Penny-farthing Polo Adventurers

By on July 21st, 2016 in Editorial

Like Melville-Rae, Laughton is a seasoned adventurer.  A former Royal Marines Commando and Special Forces officer, he has summited Mount Everest with Bear Grylls, circumnavigated the UK on a jet ski and piloted a flying car across the Sahara desert. You can see why these two get on.

Laughton gave us some insight into the magnitude of Melville-Rae’s plan to cycle and kayak his way from Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe: “It will be a real test of his mind, spirit and body. Penny-farthings are much harder to pedal than normal bikes – you want to get in an ice bath after a long day of cycling.”

It’s not just the penny-farthing aspect of the challenge that Laughton is familiar with. “I’ve done the English Channel in a kayak myself, so I know how difficult it’s going to be. He’s going to be getting a proper full-body workout.”

It starts to feel like there is something about the oversize, anachronistic bicycles that thrill-seekers gravitate towards. “Definitely,” says Laughton. “Anyone who is willing to learn how to use a penny-farthing – and then play polo on it – is someone who’s up for a bit of excitement.”

Penny farthing polo match, in the genteel environs of Cowdray Ruins
Penny farthing polo match, against the backdrop of Cowdray Ruins

Laughton once gave a video interview teaching BBC reporter Mike Bushell how to play penny-farthing polo. The sport was played on ordinary bicycles at the end of the 19th century, but Neil’s club was the first to play the game on penny-farthings.

Melville-Rae: thwacking balls in a fashionable pith helmet
Melville-Rae: thwacking balls in a fashionable pith helmet

“Forty-eight inches off the ground, we use a long polo stick – just like they do in polo with horses.” From the BBC video it’s clear there’s an element of danger involved, as players collide with each other and clatter to the ground – always at risk of flying over the handlebars in what Neil would call a “header.”

Laughton – taking the pith?

On Sunday 17th July – the day before Melville-Rae set off for Paris – he played in the genteel surroundings of Cowdray Park, Sussex for the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup Final Penny Farthing Polo Match between England and Scotland. “Neil [Melville-Rae] has Scottish ancestry, so he was playing for the other side. I’m pleased to say we beat Scotland 9-3.”

IMG_6991
Lucky in polo, lucky in love.

A gracious victor, Laughton is of course extremely supportive of Melville-Rae’s Arch to Arc challenge. “He’s very brave, and I’m sure the Penny Farthing Club has taught him well enough that he’ll make it safely to the Arc de Triomphe. We wish him all the luck in the world for his journey.”

So far, Neil has raised £3,855 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.


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James is freemarket’s Chief Commercial Officer. He has a history of finding new ways to solve age-old financial challenges and was responsible for launching some of the first online money transfer and prepaid card initiatives in Europe.


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