Monday, 20 September 2021

Round-Britain cyclists in awe of people’s kindness

TWO former Henley students have embarked on a year-long sponsored cycling tour of the British Isles.

TWO former Henley students have embarked on a year-long sponsored cycling tour of the British Isles.

Ruth Carney and Laurence Ash, who met at The Henley College in 1998, do not have a support vehicle and are camping each night.

Each is carrying their own tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, food and clothes.

Their bikes have been specially built to cope with the demands of the journey, which will be at least 4,000 miles.

The pair are raising money for the RNLI in memory of Miss Carney’s father John, a keen leisure sailor who drowned in an accident at sea 10 years ago, and the Ocean Youth Trust, a sailing education charity which Mr Carney supported.

Miss Carney, who grew up in Twyford and attended the Piggott School in Wargrave, was a teacher in London before she set up a youth charity in Bath.

Mr Ash, who grew up in Peppard Common with his parents Rhona and Doug and attended the Oratory School in Woodcote, is a qualified nurse.

Both are taking career breaks and paying for the trip from savings.

The cyclists plan to visit four of the RNLI’s most remote lifeboat stations between now and March next year. They have already been to the first station on Valentia Island, off the south-west coast of Ireland.

The other three stations are at Aith in the Shetland Islands, Lowestoft in Suffolk and St Mary’s in the Scilly Isles.

One of the pair’s toughest early challenges came while cycling through Wales, where they had to negotiate snowdrifts and sleep in temperatures as low as -10C while camped in quarries, sand dunes and old barns as well as on cliff tops.

They had to wear thermal ski trousers to keep themselves warm and Miss Carney kept the same pair of trousers on for three weeks.

Mr Ash said: “We were never in any danger — we were fine as long as the roads weren’t icy. At worst there were whiteouts and stranded cars all around us but we were able to just trundle through on our bikes.”

Miss Carney said they had received lots of support from people in Wales and Ireland who took them in and offered them hot showers and food.

“One woman allowed us to stay in her orchard and brought out hot water bottles on one of the coldest nights,” she recalled.

The pair stayed with a 93-year-old cyclist in Llanidloes in mid-Wales for about three days.

“We would help him out around the house and he just sat there in the evenings telling us stories about his bicycle trips,” said Miss Carney.

The couple crossed the Irish Sea by ferry before continuing their journey to Valentia Island, where the RNLI station crew gave them a tour and a nearby pub provided a free breakfast the following morning.

Miss Carney said: “People have been massively kind to us. We’d love to always live the kind of life where you can just knock on people’s doors and they will let you in.

“We are learning a lot from people’s kindness and from the simplicity of living with only a few possessions.

“I think Dad would love what we’re doing. He would probably roll his eyes at first but he would totally get it.

“He was a real hero who encouraged us to travel — I’ve lived in Canada and taught in India, my sister Elizabeth lives in Australia and my other sister Emma has lived and worked in Malawi.

“None of us can believe that 10 years have passed since Dad’s death but this seemed like a suitable way to mark it. I think he would be impressed.”

Mr Ash said: “We often find ourselves totally dependent on the kindness of strangers and we are continually amazed at people’s generosity.

“Learning to live without spending too much money is what has made this possible. We couldn’t have afforded to do this even if we just stayed in campsites every evening.

“This is more about the experience of travelling. We don’t set targets to achieve a certain speed or reach somewhere in a particular time.”

To sponsor the couple, visit

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