I'm a double cancer survivor, cyclist and walker who does various challenges for different charities, mainly cancer-related.

In 2016 I climbed every single 'Birkett' in the Lake District - all 542 fells over 1,000' within the National Park, including all 214 Wainwrights. I've also done a three-week cycle tour of Tasmania in February 2015 and amongst other things, I've cycled from Land's End to John o'Groats (2003), Rotterdam to Lemvig (Denmark) (2005), walked the Pennine Way (2008) completed (my first) ascent of all 214 'Wainwrights' in the Lake District in only 55 days (2009), cycled 4,500 miles around the coast of Great Britain (2011), cycled all 42 of the accessible Western Isles of Scotland in under a month (2012), twice abseiled 230 ft from the top of The Big One in Blackpool, cycled the WWI Western Front from London to Compiegne via Ypres and Arras (2014), cycled 750 miles in the Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton (2014), done a bit of sky-diving and cycled Australia's Great Ocean Road - just before lockdown in 2020.

Altogether I've raised over £120,000 for my charities including The Christie, Cancer Research UK, the Rosemere Cancer Foundation, and ABF (The Soldiers' Charity) and I was mightily chuffed to receive the British Empire Medal in the 2014 New Year's Honours List.

I'm a Rotarian and give illustrated talks about my adventures in exchange for a donation to charity, so if you're looking for a speaker leave me a message. I am also Event Organiser for the Ribble Valley Ride Cycle Sportive, to be held this year on Sunday 5 September 2021 - more details at www.ribblevalleyride.org

You can also follow me on Twitter - @CancerBikeMan and on Facebook - just search for Bill Honeywell

Cancer Research UK is the world's leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research, whilst The Rosemere does fantastic work for patients in Lancashire and South Cumbria.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The French Connection

Clitheroe is twinned with Rivesaltes in the south of France and there are regular visits between the two towns, usually involving light hearted football matches, spearheaded by the regulars of the Wagon & Horses pub who style themselves The French Connection.

This April’s visit by the Clitheroe contingent was slightly different in that two regulars – Roger Hargreaves and Pete Parkes – cycled the 1,000 miles there,  taking about two weeks to do the trip and raising money for various charities including the North West Air Ambulance, Riding for the Disabled, Crossroads Care and my Cancer Research UK fund.

They had a celebration on Saturday night in the form of a black-tie ball at the Stirk House, Gisburn, which I attended with Val, Frank & Bern (who drove the motorhome on the penultimate week of my ride).  A good time was had by all, although I was a bit embarrassed because every time the compere mentioned Roger & Pete’s ride, he compared it – not very flatteringly - to my 4,500-mile Round-the-Coast bike ride!  Roger has a great sense of humour and wasn’t in the least bothered.

After the meal it was time to present the cheques and I was thrilled to receive £1,000 for Cancer Research UK.  So a thousand thanks to the French Connection!

On the following day, Sunday, it was my turn to have a post-ride ‘bash’ – this time a barbecue in our back garden. Clearly, I don’t share the same style or panâche as the French Connection guys!  On the guest list were supporters, family, neighbours and motorhome crews; amazingly the weather held off, apart from the high winds, but they weren’t a problem, fortunately.

(Drinks were obtained from D Byrnes of Clitheroe who provide an excellent sale or return service for such occasions – Byrnes’s wine shop, in Clitheroe town centre, is legendary, and if you haven’t visited it yet you ought to put it on your ‘to do’ list.)

Thanks go to Tony Spencer and Frank who manned the barbecue, and to everyone who came and had such a good time – it was an excellent way to celebrate the success of the ride.

The total amount raised for Cancer Research UK, including money pledged from the Rock at the Castle event, has now gone over the £25,000 mark and there is still the Backridge Autumn Fayre to come the weekend after next.  That’s comfortably above my original target – which for a long time I thought was over-optimistic!  You can still donate if you wish by following the links on this blog.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Adventures of Bat-man

It has rained here all week. I mean, all week. Until lunchtime today, when for a while there were some patches of blue sky whilst it was still drizzling, then it actually stopped and it felt quite warm.

I quickly got changed, pumped up the tyres on the bike and set off around my favourite circuit – about 26 miles around Sawley, Bolton-by-Bowland, Wigglesworth, Forest Becks, and back.  With a nice tailj-wind to start with, I was soon passing the ruins of Sawley Abbey, crossing over the River Ribble and heading along familiar lanes.

Autumn is here and the sloes are ripe on the Blackthorn bushes in the hedgerows. I made a  mental note of where the big crops are in case I decide to make some sloe gin.  Stump Cross Lane featured in the local paper this week when someone described it as the dirtiest road in Britain – full of cow-muck!  Whoever it was hasn’t been on too many roads I guess – I’ve seen a lot, lot worse on my recent travels, but today I was unlucky enough to come across the culprits. The farmer was taking his herd of cows along the road after milking and I got stuck behind them for five minutes.

There’s been correspondence in the national press along similar lines – someone on holiday in Polperro complaining bitterly about the smell of fish (!). One letter replied with a lovely story about a man on holiday in the Scilly Islands. He called at the shop and asked for a newspaper. ‘Yesterday’s or today’s?’ he was asked. ‘Today’s please’ he replied, naturally enough. ‘Well come back tomorrow!’ was the answer. Excellent!


On arriving home I found a bat lying on the patio – rather like a bird, stunned after flying into the window, but it hadn’t.  It was alive but very dozy, so I placed it somewhere warm and sheltered, and it soon disappeared into safety.  Pipistrelles (which is what it was) are tiny – a lot, lot smaller than a field mouse. I could see its heart beating; its fur was fine and smooth; the back legs were as thin as needles, with delicate toes and claws; and the wings are incredibly long, folded, with a single long claw on the elbow joint. Bats aren’t blind – it had tiny bright eyes and would blink now and again.

By coincidence, when John came to partition off the shed – to make a compartment for the hens, complete with perches and nest boxes, he found another pipistrelle clinging to a small piece of wood inside.  I put it on top of a wooden arbour nearer the house and soon it had crawled around so that it was hanging upside down from one of the columns.

A lot of bats flutter around the pond at dusk – they’re great to watch from out of the living room window – and as well as pipistrelles we get a larger species which dips down almost to the surface of the water, presumably catching low-flying insects.  I think they’re Daubenton’s bats, but I’m not sure.  Must get one of those bat-call gadgets so that I can identify them.

Just as predicted, the weather looks like it will get wild for Sunday when we have the post-ride barbecue.  I need to get the meat and booze tomorrow, and also pick up the motorhome which has been in the garage since the day after I got back, for repairs to the damage caused when the tree fell on top of it near Fort William. Brother-in-law Keith will be pleased – he wants to borrow it tomorrow night to go down to the Stock Car World Championships at Northampton!

Finally, BBC Radio Lancashire rang when I got back from the bike ride this afternoon – they are doing a piece on Monday’s Breakfast Show with Graham Liver, on surviving bowel cancer, and want me to do a telephone interview just after 8.00 am.  I’m getting used to these radio appearances, they’re good fun!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Skokholm Island Appeal

You may have seen a news report today about hundreds of young Manx Shearwaters being rescued from rough seas off the Pembrokeshire coast.  The weather has certainly been severe – but even so, it seems odd that birds which should be used to such conditions got in such trouble.

Probably the biggest breeding colony of Manx Shearwaters in the world is just off the coast of Pembrokeshire, with roughly 50% of the world’s population – 165,000 pairs - nesting on Skokholm and Skomer, its near neighbour.  Quite a few people visit Skomer as it is easily accessible by a daily boat service, but Skokholm is a different matter.  From Broad Haven the Dale Princess would travel across to Skokholm on Saturday and not return until the following Saturday.

The Dale Princess arriving at Skokholm

I’ve been three times to stay for a week.  For some reason, Val has never been interested in accompanying me.  This could be something to do with the fact that there is no running water and no electricity.  Lighting in the old farmhouse, originally occupied and renovated by Ronald Lockley many years ago, is by gas, and the only way to get a wash is to do the dishes and then use any unused hot water left over in the boiler!  The chemical toilet doesn’t sound too enticing but spirits are lifted by the paintings of birds which people have doodled on the walls!

It is a magical place though, despite the privations.  Measuring only a mile or so long by half a mile wide, it’s easy to walk around in an hour or so, but the main thing is that it’s a fabulous place for relaxation whilst enjoying the bird life which is all around – as well as the Manx Shearwaters there are Puffins, Guillemots, Ravens, Choughs and lots more.

A Puffin

There’s only room for a dozen or so visitors, and the accommodation is pretty basic – I’ve stayed in the outside huts, and also a dampish room in Lockley’s farmhouse.  The first time I went there was an evening routine of reviewing all the birds seen during the day.  As the names were read out on the first evening, Gus, a Dutchman and keen birder holidaying with his girlfriend, said “Loos and I had a Shag on the boat on the way here.” and wondered why the room erupted into laughter.  I told him you can ‘have’ a Gannet, or a Razorbill, or a Cormorant, but you ‘see’ a Shag – and explained why.  Lovely language, English.

Skokholm is owned by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, and recently they have undertaken an ambitious programme of refurbishment, which was well overdue. Now the lighthouse on the island is for sale – Trinity House want £100,000 for it – and the Trust is doing its best to acquire it to safeguard the future of the island and return it to its original status as a bird observatory.

If you want to know more, you can visit the Trust’s web site at http://www.welshwildlife.org/skokholmIntro_en.link

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Rannock Sheep (and other breeds)

I started the morning with a bit of Breakfast TV (as usual) – today there was a piece from Skipton Auction Market on the rise in sheep prices.  Skipton is only 18 miles from where I live, and as it happens I know the auctioneer there – or more correctly I did know him, because John Hanson retired this year.  He doesn’t look old enough.

The reason I know him is because a few years ago he asked me to speak at the Annual Dinner of the Rannock Sheep Breeders Society - now held at the Millstones near Blubberhouses, between Skipton and Harrogate - but at that time the venue was the Hopper Lane Inn (also at Blubberhouses).  I’d spoken to Ribblesdale Farmers and Settle Farmers before, but hadn’t heard of the Rannock Sheep Breeders, and thought it must be a breed of sheep I’d never heard of.

On the Pennine Way near Keld three years ago - these are Swaledales, by the way...

That’s because I’m from Lancashire. I can hear you Yorkshire tykes laughing already.  A rannock sheep is just another name for a bad ‘un.  Or, if you don’t mind me mixing metaphors, if you’ve bought a rannock sheep, you’ve bought a pup.  Hence the subtle Yorkshire irony in the name of the organisation – because clearly no-one would set out to breed rannock sheep.

Anyway, I turned up at the Hopper Lane Inn to find a group of around forty farmers, auctioneers, cattle dealers and so on congregating in the bar, ready to give me a warm welcome. After a hearty dinner, which consisted of a Yorkshire pudding starter, main course of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and finally, Yorksh apple pie and custard, it was time for me to stand up and entertain the assembled throng with around 45 minutes of amusing anecdotes and the odd risqué joke.

It seemed to go very well. When I’d finished, John Hanson stood up to thank me and then, to my surprise, asked if anyone else had any good jokes to tell.  There then followed at least another hour of side-splitting humour as members recounted their own stories, and several jokes which were a lot more risqué than mine!  It was without doubt one of the best nights-out I’ve had!

I was then given the heart-warming news that I was a lifelong honorary member of the Rannock Sheep Breeders Society, entitled to come to each Annual Dinner, with or without a guest, and it’s now an annual fixture in my diary. The format remains the same, so I always go armed with a few new jokes for the after-speaker entertainment!

My favourite sheep photo - on Gayle Moor, while walking the Ribble Way, 2007.

Getting back to the original subject of sheep, I’ve known for a while that the cost of getting sheep clipped (sheared if you’re from down south!) has been more than the price obtained for the fleece – about £1.20 against around 40p. It’s a disgrace.  Now the price of the wool has tripled and it’s possible almost to break even.  The price of sheep has also gone up because of the value of the meat.

What I found difficult to understand was the carpet manufacturers (who take  most of the wool) saying that it was getting too expensive and that they would have to look at other (synthetic?) materials as a substitute. Well, £1.20 a fleece still doesn’t sound that bad to me, when a good wool carpet can cost well over £30 a square meter! But then, what do I know about economics?...

…There was a bit of a furore a couple of years back when it was discovered that the question paper in the final Economics exam at Cambridge Universtity was identical to the paper about five years earlier. Clearly, students who studied the past papers would have had an unfair advantage. The day after the story appeared, there was a letter in the Daily Telegraph from an economics professor. In his view there was no problem – the questions might have been the same, but after five years – the answers would be completely different!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Hen Huts and Bothies

I’m alright today.

I had a good response to my ‘revelations’ in yesterday’s blog.  A couple of weeks ago I was able to help an old friend – recently diagnosed with bowel cancer – on what to expect, and following my explanation yesterday I was contacted by someone else whose close relative is finding it difficult to come to terms with their recently-created ileostomy – and of course if I can be of any help I’ll be delighted.

Another important matter taking place yesterday was the relocation of our garden shed from near the house to the bottom of the garden, in anticipation of Val acquiring a few hens – an ambition she has held for some time.  I got out of the heavy labour due to my frail condition!  My main concern, when in due course the chucks arrive, is to keep them out of the grip of Monsieur Reynard.  I’ve already seen foxes nonchalantly strolling across the field behind the house, so I’m sure we’ll get a visit before too long.  A friend of mine has a security hatch on his hen hut which is controlled by a photo-electric cell – as it’s going dark, it shuts tight. Chickens only get left outside once, apparently – after that (assuming they survive) they make sure they obey the electronic curfew!

It’s surprising how much wildlife there is – on the day I got back from the Big Bike Ride there was a Roe Deer in the field behind the house, whilst on Saturday I looked out of the kitchen window just in time to see a male Sparrowhawk fly off with a Blue Tit in its talons – nature ‘Red in Tooth and Claw’ indeed.

Last night my brother Richard and his wife Sue called in on their way back to Macclesfield from a day in the Dales which included climbing Penyghent. He mentioned that there might be another ‘Bothy Trip’ in October. The last one, to an awesome, snowbound Ben Alder in March last year, was great fun but hard work and soooo cold, as the photos will hopefully testify.  Bothies are about as primitive as you can get – no electricity, water or even any kind of toilet (just a spade – don’t ask!) – but there is no escaping the sense of adventure.

Ben Alder bothy

Cornices on the descent of Ben Alder (3,766 ft) - March 2010

It was little consolation to learn that Richard Dugdale, Len and Steve had a good day on the Manchester 100 yesterday – with an average speed of 17 mph, which was exactly what I was aiming for. So frustrating not to be taking part.

Talking of cycling, I did say that I’d get some statistics sorted out from the Cycle Round Britain’s Coast, and my confinement gave me the ideal opportunity.  Here they are:

Total mileage:                     4,440 miles (7,190 km)
Total height gained:  205,000 ft (62,500 m or 39 miles)
Total time spent pedalling:    392 hours, 19 minutes
Total pedal revolutions:        1,412,340 (approx)
Average speed:                   11.32 mph
Average daily mileage:          64.3 miles
Average daily ascent:            2,970 ft (906 m)
Total calories burnt pedalling:   230,000 approx
Average total daily calorie burn:   4,500 – 5,000
Shortest day:       18 miles, 2 hours
Longest day:     99 miles, 11 h 45 m (including time spent with police after assassination attempt!)

Oh - and the total amount of money raised for Cancer Research UK has now reached £24,300 - if you want to help the figure reach £25,000, click here -http://www.justgiving.com/Bill-Honeywell

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Under the weather - an explanation

Here I am, sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. Not because I’m another year older today, but because I’m not feeling at all well.  I’m not sure whether to spare you the full details or not, but suffice to say at this stage that yesterday afternoon I started with an upset tummy and by this morning I’d managed to lose 3 lbs in weight!

Today I was due to cycle the Manchester 100 for The Christie – one of Britain’s largest cancer centres – but when my alarm went off just after 5 am I knew that there was no chance I could make it, so I went to the loo (again), rang Richard Dugdale (who I was supposed to be going with) and then got back into bed.

Of course, the weather has been perfect for cycling, but I could have predicted that!

I can’t believe how many people have sent birthday wishes via Twitter and Facebook – several also wished me good luck on the bike ride and I felt a bit of a fraud having to tell them that I was stopping in bed for most of the day!  I hate that, just as I feel really awkward if anyone calls on the rare occasion when I’m out of sorts. I just want to be left alone to be honest: Val finds this very difficult to cope with, when she wants to take care of me and I don’t want to be her ‘patient’!

No, I won’t spare you the details - I ought to explain a bit more. Outside my circle of many long standing good friends and family, I guess most readers of this blog won’t know much about me.  Even the bit about being a double cancer survivor seems to have gone missing from the introduction to this blog, although I could swear it was on there earlier.  Well, in 1999 I was diagnosed with a bowel tumour and had to have a pancolonectomy – or in layman’s terms, a big operation involving removal of the large bowel and the creation of an ileostomy – an outlet on the body surface with a discreetly hidden pouch which collects – well, you can work the rest out for yourself.  Sometimes this operation is reversible, though not in my case.

This operation is a lot more common than you might think – it’s used in the treatment of severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn’s Disease as well as bowel tumours.  I bet you probably already know a few people who have either a colostomy or an ileostomy without having any idea – after all, it’s not the kind of thing that one normally shouts from the rooftops.

But maybe we shouldn’t be so reserved and secretive. If it was more widely realised that an operation like this isn’t the end of the world, doesn’t stop you from leading an almost perfectly normal active life, then perhaps it would help. I wonder if some people needlessly put off getting their symptoms diagnosed for fear of this kind of operation – only to find, tragically, that they’ve left it too late.

Just occasionally – twice in twelve years in my case – something goes wrong. On Friday I cooked a dish of spicy lentils and rice, and ate lots of it in spite of the fact that the rice was undercooked.  This led to a blocked stoma which had me in agony by yesterday afternoon, and although it cleared itself by around 4 pm, my poor insides felt – and acted - like they’d had a good going-over. Hence today’s situation.

I’ll be alright tomorrow.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Keeping it up...

So what’s happening?  Well, once I’d been back for a few days after the Big Bike Ride around the coast, I found that I was rather fitter than before I started. No surprise there. Not wanting to slip backwards again I’ve kept up the cycling, including two Cycle Sportives of 100 miles each, and I’m doing another – The Christie Hospital Manchester 100 – tomorrow, which also happens to be my birthday.

If you don’t know already, you don’t want to know how old I am.  Correction – I don’t think I want you to know how old I am!  I’ll give you one clue – bread, sweets and sugar were still being rationed when I was born.   How times have changed. What a cliché!

There is a breed of cyclists who, despite the obvious pain and general discomfort, love to cycle up hills. I think I’m one of them, even though I’m no good at it: on the Clitheroe Bike Club forum there’s a league table of times for Waddington Fell – a Category 1 climb in cycle racing circles: the fastest time is 15:44, I think.  My fastest time is a snail-like 20:08.  I’m no Brad Wiggins, that’s for sure. 

But this week on a grey, chilly Wednesday morning, I cycled to Settle on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, then up the 1-in-5 Langcliffe Scar, past Penyghent to Halton Gill, Litton, Arncliffe, and back over the 1-in-6 climb to Darnbrook, Malham and then back home. And afterwards, I felt really good – weird, isn’t it?  The scenery, the villages, everything about this part of the Dales, are simply sublime. Had I stopped at The Falcon in Arncliffe (I didn’t), I would have been served beer out of a jug, really.

Penyghent from the Pennine Way

I wish I could say that all motorists shared my enthusiasm for this form of two-wheeled transport, but alas, ‘tis not the case. The majority are decent, polite and courteous, slowing down on narrow lanes and giving the cyclist sufficient room when they pass.  But there are others who treat cyclists like something they’ve just stepped in. It’s a little disconcerting when the approaching large vehicle maintains a steady ramming speed as it gets ever nearer, or when a Chelsea Tractor leaves only a hair’s breadth as it overtakes. Perhaps the drivers think they are entitled to do this because I don’t pay Road Tax. Well I do, actually.

I’ll wrap this up now – the Manchester 100 starts at 7.30 am from Wythenshawe Park so I need to be out of the house by 6.00. An early night’s in order I think! I’ll put some statistics from the Big Bike Ride in the next blog, hopefully.

Friday, 2 September 2011

CancerBikeMan Blogs Again!

I’m getting blogging withdrawal symptoms. Perhaps, to be honest, the symptoms have more to do with the fact that I’m no longer on a 10-week, 4,440-mile non-stop bike ride than the actual writing. But I have to say that although writing the blog wasn’t always a welcome chore at the end of a long day, it was – on the whole – a lot of fun and very satisfying. 

Now I’ve been home nearly six weeks.  It took a long time to get straight (who am I kidding? I’m not straight yet, but I’m probably as near as I’m ever going to get) and I still have a lot of work to do before I’ve finished organising all my photos and reminiscences.  But I’m frustrated, because I want to get out and about again and I can’t.

There are lots of reasons for this.  Family – Val’s mother needs constant care and so she can’t get away when we’d like.  Whatever the sceptics say, this country has a fantastic welfare service:  we get vouchers for 42 days’ respite care per year – i.e. accommodation in a nursing home so that Val and her dad can have a rest now and again – but that’s 323 days a year when Val, her dad, (and I) have to look after her – I’ll spare you the details but she needs help to do things that most readers take for granted, plus frequent trips to hospital – and again the health service is brilliant, but we can be kept waiting for hours sometimes and it gets more than a little frustrating!

Then there are other commitments.  Due to my disappointingly low level of intelligence I seem to have collected lots of responsibilities, despite having semi-retired from my main job – which for those of you who don’t know me is… wait for it… an estate agent.  I still do a few routine and non-routine tasks for the office – sorting out some of the admin, advising on one-off problems, and – like yesterday – applying for a licence to play music in the office! 

I’m a Trustee of the Clitheroe Royal Grammar School Foundation, a charity which supports the school, its pupils and parents. An interesting job which keeps me in touch with my old school.

The Daily Mail had an article a few weeks ago on “20 things that tell you you’re getting old”.  At number 15 was “you become a Parish Councillor”.  In May this year I became a parish councillor for West Bradford – which isn’t anywhere near Bradford but is just outside Clitheroe.  It’s a lovely village if you don’t mind driving past the cement works and over a very narrow bridge to get here.  It’s one car at a time on the bridge, which works OK except when someone can’t reverse.  Then it’s really hilarious or deeply frustrating, depending on how much time you’ve got.

And finally, I’m pleased to say I’m in demand as a speaker for various groups – I’ve got bookings from organisations like W.I.s, Helmshore Ladies’ Group, Grindleton ‘Time Out’, Great Harwood Mothers’ Club, Clitheroe 41 Club… the list goes on.  I usually receive a speaker’s fee which always goes to a cancer charity.

Did I say finally? Oops – I forgot the Rotary Club of Clitheroe, where I’m in charge of fund-raising (can’t imagine why!) - there are various events to organise, including two ‘supermarket collections’ before the end of this year, a dance next May (Saturday 5th if you’re interested, with the superb Swing Commanders, at the St Mary’s Centre, Clitheroe) and hopefully a Pendle Witch fund-raising race later next year.

Whoah! That’s enough for one blog. I haven’t even got on my soapbox yet. I’ll get writing again shortly, perhaps with a bit more news and some opinions. If you like the blog, post a comment. If you don’t, post a comment too – I can take it!