Ride report: Clarion Sunday, 19th September, 2021


Pictures from the Trip https://www.flickr.com/gp/nickhi/595su9

Travelling from Brighton to Blackburn was a bit of a trek, but well worth the effort in order to attend this year’s ‘Clarion Sunday’ gathering in Clarion House. It takes just over two hours by train from Euston to Blackburn, which I thought was an impressively fast connection from south to north.
I had booked a couple of nights in Blackburn’s Premier Inn, which is conveniently situated opposite Blackburn station. Alex & Alan from London Clarion were also staying in the same hotel and we agreed to meet later that evening in The Postal Order, a former post office which had been converted into a pub by the Wetherspoon chain. Although I disagree with the Brexity rightwing politics of Tim Wetherspoon, the vegan pizza and £1.99 pints of ale couldn’t really be faulted.

We probably stayed in The Postal Order for longer than was really necessary. Leaving the pub at midnight, before the 6.15am start on Sunday, perhaps wasn’t the best preparation for a day of cycling.

It was just as well that I had remembered to pack an alarm clock and was able to meet Alex and Alan in the hotel reception just after 6am on Sunday morning. Charles Jepson was waiting with his van outside the hotel and drove us to his house for breakfast. Joining us at the breakfast table were London Clarion’s Nick and Iain, who had been staying with Charles.

Cycling to Clarion House

The plan was then for Alex, Iain, Nick and myself to cycle 18 miles to Clarion House. It was pleasant cycling at 7am on Sunday roads without many cars. The rain which accompanied the early part of the ride eased off very quickly and it became apparent we would have dry and sunny weather for most of the ride.

We stopped a number of times to photograph the terrain we were passing through. This was my first time cycling in Lancashire and I really hadn’t appreciated how steep the numerous hills would be. I could blame the limitations of the folding bike I was using, but suspect I really wasn’t fit enough to climb some of the steeper hills. The effort required to cycle the 18 miles to Clarion House was worthwhile for the incredible scenery which surrounded us though.

When we arrived at Clarion House, we were greeted by Barnoldswick Clarion. They had prepared a 22-mile cycle ride and we set off immediately on the route they had devised for us. The hills in the Pendle area are particularly steep. Although it was an exhilarating cycle ride with terrific views, I was having difficulty maintaining the brisk pace adopted by Barnoldswick while on my Brompton bike.

Alex suggested those of us who had already cycled from outside Blackburn to Clarion House might like to shorten the route and head to Clarion House via the Bay Horse Inn. This seemed like a good idea to me, particularly as we estimated the combined length of our ride would be 33 miles at the end. It was very pleasant sitting in warm sunshine outside the Bay Horse Inn. A number of other Clarion cyclists stopped at the pub before heading to Clarion House.

Clarion Sunday

The Clarion House Sunday gathering was a really successful event. It was estimated that a couple of hundred cyclists & supporters dropped in during the day to express solidarity with the Clarion movement.

Alan Ward from Axis Design had set up a temporary photographic studio outside Clarion House and was photographing all participating cyclists. This was for a project he’s working on which celebrates Clarion’s culture and heritage. He hopes to publish a book celebrating Clarion radicalism before the end of the year.

Alan was also giving out #I_AM_CLARION shoulder bags to all Clarion Sunday attendees. The bag contained useful information on the Pendle Radicals walking trail (PENDLERADICALS.ORG.UK) and a fascinating extract from a 1954 edition of the Daily Worker, which details Harrow Clarion Cycle Club’s visit to Clarion House. There was also an impressive Clarion metal badge in Alan’s bag.

London Clarion had also produced a commemorative ribbon, which they were handing out to mark the special 2021 Clarion Sunday gathering. The ribbon was a fine addition to the Clarion 1895 cycling jersey I was wearing during the day.

It was great to meet people I had never spoken to before. Everyone was really friendly and it was great to learn more about the Clarion movement’s radicalism, which continues to this day.

I had some great conversations about Clarion socialism whilst drinking tea in Clarion House. It was fascinating to look at the banners, posters and other examples of socialist ephemera on display.

We wondered how recent Clarion House visitor, Michael Portillo, could have turned into a rightwing Tory MP when his dad fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Although Portillo’s reactionary politics have nothing in common with Clarion socialism, he was evidently perfectly polite when being filmed (and heckled!) in Clarion House for his BBC railway programme.

I rather regret missing the socialist choir’s performance during Clarion Sunday. Hopefully there will be the chance to sing some socialist anthems when Clarion Sunday returns in June next year (the Covid pandemic pushed the event back to September this year). There’s talk of next year’s Clarion House celebration being a two-day event. Two days of cycling in the Lancashire hills? I had better start doing some training!

Boots!
Nick

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