Harper Adams or Bust Bike Ride (June 2019)


Well it was Harper Adams or Bust and there were a few near busted gut before we got to the end of the cycle run which was 335 miles of gut busting hills – over 8000 metres of ascent – down dales with wind, rain and very little sun – but they made it – not all but 11. They were joined by two extra on the first day, Anna Galbraith, James’ girlfriend and Robert Thomson, who both left us by lunch time at Powburn, and were happy to do so!!!

Robert told us was dreaming of a nice cup of tea before he finished his section to Powburn and the first thing that he was asked when he arrived there, was if he would like a nice cup of tea and even more than that it was a cup of his favourite Brodie’s tea, so his dream came true!! Other dreams did not come true, those of no more big climbs, and Callum was getting into trouble for choosing a route with so many steep inclines, but it is a true saying that what goes up must come down!, so there were many thrills and gladly no spills on the ascents and descents.


The first section was from Melrose to Corbridge and we started to gather at 7am at Cameron & Mary’s home at Pavilion to get bikes out of trailers and checked over, and to have bacon rolls and coffee – Mary being helped in that task by Irene Thomson, as Mary herself was very busy handing out all the kit of cycling shirts, basketball hats and sports shirts with the George Legacy motif on.

There was also a photo shoot of all the keen cyclists and back-up crew – all Borderers – from North Northumberland and Borders Region – a great heroic band of brothers, cousins, fathers, sons, pals, parents, huntswoman and a grannie.
Photo shoot over and they were off on the first short part of the cycle run to pay a visit of respect to the graveside of George, at the cemetery on the Bogle Burn road to which they returned to resume the start of the big ride ahead of them.

The cyclists were George’s parents, Mary and Cameron, father & son Peter & George Brewis, Will Wardrop and Douglas McNeill, Simon Manners, cousin of Mary, James Manners, brother of Mary, Callum Crawford , brother of Cameron, Hugh Burn, Gordon Brown and Lauderdale Huntswoman Claire Bellamy. Back up vehicles were a mini bus loaned by The Malcolm Group in charge of which was David Burn better known as Grizz, and Navigator Mary’s Uncle Ian Manners, driver of Equitrek which was needed to bring all the bikes back from Harper Adam was Dougie McNeill’s father Ewan, and bringing up the rear in her Volvo Coffee Bar was Grannie Esther. There was a back-up driver for the first day, better known as Ali Barr, who did a great recovery job when punctures struck or chains were off, and ferrying cyclists to hotels when we did eventually reached Corbridge. Will Wardrop, being a conscientious type cycled as far as just outside Wooler before stopping to wait for his mother to pick him up and ferry him back to Ancrum where a junior football tournament was due to be played in the afternoon and as he was the only coach available, it was imperative for him to attend, and his dutiful mother was then to transport him back to Corbridge in the evening so that he could continue with the cycle run on the Monday morning.

First Stage

First Stage was Melrose down through Kelso via Mindrum Mill down to Wooler with lunch stop at Powburn where lots of supporters appeared, and brought lunch which was well received. Next main town on the route was Rothbury and it was a very steep climb up and down, and then on to Scots Gap with everyone getting quite weary on the first day. Young Dougie had to give up – his energy had been sapped the night before at a party – these young ones burning the candle at both ends. We all headed to Belsay and to the Horse Event Competition being held there, where the organisers had pledged the George Crawford Legacy Trust as the chosen charity for the event.

Mary and Cameron were presented with a cheque for £1,000 and following short speeches of thanks from them both, a lady was most impressed by their efforts and emotion of the occasion, offered to double the amount to £2,000 – isn’t kindness sometimes just overwhelming!! Mary in her short speech had mentioned that George had ridden in the competition where he came in 7th but that he had won the Belsay Rug for doing the cross-country in exactly the optimum time. So that was well received.

We of course had been offered refreshments and the near exhausted cyclists were only too pleased to partake of Pimms to rev them up for the last part of the journey down to Corbridge an hour away to rest for the night in the Angel Hotel. Some had to be accommodated in the Red Lion and the Wheatsheaf, but we all met in the Angel for dinner together at 8.30pm. 

We were behind schedule because of our stop at Belsay as were meant to be eating at 7pm as was the expectation every evening, but that never happened as we were always behind the schedule but all the restaurants were more than willing to wait for us – who wouldn’t when we were a group of 16 willing to pay for good food. Miles cycled 92 with 2,000 metres of ascent.

Second Stage

Second Stage was to see an 8.30am gathering in front of the Red Lion where Mary was taught to use her gears as she had not quite mastered the art of changing gears down when cycling up hill, preferring to get off and run up the hills as she explained that she could run up quicker than she could cycle!!, however, her cousin, brother and uncle, made sure that she did learn what to do and was made to practise around the streets – I may say Cameron kept out of all this advice, as he had had a “go” at trying to tell Mary the day before – perhaps he wasn’t very diplomatic about it!!!Callum seemed to have a full mending kit as bikes were changed around, tyres blown up, pedals adjusted then all was ready and they mounted up and were off, much to the relief of the people who were dodging around them in their preparations.

In this area they were close to Hadrians Wall and then onto Deere Street, which looks dead straight on the map but that does not show the ascents and descents which were amazingly steep, either way, and one just had to enjoy the beautiful and spectacular scenery, which the riders did to a point, but the drivers of the support vehicles were able to appreciate without the pain and effort that the cyclists were enduring. 

Young Dougie was doing very well and Will had returned to the fold following his absence on football coaching, having been safely delivered by his kind mother in time for supper. By this time too, Ali Barr had left the company the evening before, but Ewan had arrived in Corbridge around 7am with the Equitrek, so we still had 3 support vehicles for the next stages of the ride. 

They were working their way south efficiently but by lunch-time we had a casualty in the name of Shuggie (Gordon Brown) who had been suffering from gout and thought it had gone but with all the hard pedalling through County Durham, it returned with a vengence so at the coffee break at Lanchester he had to take a lift and his bike went into the horse box. 

The support vehicles met up with the cyclists for a lunch break at Pierce Bridge outside an hotel aptly named The George. Getting through Scotch Corner was difficult and most of the support vehicles managed to lose touch, and Grannie Esther just about caught up with them in Catterick where they said they were at the moment of contact, but as there are a few Cattericks – Catterick Garrison, Catterick Village, Catterick Bridge, she managed not to find them and found even more difficulty finding the correct next road to Tunstall which led on to Newton Le Willow where Cameron, Mary and Brother James left the “peleton” to visit George’s former prep. School at Aysgarth where they received another warm welcome and photographs were taken of the Equitrek which carried the school logo which the school had kindly sponsored.

As they would never have been able to catch up with the others, they climbed into the Equitrek with their bikes and travelled down to the final stop of the day in Harrogate.

The others had continued on through by Masham and south through some beautiful villages but the roads were extremely narrow and hazardous due to high hedges and tight corners.

We bypassed Ripon – and down by Fountains Abbbey. All struggled –vehicles and cyclists – to find our hotel for the night in the south of Harrogate, and again behind schedule everyone had to hurry with showers etc. to get over to the Italian restaurant next door to the hotel for our evening meal and a time of relaxation.

Poor old Shuggie was in a lot of pain with the gout and decided that he could not continue with the ride and planned to get the train home the next morning. We were very sorry to lose him from the company as his “banter” was so good.!! Shuggie had coached young Dougie and Wills and provided them with bikes. He had also helped them to get their gear changing technique correct in rides around Melrose.

We must also pay tribute to the kindness of the staff in the Premier Inn, Harrogate, as they were so moved by the physical and emotional effort of the ride, having quizzed Mary about the story of the challenge, that 3 of them donated £60 to the cause. They also offered the whole team a drink on the house – again another example of kindness of strangers – very touching, and the gesture was much appreciated! Miles cycled 95 with 2,546 metres of ascent.

Third Stage

As the forecast for today was to be rain in the afternoon, it was agreed that they should start early so as to miss the worst of the rain, so off they set at 8am only to discover that it was not a good idea to cycle through Harrogate at rush-hour, so very little time was gained and the rain caught up with them earlier than expected.

The terrain was extremely undulating to the point of torture and Callum’s character really suffered when they discovered that they had climbed a hill when they could have went round it – it was pouring rain and the support cars were missing and they were wet and hungry – oh! The agony of it all.

Callum wisely went off up another hill where the others refused to go, and disappeared for the rest of the day!! Esther was stationed at a cross roads to happily lead them to “lunch”, but again the wrong road was taken and an emergency, or should it be said, an irate phone call, directed the support team eventually to the rendezvous where they were all to be seen in a car park in front of a hotel at the top of a high hill where they didn’t need to be!!

By this time Claire had shown her initiative by going into the hotel and buying hot chocolates to keep them going.

Pies and bridies had been brought so at least they enjoyed lunch with hot coffee for those who wished it, whilst extra jackets, rugs and jumpers were handed out to warm them up. The three largest men of the “peleton” Cameron, Hugh and Simon, all tried to shelter in a red telephone box, but Cameron got kicked out and took the huff!

There was a long descent to follow which was a relief for them all, but there were quite a few hills still ahead of them and they couldn’t really blame Callum for they were in the Peak District, and it’s not called that for nothing!!! 

Another bit of bad luck on the wettest day was that it was also the day for having punctures, 3 in all, before they by-passed Sheffield and down to Chesterfield which was  easily recognised from the distance when the twisted steeple came into view.  

The hotel again was in the middle of the town and no car park, so all the bikes were taken into the hotel lobby and stored away for the night.   Again everyone had to hurry – well after a pint or so,  and get showered and changed for dinner at a nearby restaurant where we were a party of 19, as 4 friends had joined us from Lincoln for the meal and for three of them to cycle to Harper Adams the following day.  

We had a great meal in a traditional English pub but exhaustion led most of us to bed as soon as possible.   Chesterfield was a very attractive city with pseudo Tudor buildings with palisades, and again very busy.   Miles cycled 83 with 1,971 metres of ascent.

Final Stage

Final Stage was to be shorter – around 75 miles – so we decided to leave around 8.30 for 9am – so bikes were assembled out on the pavement in front of the hotel and cars parked so that baggage could be placed in the vehicles.

Unfortunately we were there some time as necessary repairs to bikes had to be carried out and Callum had his portable repair stand out on the pavement, and pedals were adjusted, tyres blown up and taxi-drivers moaning at us for blocking the Taxi Rank – such fun!!!

Will enquired of Mary as he was trying to look enthusiastic at departure, as to what was the retiring age from cycling, as he thought he had reached it!! Will had also posted on face-book that he had needed the help of a crow bar to” prise his willy out of his bottom” – not quite the words that Will used!!

Anyway they eventually got underway and the support vehicles followed but trouble appeared quite quickly in the day when Simon discovered he had a burst chain. Running repairs were tried as others had some refreshments but they had only gone 2 miles when the chain burst again. So a bike shop had to be found as Simon was determined not to take a lift and resorted to the old fashioned scooter type movement to propel him and his bike along, but that couldn’t last for too long, so with the help of modern technology a bike repair shop was soon found in Matlock and tracked down by means of navigation by phone. Simon was set up with Shuggie’s bike so as not to hold them up further and the support team waited for the bike repair.   

Whilst Ian and Grizz waited for the repair and then shot off after the cyclists to reunite Simon with his bike,  Esther and Ewan were sent off in the hunt for lunch and they found a super sandwich shop and ordered up 19 freshly made rolls and 10 sausage rolls, and fresh milk for the coffee .   

We set off in the Ashbourne direction but en-route Ewan suddenly did a u-turn and by the time I had waited for passing traffic Ewan had disappeared!! – I carried on to Ashbourne, and whilst parked, all the cycle team went passed me so I definitely was on the right road – but where was Ewan??  However, a phone call soon told me that Ewan had spotted Grizz and Ian at Carsington Lake with the cyclists, and that they would catch me up in Ashbourne. 

We were to rendezvous again with the cyclists at Oulton for lunch. Now Oulton should have been Alton, misunderstanding of the Wooler accent, so we missed that rendezvous point but we picked them up in Greatgate which was in fact a village and farm all rolled into one and we had taken over the steading, however, the cyclists were desperate for food by this time , it was almost 2.30pm, and when the farmer came along with a startled look on his face he was soon happily chatting amongst fellow farmers.

The sheep were keen to join in and baaed and baaed as they awaited a move to another field downhill and luckily didn’t need to pass through us.

It was then discovered that we had not seen the Lincoln Trio for a while and we later learned that they had taken a wrong turn further back and lost the others completely but were quite capable of setting up their own route and actually managed to arrive at Harper Adam Uni before us.

Lunch was finished and George Brewis had stopped screaming as Mary was giving him a knee massage, so they set off this time on the last lap of the journey.

After a stop at Eccleshall to meet up with some supporters, Callum thought it might be better to cycle single file as it was beginning to get busy around 5pm and whilst he was happily thinking it’s not too busy after all – not too many cars, lorries hurtling passed – little did he know that they were all in a queue behind them.

He fortunately pulled into a lay-by to let the cyclists gather together again, and this of course allowed the cars to get passed and they were greeted with some encouraging waves, but mostly there were waves of displeasure – they just all waved back.!! However, the most emotive part of the journey was not far off – they would have to ride over the very spot where George had been run over on Forton Road, near Newport.

The support vehicles arrived first and parked up at Newport Rugby Club and went to the corner of Sunny Gardens to await the cyclists. Cameron and Mary were leading them, and they all dismounted in Sunny Gardens whilst Cameron & Mary made their sad stance right on the spot – it was a very painful, cruel moment and everyone felt the deep sadness of the memory of what had happened on that spot, and the subsequent death of George in the A&E of Stoke on Trent University Hospital. Tears were wiped away and Bravehearts Mary & Cameron mounted up and led the procession the next two miles to Harper Adams University and entered into the quadrangle in front of the Student Union’s Welly Bar to applause and cheers from George’s former class mates who were all lined up to meet and welcome the cyclists.

It was a great moral booster and students and staff were so pleased to welcome us and offer us hospitality in the Welly Bar by way of tea and cakes, and of course the bar was open for a stronger refreshment if desired. It was so nice to speak to everyone, most of whom had attended George’s funeral service in Melrose.

Mary had brought a supply of the George Legacy Fund polo shirts and baseball caps in the mini-bus, so they were brought in and a good trade was done by the students and it was noticed that whilst most of the students had been very casually dressed when we arrived, by the time they had all donned their newly purchased shirts and hats they all looked very smart and part of the gang who were very much remembering George.

Official photos had to be taken, with Cameron showering everyone with champagne, then departures back home were planned and the Northumbrians packed bikes and people – 7 in total – into the Equitrek, Grizz having swopped vehicles with Ewan, and they were off on a 5 hour plus journey home.

The squad from Lincoln who had supported Mary & Cameron on the last day and most significant day of the ride, said their farewells and bikes were loaded into a big pick- up for their shorter journey home.

The numbers had dwindled from 19 for the meal in Chesterfield the night before down to 8, and Ewan, Dougie and Will went off to stay with Ewan’s son, who was a student at Harper Adam, at his flat in Newport so that left 5 , Cameron, Mary, James, Callum and Esther, to make their way to the hotel in Shrewsbury for a meal and overnight stay. Whilst this was all happening, however, Mary & James had been whisked off by a member of staff to visit the lady who had heard noises outside her house on Forton Road the night that George was injured so seriously, and had been with George before he was taken away in the ambulance. This was a very significant meeting for Mary, and in a way was of some solace to her, that another mother had held his hand and gave George some comfort – we truly hope that that was the case.

The Challenge is over and all who took part were heroes for their efforts on the many climbs, and of course very best friends to Cameron and Mary, and they all did it in memory of George, a young man whose life was too short and he is sadly missed.

He would have loved a challenge like that – and all the lads and lassies deserve their motto “Onwards & Upwards” and as Hugh Burn was heard to say “I’m not here to enjoy the ride – I’m just here “to do it”!! – and By George they all did!!

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