support Europe.  This is his tale of the challenge, the scenery, the friendship and hospitality.

Stafford to Brighton Pier the pretty way

Sunday 9 October

I travel north on a Sunday train to Stafford, my bike propped in a special cycle compartment. With the late summer sun streaming through the window I only fleetingly questioned my sanity.

It’s dark when I arrive in Stafford and find my way across town guided by bike light and Google maps. Time for a quick supper and organising my luggage for the morning. I have two large red pannier bags which feel rather heavy. Perhaps the dinner suit was unnecessary?

The main challenge to my mind was keeping going for six days in succession.  One day of 60 miles with luggage I knew I could cope with, but six in a row?

Monday 10 October

Day One dawned brightly, my plan to cycle East from Stafford through my old hometown of Ashby de la Zouch and then North Eastwards to Nottingham.  I was soon whizzing along South Staffordshire lanes listening to cows in the field and school children at village schools thinking life had been like this for decades.

After a couple of hours I had the delight of my first National Cycle Network trail through what is now the National Forest.  50 years ago as a teenager this was a barren landscape of spoil heaps across the South Derbyshire coalfield. But now…for any cyclist – or walker –  exploring the network of national trails, which typically make use of old railway tracks and canal towpaths, is a real joy.

After lunch with an old friend, I crossed the river Trent back and forth, weaving across county boundaries. Tiring as I neared Nottingham, I recall stopping for tea and eating two packs of Jaffa Cakes.  Revived, along the Erewash canal towpath that cleverly by-passes Nottingham City centre, I narrowly avoided an early bath as I swerved to avoid a commuting cyclist careering the other way.

The main challenge of the day then presented itself: finding Lynne Chapman’s house.  My ICG hostess had cleverly sought to avoid me by not providing her correct address, having moved house some months previously. A cunning plan I confess; but undaunted I struck up an amusing if unwanted conversation with the new owner of Lynne’s old house, who finally guided me to my destination, a hot shower and a welcome bed. At least I could re-deliver Lynne’s mail.

Tuesday 11 October

Despite my exertions of Day One, I awoke early. It was my birthday and like a small child at Christmas I had cards to open!

Heading South towards Leicester I had the company of a cousin from Nottingham, a keen cyclist who had lived abroad for many years. We therefore had a lovely ride and 30 years of family news to catch up with.

More great off-road cycle trails through a Country Park and then another canal towpath took me through the outskirts of Leicester and directly into the city centre. I then hooked up with two old friends for an Italian bistro birthday lunch!

I had moderated my day to 50 miles, to give essential time for a leisurely lunch break and arrival at Nanda’s near Lutterworth in good time for her poetry reading plus birthday supper in the local pub! A very pleasing and easier day allowed me to celebrate my birthday in style, but also to build up for the longest day ahead of me.

Wednesday 12 October

Waking early Nanda had already prepared my porridge and packed lunch so that I could be on the road by 8:30, with the Day Three 75-mile trek across the Cotswolds to the South-West ahead of me, hopefully delivering me to Cheltenham at tea time to connect with an evening train South.

I whizzed along the Warwickshire lanes and then an old railway line onwards from Rugby, making good time to Stratford upon Avon by midday. I sat next to a statue of William, asking him whether Liz Truss would last the month. He didn’t answer. From Stratford my route followed the line of the old Cotswolds railway, and I came across a delightful cafe inside a 1960s railway carriage – an obvious stop for lunch.

After Broadway the route became successively hillier, finally giving way to a glorious five mile descent into Cheltenham.

Rather tired, I then had a 90-minute train transfer to Bradford upon Avon for the night, changing in Bristol. The serious challenge was boarding a long-distance train South, already packed with disgruntled passengers! In the great British way they shuffled out of my bicycle compartment allowing me to board, me causing only minimal injury to their limbs with my heavy pannier bags. A late arrival in Bradford upon Avon saw me greeted by my old ICG friend Martin, as if a long lost brother! In retirement Martin is a canal enthusiast and tireless volunteer. He is one of those people who wears shorts year round and thick old wool shirts. His grand children often stay and so I had a wonderful range of reading material in the spare room; if only I could have stayed awake longer!

Thursday 13 October

Day Four dawned with thick fog along the Kennet and Avon canal which was to be the first 5 miles or so of my route East; but what a delightful ride it was! The sun finally emerged as I pedalled through the Vale of Pewsey and on across the delightful lanes of North Wiltshire.

Fortified by an excellent pub lunch, I pushed on towards Winchester in the pleasing knowledge that I would be spending the evening with at least three ladies including my host Mary! It is my good fortune that market research has such a gender imbalance, as I always explain to my wife.

Mary had in fact invited 3 ICG guests for supper and I also had the pleasure of talking to her daughter, who is about to volunteer again for Paul’s charity (Refugee Support Europe – the beneficiary of my ride). It was so interesting to hear about the charity’s work at first hand, and also how my ICG associates plan to spend the rest of their careers. It seems there is often a move towards life-coaching and counselling, either paid-for or voluntary. I suppose that many of us are indeed well suited.

Friday 14 October

Day Five and yet another splendid day of weather with a light breeze only – just right for a good bike ride, and my good fortune for the whole week.  The beautiful wooded lanes of East Hampshire gave way to my home county of Surrey.  Another splendid pub lunch and then tea with an old cyclist friend who accompanied me on the final two hours of the day to Great Bookham.

Arriving back at home for the night meant my own bed plus a couple of pints with friends and donors at my local. After 5 days in the saddle I felt strangely well; happy at the thought that most of the route was successfully completed and the finish line in sight.

Saturday 15 October, Finale

I had decided to end my ride with the classic London to Brighton cycle route, ending at Paul’s home town on the coast. This involved an early train to Clapham (without heavy luggage), where I met my brother-in-law, who was to cycle with me for the day. Yet another delightful national cycle route takes you South from Clapham along what was the very polluted River Wandle, but is now a delightful trail. I really can recommend the National Cycle Network, not only to my lycra-clad fraternity but also all keen walkers; a brilliant idea that we British can be proud of  The National Cycle Network –

A fortifying pub lunch allowed us to avoid the only significant shower of the week, and a couple of hours later we had connected with two other cyclists – Paul Hutchings and Kevin McClean – for the satisfying run into Brighton. But first a decent tea with my mother and sister in mid-Sussex!

Decent cakes were certainly required to provide energy to power up Ditchling Beacon – one of the toughest climbs of the South Downs. The reward was a triumphant downhill run and as dusk came down over Brighton pier.

Onwards to Paul’s local for our celebration drinks and meal! It had been a blast of a week covering just over 600 kilometres (370 miles) across 18 counties, and cycling uphill the equivalent of half the height of Everest. I had eaten at least 18 portions of flapjack or cake and as a result had lost no weight at all.

I can’t thank enough my 93 donors who have together raised over £4,000 for Refugee Support Europe; Paul sends his thanks and good wishes to everyone.

More details here Andrew Smith is fundraising for Refugee Support Europe (