Shaftesbury Prepares For Ride And Stride – The Countywide Church Chasing Challenge

You’re being encouraged to explore Dorset’s churches on bike, foot or horseback next Saturday (14th September) to raise cash for their future repair. Many make ‘Ride and Stride’ a team challenge.

Alfred found out how the event works and heard recommendations for churches to visit.

“Ride and Stride, in its current form, has been with us for about twenty years, always on the second Saturday in September,” said John Stokoe, Chairman of the Dorset Historic Churches Trust. “It’s not just about fundraising. It’s about getting out and about and seeing some of the countryside, particularly in Dorset where the countryside is quite beautiful.”

There are around 360 historic churches in our county. “About 170 take part,” said John. “Some are tiny and are used for one service a month. They have small congregations and they are incapable of taking part because of their size.”

Sandra Whiteford (left) and Jo Slade

Last year was Ride and Stride’s most successful event to date. Hundreds of riders and striders raised over £87,000 in sponsorship by visiting places of worship. “If we get to £100,000, I’d be really happy. I have set people a target because our churches and our history needs preserving,” said John.

Sandra Whiteford says Shaftesbury’s St Peter’s Church will be offering refreshments to Ride and Stride participants. She’s a fan of the event. “Half of the money that we raise comes back to our church. In the past, we have had grants from the Dorset Historic Churches Trust, so it’s important to raise lots,” said Sandra.

She says St Peter’s needs to raise funds for repairs. “The stonework outside needs looking at because it’s quite a soft stone. They’re looking at heating the building as well, and organ repairs. There’s always something,” said Sandra.

John says it’s not just Church of England properties taking part. “We embrace churches of all denominations. The emphasis is on history. It’s about the historic churches. Our churches formed the backbone of our villages when they were created 1,200 years ago and villages grew up around our churches. Whether you are a man of faith today, have spiritual feelings or you just love buildings associated with history, that is where the pleasure comes from,” said John.

Some Ride and Stride entrants are quite competitive. “There are a lot of people who love seeing how many churches they can do on the day. They will organise teams that compete with each other. The team in Dorset which earns the most money is awarded with a trophy,” says John.

The Trust even encourages people to take part on horseback, “in some of the areas that are appropriate to riding, where there are bridal paths,” cautions John. “One year a vicar rode her horse from church to church wearing her robes and cassock. And a very imposing figure she was too” he said.

St Peter’s Church member Jo Slade has embarked on the Ride and Stride three times. She relishes the chance to explore historic churches elsewhere in the county. “I went with the previous vicar, Clive Thomas, and the Methodist minister who had done a lot of cycling. I was travelling on behind. We left Shaftesbury and went to Melbury, Compton, Fontmell, Sutton, West Orchard, East Orchard, Margaret’s Marsh and then up the hill back to St James’. The following year, I put the bike in the car and I drove to Wareham and went around the churches in the Wareham area, right down to Corfe Castle and back again. One year I caught the train to Sherborne,” said Jo, who says the day offers an excuse to tour churches you wouldn’t normally visit.

John has his recommendation. “If you wanted to start high, go to St Nicholas in Ashmore. It’s not far south of Shaftesbury and it’s the highest point in Dorset. It’s all downhill from there,” said John.

John’s recommendation – St Nicholas church in Ashmore

Any registered teams will be benefit from the Trust’s cover. “On the 14th, you are insured by the Dorset Historic Churches, so you’re covered if you’re cycling,” said Sandra.

“You create your team, form a ‘Just Giving’ page and you raise money amongst your team members from the churches you visit during the day,” said John. If you want to take part, there are detailed instructions on sponsorship and registration on the Ride and Stride page of the Dorset Historic Churches Trust website.