Mrs Henson’s Summer Cycling Challenge

This summer, Mrs Henson takes on the challenge of cycling from Downe to Downe – Cold Ash to Sauveterre! Follow her journey here…

4 July 2023

Mrs Katharine Henson (Director of Curriculum Administration and Digital Learning) is ending the Summer term with a cycling challenge which will take her from our Downe House campus in Cold Ash, Berkshire all the way to Downe House Sauveterre in France.

You can expect daily updates on this blog and our Instagram story or follow Mrs Henson’s ride directly online here.

Please donate here to support Mrs Henson in her fundraising challenge for Maths at Downe House.

What am I doing this summer?

I am going to cycle from Downe House UK in Cold Ash, to Downe House Sauveterre in France to raise funds for our new Maths department building.

I will be setting off on Wednesday 5 July after the Leavers’ Service and aim to reach Sauveterre on Saturday 15 July, cycling roughly 60 miles per day. I just hope the weather is kind to me!

You may remember the DH Global Connections Tour during lockdown, when the school community logged their exercise miles to complete a virtual tour of Downe House and its global partners. As part of that event, I cycled the virtual distance across Japan. Three years on, we can thankfully once more travel the world, so my 2023 summer challenge is a real journey linking two Downe House locations.

Why am I doing this?

Maths is a core subject studied by all the girls from Remove to the Upper Fifth, and almost half of the Sixth Form. I joined Downe House in September 2000 as Head of Mathematics and I was really excited to work in a building that had been opened by one of the most celebrated 20th Century British female scientists and Nobel Prize winner: Dorothy Hodgkin.

Originally the science block, the current home to the Maths department has seen many changes over the years. Maths was one of the first parts of the school to use interactive whiteboards, the precursor to the digital screens we use today.

We are lucky to have a large department of nine excellent Maths teachers and we deliver a traditional and engaging curriculum that sees our girls get some of the best results in the country. However, with just four classrooms, lessons often take place in different parts of the school and we are somewhat limited in delivering our ideas for even more innovative and engaging Maths teaching.

Downe House is preparing to build a new Maths block which will bring all our lessons into one area with purpose-built teaching spaces designed for 21st Century learning. There will be more scope for classroom displays, practical resources and interactive games to bring the subject to life for our pupils. We will be able to bridge the gap between physical and digital learning with ease, making the most of multiple boards and displaying interactive digital apps, for every member of the classroom to engage with different types of learning simultaneously. We have a wonderful opportunity to be part of a new Maths learning experience that will inspire the mathematicians and computer scientists of the future.

I am delighted to be part of this journey and am contributing as much as I can to raise awareness and funds through my cycle to DH Sauveterre. Please do join me on this wonderful metaphorical and physical journey by donating here and following me on my ride.

The Journey

I will be setting off from Downe House UK on Wednesday 5 July 2023 following the Leavers’ Service. After cycling to Portsmouth, I will take the ferry to Caen. From here I will be following the ‘velo francette‘ cycle route, running from Normandy to the Atlantic coast. I will be turning south before reaching the coast and will head towards the Canal du Garonne which will take me most of the way to Sauveterre.

I will be taking plenty of pictures along the way and posting regular updates so please do join me along the way.

The timeline below will be updated at each stage of Mrs Henson’s journey.

Wednesday 5 July
It was lovely to see all the UVI Leavers this morning. They all looked wonderful and it was great to hear their plans for the summer and beyond. I had a super send off from the Leavers’ lunch. The sun shone for the first part of the ride. It was perfect weather to ride through the lanes of Berkshire and Hampshire seeing many beautiful villages on the way. At one point a hare ran across the road ahead of me.

After a short coffee stop in Alresford, home of the Watercress line railway, I continued towards Portsmouth. Sadly the nice weather didn’t last and with 15 miles (24km) to go the rain began. 

Fortunately, it stopped as I crested the last climb before Portsmouth and saw the sea for the first time on the ride. I am now safely aboard the ferry for Caen and I am looking forward to the next stage of my adventure.

Thursday 6 July

Having left the Ouistreham Ferry terminal just after 7am I set off along the Velofranchette cycle route. This starts by following the river Orne.

For the first 40 miles, it follows a traffic free route along a disused railway.

From Pont d’Ouilly the route heads through the hills of the Calvados region passing through small villages before the next section of off-road cycling. It’s really nice to be able to follow a well-marked traffic free route. After the early start I have arrived at my first destination of Domfront.
Friday 7 July

A beautiful day making the most of the wonderful network of traffic free cycle routes through France. The day started by continuing along the disused railway line from Domfront to Mayenne. The shade provided by the trees along the line was very welcome.

The second part of the route followed the tow path along the Mayenne river. The locks along the way we’re a great reminder of the industrial heritage of the region. 

As I approached my destination for the day, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of a very impressive bridge which illustrates why maths is such an important subject.

Saturday 8 July
After overnight thunderstorms my ride had an interesting start as a tree had fallen across the bike track. However, I managed to slide the bike under the tree and climb over so was soon back on my way.

For the first half of the day I continued along the banks of the Mayenne to reach Angers. After lunch on the quayside with a splendid view of the Chateau d’Angers, I set off again, soon crossing the Loire.

At this point I turned away from the official Velo Francette route which follows the Loire to Saumur and set off cross country to reach my destination for the evening, Le Puy de Notre Dame in the Saumur wine area.

As a mathematician I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this street name!

Travelling through France at bicycle pace is a great way to see the scenery. The apple and pear orchards of Normandy have been replaced by the vineyards of the Loire and the very French sight of fields of sunflowers.

Sunday 9 July

Back on the Velo Francette route today cycling along the lanes between vineyards for the first part of the day.

Lunch in the beautiful medieval town of Parthenay also marked the halfway point of the ride (500 km or 300 miles completed). 

In the afternoon, the countryside changed again, with undulating lanes through more diverse farming. After another very hot day it was great to arrive at my destination in Niort, another town with an impressive medieval centre.
Monday 10 July
At Niort the Velo Francette turns west towards the Atlantic coast at La Rochelle, but my route takes me south towards the Character Maritime. Leaving the waymarked route behind, the lanes through the fields of sunflowers were still quiet and largely traffic free. There were plenty of small towns and villages with cafes along the way to provide welcome refreshments.

After six days riding it was wonderful to arrive at Les Gites du Vigneron in St Seurin de Palenne where I will be spending a well earned rest day with former Downe House colleagues Vanessa Westacott and Jan Stowell.

Tuesday 11 July

A well-deserved day off!

Wednesday 12 July

After a relaxing day off spent in the company of DH colleagues past and present, the journey continued. The roads were a little busier today, but there were also traffic free sections as my route joined the Scandiberique cycle route for part of the day. 

Sadly, the beautiful weather of the previous days was replaced by rain for the latter part of the stage. Arriving in Libourne, there was still plenty of evidence that the riders of the Tour de France passed this way just a few days ago.

Thursday 13 July

The nice weather has returned! The morning started with a tour of the vineyards of St Emillion…

…before joining the Canal des Deux Mers cycle route which runs from Bordeaux to Toulouse. 

The first part of the cycle route is a disused railway which goes to Sauveterre de Guyenne, one of many villages called Sauveterre in this region. Sadly, it is not the one I am aiming for and I still have two more days riding to reach Downe House Sauveterre!

As my journey takes me further south, the style of building changes. There are many Romanesque churches and small fortified towns.

Having crossed the Garonne at La Reole, the route follows the banks of the Canal du Garonne which follows a much straighter course than the wide meandering river. 

One of the villages by the canal is Serignac sur Garrone, a real gem with half-timbered houses, where I will be stopping for the day.

Friday 14 July

Leaving Serignac, the route resumed along the Canal du Garrone, crossing the viaduct at Agen. I turned south from the canal at Sauveterre St Dennis (not the right Sauveterre again).

 The route took me through small villages, including some on the Chemin de St Jacques, the pilgrimage route to Santiago di Compostela. There were several groups of walkers along the way. It was incredibly hot, in the high 30s, with very little shade. I was very grateful to reach my hotel for the evening.

Saturday 15 July

And so, to the final day of the journey. The countryside has changed again, with the relatively flat fields of the last few days making way for rolling hills. Although this was a relatively, short day, the terrain included several short but significant climbs.

However, it was well worth the effort as the rolling descent to the village of Sauveterre was beautiful. Just one last climb up the gravel driveway to arrive at the chateau.

Lovely to spend the weekend at Sauveterre and to catch up with Mrs Lauren Ponchant (Directrice)…

… and Mrs Rachel Phillips-Morgan (Deputy Head of Sauveterre). Thank you for a super welcome at the end of my ride.

On behalf of the whole Downe House community, we offer a huge congratulations to Mrs Henson for her efforts which totalled 1003km or 626 miles, climbing a total of 6538 metres!

Thanks to those who have already shown their support by donating, we have received £830 in donations for our new Maths Department building. We are still welcoming donations for this fantastic cause: donate here.

Now accepting more Day Pupils for September 2025! Learn more at our Open Event on Thursday 9 May.
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