Pennyfarthing cyclist Tom Clowes is making good progress so far on his quest to complete the Hebridean Way in aid of the Stroke Association.
By yesterday (Saturday, May 20), Tom and his two-man support team, Woody and Simon, had reached Benbecula and were getting into their stride. And their online appeal at JustGiving was already 82% of the way to meeting its £10,000 target.
Tom (49) is riding a penny farthing, a bike design featuring a giant front wheel measuring 56 inches that harks back to the 1870s. His cycling companions are riding conventional bikes to carry their gear.
Although the Hebridean Way is officially 297 kilometres, the charity cyclists will be doing substantially more as they cycled from Barra to the start line on Vatersay and then plan a detour on Lewis to stay at Mangersta’s Eagle’s Nest Bothy.
The end of the Hebridean Way is at the Butt of Lewis, but then they will turn around and cycle back to Stornoway to catch the ferry. If successful, it will almost certainly be the first time anyone has completed the Hebridean Way on a penny farthing.
Tom is no stranger to charity cycling stunts. In 2021, he rode his 29-inch unicycle 100 miles along the South Down Way near his home in three days and raised close to £8,000 for Prostate Cancer.
Explaining the motivation for his latest challenge, Tom said: “In 2017, my dear brother-in-law, Paul, had a stroke and died. He was only 59. He did not smoke; he was not overweight, he was fit, and he did not drink.
“He loved nature and the outdoors, and he also loved old-fashioned things. He would have loved my Penny Farthing. For this reason, I want to raise as much money as I can for the Stroke Association. We have set the target high at £10,000, but together, we think that it is possible.”
His support team are also personally invested in the fundraising. Woody has dedicated his Hebridean Way cycle to the memory of his sister, Cynthia Ray McDonald. She suddenly died on November 15, 2022, in Florida, where she had retired.
The other backup team member, Simon, dedicated his contribution to the Stroke Association ride in memory of his mother, June. She died on October 7, 2022, after living with aphasia for the last three years of her life.
Said Simon: “Aphasia is the inability to speak or understand language caused by stroke damage to the left side of the brain. Being a very sociable person, this loss of her ability to communicate affected her well-being massively over the last few years of her life.”
However, the enormity of the challenge posed by riding a penny farthing along the Hebridean Way is not lost on Tom. His penny farthing is a modern replica, but like the original design has no brakes, and the wheel is fixed, so it’s impossible to free the wheel. Tom’s legs will do all the braking, and on steep descents and ascents, he will have to dismount while Woody and Simon wait for him to catch up.
The Stroke Association explains: “When stroke strikes, part of your brain shuts down, and so does a part of you. Life changes instantly, and recovery is tough. But the brain can adapt. Our specialist support, research and campaigning are only possible with the courage and determination of the stroke community. With more donations and support from you, we can rebuild even more lives.”