Monarch’s Way ride – Wednesday update from Mr Roche to the school

Now where were we with our story? Ah yes …. our monarch, King Charles the second, was fleeing to France pursued by his old enemy Oliver Cromwell, who had at his command the parliamentarian army….. and our modern day collection of cyclists are following in the King’s footsteps (or those of his horse). By the way this latter party of modern day trail followers consists of riders who all have a connection with your school – they are either Governors, ex-governors, the husbands of one of these two options, or they are parents of past children of your school – and some are more than one of these. For instance Mr. Mead  is a Governor, a parent of former pupils and is also one of your teachers. We are doing all this to raise funds for our PTA and this is also going very well.
So, the journey of Charles II (and ours yesterday) from Salisbury to Winchester was a little bit easier than the day before. For us the weather was better and for both us and King Charles the pathway was easier. This is all thanks to the Romans who 1200 years before Charles had constructed a network of roads around Britain to enable them to march their troops about. Luckily for all of us all they had built a road that joined Salisbury and Winchester and Charles (and us) were able to travel this same track nearly 1600  years after the Roman’s first laid it out (or in our case nearly 2000 years later).
When the Romans built roads they built them well and they made them straight – see picture below. Where ever possible they ensured that there weren’t too many climbs up to the top, (something that we reaĺly appreciated too), that they could see for miles around – in case their enemy’s were coming – and that they could be sure of safe passage without being ambushed by bad people. All of this was ideal for King Charles too because he could never know when he might meet one of Cromwell’s followers. King Charles now needed to make a speedy journey because his enemies were hot on his trail and the pressure was getting greater! Oliver Cromwell’s people were everywhere and they were closing in!
Let’s consider his situation. Much like our queen today Charles was of royal birth. Just like Queen Elizabeth he travelled with a group of supporters where ever he went and it would not have been hard to notice them. How easy would it have been for one of Cromwell’s spies to spot the party and quickly gather soldiers to arrest them? How would Charles have got around this problem? Those of you who have watched ‘Horrible Histories’ will know that he managed this by hiding out and by clever disguise. There are many stories of when the party encountered people along the way who could have reported them to Cromwell’s army; for Charles that would have been the end!
On one occasion we know that he hid from his enemies in an oak tree. Today this is remembered readily because many English pubs bear the name The Royal Oak to commemorate this event. On other occasions we know that he dressed as a peasnt to ensure that he could proceed without being noticed. He nearly came to a sticky end one day when delivering his horse to a blacksmith for new shoes. Charles handed over his horse and whilst idly chatting the blacksmith said to Charles, “you’d better watch out, the King’s party are about in this area……. I hope they catch the blighters soon”. Thank goodness Charles was well disguised.
So Charles’ journey was going well, but his pursuers were closing in. He was reliant on kind and faithful followers to keep him hidden, keep the party fed and watered and keep him disguised as a common day peasant worker, all whilst speeding his passage. He (and we), left Salisbury and are now in Winchester; both cities had and still have today, large cathedrals. Salisbury Cathedral is still the tallest in England and Winchester cathedral would be the place where Charles would now head to say prayers for his safe onward passage. Here lurked danger too: a congregation that might consist of either his own supporters or those of Oliver Cromwell, who you will probably know had replaced him as England’s head of state.
Charles dare not let on that others sharing communion in this now protestant cathedral were in the presence of royalty.
Over the last two days and during tomorrow (we hope), we will have cycled across 100+ miles of open countryside, seeing attractive and constantly varying scenery. Like Charles we have avoided main roads and towns, not because we are afraid of being seen by enemy forces – thankfully these no longer exist – but because we want to enjoy off-road cycling.
We would thoroughly recommend to you all taking up this hobby and sport. Perhaps you might want to form your own club – but don’t forget to include some adults too. If any of you take this up we hope that you will find it a pleasurable experience to travel long distances untroubled by anything except perhaps the odd steep hill – hard work to climb up but great fun to whizz down once you have done all the work of ascending to the top and enjoying the views. All you need to enjoy all this is a bike, safely equipped with good gears and all-important brakes, and for a few years hence a grown-up to accompany you (and carry your picnic lunch). You will also need to be the sort of young person who loves getting as wet and muddy as we are today.
We look forward to meeting you all on Friday morning and will try and write to you again tomorrow.