Despite having the surname 'Wheeler' I had little previous cycling experience until last year and certainly very little experience of riding in groups. I also had just moved to the area so was a relative stranger to the back roads and lanes around the Hampshire and Sussex border. I was looking for something to get me active and to meet new people when my wife suggested that I should contact Portsmouth CTC and get involved with their Cathedral Challenge. My first thoughts were that it had something to do with eating one of my favourite types of cheddar cheese, but of course it was an opportunity to go cycling.
Once I had this point clarified I contacted the CTC and I arranged to meet the club at the allotted location in Havant. When I arrived, there was a group of cyclist already there but reassuringly they were certainly not a training group of lycra-clad Sky Cycling riders and so I immediately felt comfortable and that I would not be out of place or embarrassed as a 'newbie.'
After an introductory talk on the 'rules of cycling' and some very sensible safe cycling guidance we set off on a series of rides that were suitable for a range of cyclists and always led by an experienced club member together with a good shepherd at the back to ensure no-one got lost. The rides initially took us out from Havant along the mainly flat landscape and gradually increased in distance as us new riders' confidence and capability increased. Over the course of a few weeks we visited, as advertised, the cathedrals of Portsmouth and Chichester to achieve our Bronze and Silver awards while still cycling on roads that were not steep, just rolling, and at a pace that suited the group's ability.
The final challenge was to cycle to Winchester and this was understandably more of a test in terms of distance and the gradients tackled. In 2016 the added challenge was an unseasonably hot day but with good leadership, plenty of water and key stops for refreshments I made it to Winchester Cathedral and then back to the South Coast.
I have neglected to include arguably the main reasons why I came back week after week on the challenge, the people. Whether it was the existing members of the club or the new riders everyone was always very friendly and encouraging and made me want to come back the next week. Oh, and of course all the wonderful cafes where we stopped to enjoy a cup of coffee (or tea) and a slice of cake.