Edinburgh to Bristol on Two Wheels

Our Read Easy Hackney Team Leader Serena and her husband John recently completed a 858 mile cycle challenge from Edinburgh to Bristol in support of Read Easy Hackney and Samaritans. Read her story here and if it inspires you to start your own fundraising challenge, we’d love you to consider Read Easy as your chosen charity.
Top tips on creating your challenge at the end of this article!


My name is Serena Naismith and I am Team Leader of Read Easy Hackney. We support adults in this East London borough to learn to read and at present are the only Read Easy group in London, though this is set to change very soon.

As with so many, Covid-19 caught me off-guard. Its full impact only really hit me when, in consultation with Read Easy UK’s trainer, Lynne, and other Read Easy Hackney team members, we had to make the difficult but appropriate decision early in March to pull the plug on an Initial Coach Training day for 14 eager new volunteers.

As Team Leader and also Fundraiser for Read Easy Hackney, I was very aware that, despite a generous donation in March from a locally-based solicitor’s, our group’s coffers were decidedly in need of a boost! And so the idea of cycling to Bristol – and camping – as the only safe and responsible way to travel took root and, given the distance, fundraising seemed a reasonable add-on.

The result was “Edinburgh to Bristol on Two Wheels”. John’s trusty steed was “Embra”, a flighty, thorough-bred Specialised road/touring bike; mine, “Roma”, a faithful 34-year old Falcon 530, proudly bearing its original grey suede saddle. Our local bike repair shop did advise me to replace the tyres – £80 well spent as it turned out.

And so on the morning of Sunday 5th July, with a last wave from our neighbours, we set off from our home in Edinburgh to the Borders… under threatening skies. Sure enough, within 10 minutes of departing, the heavens opened and we got drenched. It was a perfect initiation, setting the bar very low as far as weather conditions might go!

Our first overnight stop was with a former colleague of mine, who spoilt us with a delicious social distanced al fresco meal. Next morning, after an appointment with a mobile bike repair shop to fix a broken spoke on Embra, we headed off through Northumbria. Day 3 saw us hugging the beautiful Northumberland coast, then on through Newcastle, and west to a delightful campsite tucked away beside the River Tyne in Wylam. From there, our route took us along Hadrian’s Wall, then south into the North Pennines and over Hartside Pass (1,900ft). Next, we rode up and down through Bronte country: Haworth and the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.

From there, we wound our way to visit old friends in Pontefract. Next was Sheffield, John and my alma mater, hillier but just as wet as I had remembered! We pedalled like fury to get to Chesterfield, which included an intimidating stretch on the A61. (Wherever possible, we avoided A roads.) The sight of the impressive crooked spire soothed us. The next day saw us hit Derby (with its first-class network of cycle routes) and then onto Sutton Coldfield, where we had an unexpected but welcome rest day with friends, having been unable to visit John’s eldest cousin in Leicester due to the local lockdown.

Refreshed, we took full advantage of the extensive canal tow paths around Birmingham, which – pub quiz question spoiler! – boasts more kilometres of canal than Venice. We watched on in awe as a couple, in the narrowest of narrow boats, put all their might into operating the first of the 21 locks they were going to be passing through that day.

From Birmingham, we headed to Warwick to steal a glance at the Castle and St Mary’s Church, and thence to Leamington Spa (stopping for a drink at my nephew’s) and on to beautiful Stratford (a long-overdue first visit for both of us). Next, we tacked east to see John’s aunt in Buckinghamshire, before turning west again to head through Oxford, and into the Cotswolds, where we were hosted by Read Easy UK’s CEO, Ginny and husband, Nick, and Office Dog, Harry.

Last but not least came the wonderful descend over Cotswold’s Edge to join the Avon Cycle Route for our last 40 miles of cycling. Eight miles short of our final destination, Bristol, our youngest, Ailsa, headed out to join us. After seven months, it was an emotional reunion – a super-special moment which, even without all our adventures, would have made the whole 858 miles totally worthwhile.

The whole trip – 17 days of cycling including two ‘rest’ days – has already gone down as one of John and my most memorable holidays, and for all the right reasons! While we have previously done cycle trips of 3-4 days with our own and another family when our children were teenagers, this was by far the most ambitious in distance. There is something so liberating about your daily focus only to be to get from A to B, and knowing that your only worldly possessions are balancing on the back of a simple but sleek mechanical pack-horse!

There were so many highs, not least catching up with so many family members and friends. But for me the most magical moment was arriving at the top of Hartside Pass and, on a gloriously warm summer’s afternoon, looking down at the plain below us and its patchwork of fields, and back to the distant blue-grey of the Lakes on the skyline. It was truly mesmerising!

I must finish by saying a huge “thank you” for the wonderful support and generosity we received from so many and which boosted us throughout the ride, especially on the 2-3 really long days in the saddle. That support included John’s friend, another John in Newcastle, who saved the day by personally delivering two custom-building brackets to our campsite to keep my cantilevered pannier-rack secure, all on the basis of a photo sent by WhatsApp and a 5 minute phone conversation! And the generosity helped us raise a final total of £3,800. John and I are hugely grateful.


Thinking of starting your own fundraising challenge? Here are some top tips!

  1. Decide what your challenge will be. From running a marathon around home to a game-a-thon, there are so many things you could do right now to support a charity #neverneededmore
  2. Choose your charity! 
  3. How can people donate? This could be an online donation page – for example a Just Giving page where you direct people to donate. You can also ask people to donate in via social media. Facebook make this really easy for you. Go to post and choose ‘support non-profit’ from the options. You can then search for your charity. If registered with Facebook, it should appear in the search box – (you can find Read Easy UK there).
  4. Tell everyone! Be sure to share what you are doing with friends and family. Contact your chosen charity to see if they can help you spread the word. Also be sure to tag the charity in your posts.

Good luck! If you’re fundraising for Read Easy UK, we would love to share your story! There might even be a T-shirt in it for you.



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