Explore the English countryside

There’s another opportunity in September to explore and enjoy the English countryside by taking part in Ride+Stride, a sponsored walk or bike ride between 10,000 participating churches. The event involves over 13,000 people of all ages, crosses 34 counties and opens the doors to some of the landscape’s most unusual and unknown churches.

The event has run each year since it began in Suffolk in 1981, and last year’s event raised £1.5 million for church restoration. This year’s event was on Saturday 11 September, with churches open from 10am – 6pm. The idea is that you sign up with the Churches Trust in your chosen county and find sponsors for your walk or ride between whichever churches you fancy. The route can be as long or short as you like, visiting two, or however many more you like, churches. The sponsorship money can all go to your favourite church, or to all the churches in that county.

Cyclists and walkers lucky enough to live in Cumbria, or planning to be on holiday there, might like to put together a route including the charming Newlands Church in the hamlet of Littletown; Beatrix Potter’s Mrs Tiggy Winkle was dedicated to the Vicar’s daughter. In Dorset, participants could head over to Loders’ St. Mary Magdalene’s Church, to offer sympathy and support to its gargoyle with toothache.

Riders and striders in Wiltshire can picnic by Bremilham Church in Cowage farmyard, the tiniest church in the UK, which has one pew and seats four. Or over to Kent and spend the day on Romney Marsh visiting St Clements Church, Old Romney which boasts pale pink pews, having been painted for the filming of Dr Syn in the 1960s, and which were kept because the parishioners liked them. Or wander to St Thomas a Becket in Fairfield, which sits in the middle of a meadow that was only accessible by boat until the 1960s.

Ride+Stride is ideal for the young and old, the energetic and the more relaxed. In 2009, the oldest participant was a 101 year old lady from Oxfordshire who walked between six churches in hilly countryside; the youngest was still in his push chair. Some walk between two and three churches, others are more ambitious – one inspired rambler spent two weeks running 630 miles along the South West Coastal Path from his local church, St John the Baptist, Buckhorn Weston, to Poole in Dorset.

There is also the opportunity to relax and recharge between journeys, with most churches offering a display of snacks and drinks, from cakes and biscuits to home grown plums and orange squash. In fact, you don’t even need to participate in the main event, as this is an ideal opportunity simply to visit a church, knowing it – and its collection box! – will be open.

Ride+Stride helps preserve some of Britain’s 47,000 churches, chapels and meeting houses. Many historical landmarks are falling into severe disrepair and need our help. The event is supported by The National Churches Trust, in partnership with County Churches Trusts nationwide. Keen cyclist and Channel 4 news presenter, Jon Snow, is the patron. Another keen supporter is author Bill Bryson, who said: “No feature of the English countryside is more important, or potentially more vulnerable, than its churches. That’s why I am so delighted to support Ride+Stride.”