I’ve been joined by a good friend, ‘Humph’ Butler who initially committed to joining me for 3 weeks in France. However, he is still here, not tired of camping or my relaxed route planning and is committed to finishing the journey all the way to Gibraltar. Which is good, as his French has been invaluable. Mine is about as good as my father’s was!
Humph and I left London on 5 August. We cycled down from Calais through Normandy to the Loire valley before taking a rest day on the Loire river at Beaugency. After a change of tents, repairing various kit items we then headed across the Auvergne, south of Clermont Ferrand and Lyon. The cycling just kept getting better and better. Moving through the Cols of the Puys du Domes was incredibly tough but ultimately very rewarding. I have learnt that there is nothing better in cycling than a brutal climb followed by a stunning descent. We were also taught a real lesson in taking on enough water. Villages suddenly became few and far between and our water severely rationed. Not ideal in 40 degree heat.
Then came Chamonix and the Alps. The cycling just kept getting better and better. We were climbing around 1000 vertical metres each day for about a two week period. All great training for the 4 day Help for Heroes road race that took me 450k across Les Grandes Alps from Sainte Foy to Nice. That was a truly extraordinary few days. A brutal initial day climbing the Col d’Iseran as it rained the snowed the entire day. Having been on the road for 5 weeks already with only lightweight summer kit, I was woefully underprepared for the blizzard that enveloped us. I wasn’t the only one however and it got dangerous enough that we all had to be evacuated off the summit, leaving the bikes to freeze in the elements until they could be brought down later totally iced up! Myself and several other ‘summer’ cyclists developed initial stages of hypothermia due to lack of suitable clothing for -7 degrees and I have damaged nerve endings in my left foot due to frostnip. A permanent reminder of just how tough it can be cycling in the mountains. I will never laugh at cyclists wearing waterproof overshoes again! An incredible start to an incredible race.
The next few days involved climbing the renowned Cols Galibier, Izoard, Vars and the highest road in Europe, the Cime de Bonnette. Breathtaking cycling. And a real privilege to cycle with wounded serviceman, and 159 fellow cyclists, including ex England rugby captain, Martin Johnson. Together we raised over £350,000, one of the highest achievements in the H4H history. 160 cyclists all charging into Nice, taking up all the roads and causing mayhem was quite a spectacle.
This race took me to Nice, where I met up with Humph and another friend of mine, to head across the south of France to San Feliu in Spain. Crossing into Spain was fantastic. France has been a wonderful country to cycle round, explore and follow and cross Dad’s path. But I was ready for a new country, culture, a change of scene. Crossing the boarder and getting to within a day or so of my father’s final destination was incredibly motivating, as was cycling through the Pyrenean foothills. Stunning.
In San Feliu I visited the famous ancient monastery which is still a working church. I wanted to find a place where I could remember my father, and feel like we were sharing a similar experience, 50 years apart. As a family, we are not hugely religious, but the old monastery provided the serenity, peace that was required. I lit a candle for my father and left a picture of the pair of us draped in his Welsh flag from when we watched the rugby world cup last year. It is the last photograph I have of him, taken in the hospice that cared so fantastically well for him. He is happy and smiling, as Wales have just won their quarter final!
It is a truly fitting place to remember Dad and I am so pleased to be able to share in his journey and recreate it to some degree through my own. I only wish I had thought about doing this when I could have told him about it. As it is, in San Feliu we will now forever have a special place we can share. And who knows, maybe future VGs will make a similar journey to an ancient monastery in the north of Spain.
To date we have covered 3499km in about 52 days. We have raised over £7400 for the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice. This is continuing both at home with people donating online, as well as people we meet on the journey, donating in cash, which is truly inspiring. People’s kindness really is humbling.
Onwards to Gibraltar and the end of a fantastic, challenging and ultimately incredibly rewarding ten weeks.
Original story 23 June 2012: Charlie Vaughan-Griffith, is planning to raise money for two charities as he replicates a cycle trek undertaken by six Framlinghamians in 1963. He is doing this as a tribute to his late father, Richard Vaughan-Griffith (K60-64), one of the original participants, and contacted Norman Porter and the OF Website team to try to get in touch with other members of that stalwart group, in the hope of uncovering memories of the time when this adventurous group of young OFs had cycled from Surrey down to San Feliu de Guixols in Spain.
Charlie has already resigned from his job, his flat is rented out and he plans to leave on 1st August, intending to cover about 4,000kms through France and Spain, incorporating a four-day mountain race in the Alps along the way. He’ll be stopping in San Feliu de Guixols to raise a glass to his Dad, and he’ll then carrry on cycling through the length of Spain before returning home. The proceeds of his sponsorship will be shared between the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice in Farnham, which provided such wonderful care for his father in the final weeks of his life, and Help for Heroes. If you’d like to support Charlie in his venture, please click this link to his Donations Page.
John Birt (S59-63), one of the original cyclists, got in touch to offer the following recollections for Charlie:
“I remember the famous bike ride well. Six of us Framlingham lads (me, Richard, Rory Brown (S 60-64), Anthony Cowan (R 55-64), Mervyn Hills (R 54-64) and one other yet to be identified) set off from Rory Brown’s parents’ home in Surrey, and cycled to Newhaven where we crossed the Channel to Dieppe. We then cycled with night stops at Rouen, Chartres, Chateauroux and Limoges. Somewhere between Chateauroux and Limoges, Richard was knocked off his bicycle, so we took the train to Toulouse. He recovered well enough to continue, so we cycled on to Carcassonne, Perpignan and Port Bou, where we took another train over the Pyrenees to Gerona, in Spain, and then cycled the last leg to San Feliu de Guixols where we camped for about 10 days. We then caught the train all the way back to Blighty via Paris.
I seem to remember leaving home with 45 quid, and I still had a fiver left on my return. Lots of firsts on the trip … first real hangover, first bull fight, first time being shot at because we had upset a farmer as we lifted some sweetcorn from his field, and he angrily loosed off his shot gun at us as we escaped. We were apprehended, rather than arrested, in Toulouse by a Security Guard with a large Alsatian as we had inadvertently trespassed in a warehouse, where we took shelter and fell asleep! I have “retrodden” much of the route over the years.
The roads are very different today … in 1963 they were nearly all simple two-lane roads … dual carriageways were rare! Sadly I have no photos of the trip … in fact I’m not sure if any exist at all?”
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