Author Robert Ashton will be cycling 50 miles for Suffolk Historic Churches Trust’s Ride and Stride, this weekend. Ahead of taking in 26 churches, the 68-year-old explains his motivation
In 2019 I stopped taking on paid work and went to the UEA as a full-time student, graduating a year later with a creative writing MA. My dissertation was the first section of a book that explores the work of oral historian George Ewart Evans. When I graduated, I continued researching which meant spending a lot of time in Suffolk.
One day I spotted a derelict barn for sale at Leiston, with planning consent to convert into a dwelling. Both my wife and I grew up in Leiston, and the idea of retiring to the Suffolk coast was appealing. We bought the barn, sold our home in Norfolk and are renting in Leiston while our new home takes shape.
Although retired, and now researching my next book, I’ve quickly become involved with things locally. I’m now a trustee of the Suffolk Quaker charity, that manages Quaker assets in Suffolk, and also a trustee of the Long Shop Museum, which tells the story of Richard Garratt, a 19th century industrial innovator whose success at the 1851 Great Exhibition prompted a rapid expansion of both his factory and the town.
My latest book, Where are the Fellows who Cut the Hay, is currently with a copy-editor, then it will go into production, and publish in April next year. There’s still just time to pre-order a copy from Unbound and be one of the first to receive a copy.
I’d often talked about taking part in the Norfolk Churches Trust bike ride, but never seemed to quite get round to it. It was discussing the volunteer rota for Leiston Quaker Meeting, which is one of the places taking part, which prompted me to sign up. After doing my stint welcoming riders, I’ll be setting off to visit some churches myself. It’s my first time.
Half the money each rider raises goes to their nominated place of worship, in my case Leiston’s Quaker Meeting House . The balance goes to the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust, a charity that helps preserve Suffolk’s churches. Fewer people attend church these days, but they are an important part of our history and in many ways, define the rural landscape, so need preserving.
My 50-mile route starts in Leiston, then to Aldeburgh, Aldringham (where we got married 41 years ago), Friston, Saxmundham, Kelsale, Dunwich, Walberswick, Southwold, Blythburgh (where many of my wife’s family are buried) and then back to Leiston, taking in 26 churches in total if all goes according to plan. I’ll also be making several stops for coffee and cake along the way! I’ve chosen a route that takes in many of many of my favourite places, and included churches that hold memories good, both good and sad.
As I get older (I’m now 68) keeping fit becomes more important, so I’m at the gym two or three times a week and out on my bike a few times too, usually covering around 30 miles each time. Now that I’m writing full time, I can make more time for exercise. I actually think my writing benefits too!
Robert Ashton is fundraising for Suffolk Historic Churches Trust (justgiving.com). Suffolk Churches Trust Ride and Stride takes place on Saturday September 9, 2023. Suffolk Historic Churches Trust is 50 years old in 2023. Visit shct.org.uk. Also, visit Norfolk Churches Trust.