So, it’s Day 18 of the Help for Heroes JOGLE Relay, and sadly my 5th and last day of riding with the incredible guys who started at John O’Groats and will ride on to reach Lands’ End on Saturday.
We camped last in the village of Nomansland (yes, it really is a place!) in Wiltshire. Arriving in the late afternoon sunshine, we pitched our tents and looked forward to an evening meal at the pub up the road. Next thing we know, there’s an awful crashing noise. A fellow camper has forgotten to secure his camper van, and it’s rolled down the slope smashing into our support vehicle. Drivers door can no longer be opened, but the vehicle is still drivable much to our relief. Insurance details are exchanged, and we are off to the pub.
We are back in tents by 9pm and the weather has started to turn. The tell-tale patter of liquid sunshine is sounding on the canvas. I’m sharing a 4 man tent with three other guys, all of whom are called John, very confusing!
We’re up early as usual, with no confirmed sightings of the one-legged pheasant or the lost foal that are rumoured to frequent the camp site at night. Bully (Johnathon Bulleyment) does however report that the young couple in the tent a few yards away were confirming their physical love for each other in the early hours.
It’s raining fairly steadily as we pack up the tents and head out onto the road. The forecast doesn’t look good so we are expecting a good soaking.
At Downton, we are greeted not just be the H4H staff, but also by founders Bryn and Emma Parry. So good to see these guys back in Lycra and ready to share a few miles with us. The plan is to head off into the town where we will pay our respects at the local memorial. But wait! two things happen before we can do that. Firstly, the weather starts to brighten up, secondly, Bryn and Emma very kindly invite us back to their house to cook the breakfast that we’d purchased and had expected to cook and eat somewhere on the roadside in the rain.
Breakfast is a lovely experience around the kitchen table, with John Burns (allegedly he’s a chef) exited to be able to have full access to the cooker. New and old stories are told and revisited.
Back to the Downton office where we are joined by a bunch of guys from the Royal Military Police, and then as planned, we move on to the local memorial for a wreath laying ceremony. Tom the piper is on hand with the bagpipes, and a lone British Legion banner ruffles in the wind.
We are soon back out on the road again. After a few miles Emma & Bryn say their goodbyes, and we ride onto our camp for the night just outside Wareham still in the company of the guys from the RMP who are great company.
Arriving at our camp site for the night (which looks several notches up on the previous night) we clear the camp shop’s fridge of cold beer and share a few before people head off in various directions.
With a train to catch, I’m first into the showers while Graham (our fantastic support driver and mechanic) starts to unpack the van. Rucksack packed, I’m ready to leave, so I say my goodbyes to the guys I have shared the last 5 days with and wish them a safe journey to Lands’ End. Yes, I have cursed a couple of these guys (on several occasions) for setting a riding pace that has certainly challenged me, but as i head off in the van to Wool Station, I am genuinely sad to be leaving. I feel very privileged to have been able to take part in this experience.
I wave out of the window and take one last look into the wing mirror. John Knott (aka Knotty or JK) is taking charge of the getting the large tent pitched, and Baggers (Tony Bagnall) is once again checking his cheek for the remnants of chocolate cake (another story for another time). I am going to miss these lads.