Arch to Arc penny-farthing challenge commences!
A van with a kayak strapped to its roof is parked on the side of Bayswater Road parallel to the arch’s pillars, and two penny-farthings are propped up on the arch’s inside wall, pointed out at the pedestrianised area leading to Cumberland Gate.
This morning Neil sets off for Paris on his penny-farthing (with back-up penny-farthing and penny-farthing parts in tow) on a gruelling 280-mile journey of which 55 miles will be undertaken by kayak across the English Channel. And he is doing all this to raise money for the Jigsaw School for children with autism.
As Neil glad-hands his supporters, snippets of conversation reveal the difficulty of the task ahead – all delivered with the easy nonchalance of a man who climbs mountains for breakfast. It appears Neil is undaunted by the prospect of propelling a giant wheel across two countries and, ultimately, around the infamously treacherous Arc de Triomphe roundabout.
“Pedalling on a penny-farthing is like pedalling on a normal bike that’s permanently in top gear,” smiles Neil. “I’m aiming to do about 60 miles a day.” (N.B. he ended up travelling the entire 85 miles to Rye on the first day, and set off across the channel in his kayak this morning.)
He leaps onto the nearest penny-farthing and pedals gracefully around Marble Arch, drawing a crowd of onlookers who point their phones at him as he balances his stomach on the seat and points himself forward like a human spear, or Superman wearing 30% less Lycra.
Neil sidles up alongside a double-decker bus and catches the eye of a friendly bus driver who leans out of his cab window for a chat.
Coming to a gentle stop, Neil rests his foot on a bin so he can lean down and plant a kiss on his wife Angela.
A cycling policeman – intrigued by the penny-farthings, roof-mounted kayak and small crowd – stops by to wish Neil the best on his journey.
Finally, Neil poses for a group photo with everyone from the Jigsaw Trust and freemarketFX who has come out to see him off.
And with that – barely announcing his departure – Neil launches himself onto his oversize bicycle once more and darts into the fast-moving morning traffic, towering above cars like a colourful beacon atop a disc-shaped lighthouse.
Onlookers run across Marble Arch in the hope of seeing Neil as he turns onto Park Lane, but he’s going too fast. He becomes a small dot on the A4202, disappearing into the distance, fearless and determined.
Godspeed, Neil Melville-Rae. Godspeed.
So far, Neil has raised £3,575 of his £5,000 target for the Jigsaw Trust on his Just Giving page – and you are, of course, still able to donate to this excellent cause and support Neil’s madcap scheme.
Find out more about the Jigsaw School for children with autism here.
To donate on Neil’s Just Giving page, click here.