Monday, 23 March 2015

Richard III - bones and bikes....

Mid march can be a strange time of year - what should be early spring can feel like late winter pared down to the very bone. Aside from the, as yet, flowerless daffodil spikes and the barrage of sounds from the rookery across the road there is little sense of life's return.

Somewhat ironic then that this weekend sees the mortal remains of Richard III transported to his final resting place more than 500 years after his death in battle. Crowds have gathered along the route which sees the lead-lined oak coffin of the last Plantaganet King carried from the place he died, through the Leicestershire countryside to Leicester Cathedral. And I decided it would be right and fitting for me to ride along for a while - after all, the journey covers some of my most popular routes.

It was the perfect day to move a King. Blue skies, sunny and not a hint of Lancastrian forces to be seen. Everywhere there are people walking, with portable seats and some with picnics, captivated by the story of the last English King to die in battle and determined to make a day of it.

I ride through Bosworth where the barriers are already holding back a line of people perhaps two or three deep. I pause to ask one of the stewards exactly which road Richard would be coming in on, she didn't know - I decided to head to Sutton Cheney - I know that there's just one road through the village and that the cortege would be stopping at the church - the very one that Richard heard his final mass before the battle. The road is blocked with people and I can't get through, but I remember there's a footpath that will take me behind the church and back onto the road leading to the Bosworth Battlefield Tourist Centre - I opt for that and find a position on the pavement to watch from. There are men dressed in armour who march ahead of the funeral cortege, and then a group of police motorcycle outriders with lights flashing - Then he's here, the oak coffin clearly visible in the hearse. There is a pause at the church, some words are said but Richard remains inside the hearse, then they're off again towards the Battlefield visitor centre - I get a few photos and a couple of video clips before setting off down the gated lane back to Bosworth.

Everywhere there are crowds of people, familys, walkers, cyclists. In Bosworth the streets are jam packed - all the shops are open and theres a farmers' market as well. The chip shop - The Batter of Bosworth - is doing a roaring trade, as I cycle up to the market square a little boy cries after dropping his saveloy sausage.

I pick my way through the throng and make my way to the church, the bells are ringing and there are people gathered taking photos and wandering around. Richard is on his way and will be heading from here to Newbold Verdon and Desford and then to Leicester City - he's got another 20 miles or so to go.

The landscape of medieval churches, low hills and country lanes has changed surprisingly little since the last time Richard's body was carried to Leicester - although this journey, slow, escorted by knights, prayed over by a bishop and many priests and greeted by people lining village streets and country lanes has been very different this time round. As I cycle homeward past crowds still gathering I ponder the eccentricity of it all: here is a King, hated at his time of reign, castigated by Shakespeare, a possible child murderer and yet now somehow reviled - the whole show has a mix of sombre occassion and Disney-like flamboyance, but I'm glad I managed to get out to see it.

Pub sign - Marstons Pedigree Beer!

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