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Cathedrals Cycle Route – Interview with Shaun Cutler

You might have seen the iconic Lantern Tower in the news recently, as a backdrop for the announcement about an exciting new cycling initiative.

The 2,000-mile Cathedrals Cycle Route will link all 42 Church of England cathedrals, with a relay event, Cycling With Purpose, beginning here, at England’s most northerly cathedral, on Sunday 30 May. (Update: click here to track the progress of relay participants, and click here to read our more recent article from Shaun about the Cycling With Purpose relay.)

We spoke with keen cyclist and academic Shaun Cutler, whose idea for the Cycle Route came from a PhD research programme involving Newcastle Cathedral and Northumbria University…

It’s been great to see so much national interest for the Cycle Route. Did you expect it to garner this level of support? 

Now more than ever, after a year of living with the coronavirus pandemic, we are all so desperately keen to get out and about, spend time together and take some positive steps towards recovery, so I can understand why it has received such a positive response. For the cathedrals, this is a way to support people’s mental and physical health and promote the mission of England’s cathedrals through pilgrimage, wellbeing and heritage. 

We have all had an extremely difficult year and anything that provides the opportunity to build up our physical and mental health is welcomed. Apart from the obvious health benefits of getting active and reducing our reliance on polluting vehicles, cycling gives us time to think, to reconnect with the outside world, and to meet other people. Connecting the cathedrals in this way provides the cyclist with the opportunity to reflect and reconnect with an added dimension of depth, both spiritually and historically. From a cathedral perspective, I think it helps a little in keeping cathedrals both relevant and connected in a rapidly changing world. 

Where the idea of the Cycle Route came from? 

The idea for the Cathedrals Cycle Route originated from my PhD research programme involving Newcastle Cathedral, Northumbria University and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The CCR was suggested as a pilot project, connecting the ‘social and spiritual capital’ of the Cathedral: balancing the spiritual, community and heritage perspectives. A kind of ‘common good’ acting as ‘common ground’ between heritage and religion. 

Can you tell us some more about your research project?

The title of my research project is ‘Strategic Heritage Management of a Medieval Building: A Practice-led PhD. A case-study Newcastle Cathedral‘. The research is concerned with contributing both academically and practically, towards an effective strategic response to the economic and social challenges currently faced by cathedrals.

The research also looks at the strategic decision-making process. Cathedrals face unique challenges that emerge from a kind of  ‘double identity’.  On one hand, cathedrals are seen as a place of worship and on the other, a tourist or heritage destination. So it can become difficult to balance perspectives along with the resources.  The research has suggested a simple model (BRICS) that can help balance these perspectives by providing a score across the key elements. These include vision and values along with financial, resource, community and sustainability perspectives. In this respect the Cathedrals Cycle Route projects scores very well, taking a common good approach, combining and linking both heritage and religion, whilst providing an opportunity for revenue, community connectivity and sustainability. 

The relay event on 30 May starts at Newcastle Cathedral. Why Newcastle Cathedral, and how will the relay tie in with Cycling UK’s Bike Week? 

Newcastle Cathedral is the starting point of the Cathedrals Cycle Route, CCR1. We are at the heart of the initiative, and the team at Newcastle have supported the programme throughout, and the National Lottery funding has allowed the work on the CCR to take place. Newcastle Cathedral is also the most northerly Anglican Cathedral, so it becomes a perfect start and endpoint.

In terms of the tie in with Bike Week, Cycling UK have been incredibly supportive and the links couldn’t be better. This year’s Bike Week event is all about how cycling boosts wellbeing: physical, mental and emotional. We are also working with Cycling UK on supporting the Break the Cycle charity Initiative. 

Please can you tell us about the various partnerships that have been forged?

The CCR really is a multi-disciplined project involving a wide variety of stakeholders. We have worked closely with the Association of English Cathedrals, Cycling UK and Sustrans to design the 42 linked routes. We are lucky to have advice and support from the British Pilgrimage Trust. We are also very lucky to have the support of the Association of English Cathedrals (AEC), they have been instrumental in setting up a fantastic growing network of Cathedral Cycle Champions.   

To what extent does the CCR crossover with the idea of pilgrimage? 

I believe there is a strong crossover; cycling provides the headspace and opportunity to reflect in much the same that a pilgrimage journey provides. The definition of a pilgrimage is a journey with purpose on foot to holy/wholesome/special places. The CCR is very much that journey but on a bike… a kind of ‘pedal pilgrimage’.

The ‘journey with purpose’ is at the heart of the CCR… that purpose can be very different for different people. It could be for fitness, for mental health, for connectivity or for spiritual purposes.

As we strengthen the CCR we hope to work more closely with the British Pilgrimage Trust who have done a fantastic job in creating a significant network of routes.  I think, as a venture, we can learn a lot from the work of the BPT. 

What are your hopes for: a) the future of the Cathedral, and b) the future of the CCR? 

I think what’s happening at the Cathedral is very positive for Newcastle as a city. When you look at the space that is created throughout the CGISS project, you can see how it opens up so many opportunities for Newcastle Cathedral. 

So many things are going on at the moment; the CCR is just one of many initiatives that will benefit and link up with the newly created spaces.  I’m particularly looking forward to relaxing on the back terraces after completing the final leg of the relay (fingers crossed!), from Hexham Abbey to Newcastle Cathedral.

In terms of the future for the Cathedral, my hopes and beliefs are that it will continue to grow as a hub and a voice in the city.  My hopes for the CCR are that in years to come people will consider the route as an established national route, starting at Newcastle Cathedral and perhaps collecting the stamps or ribbons will become a challenge for many cyclist and families.

Finally, it would be great to see the CCR acting as a catalyst for charity bike rides between cathedrals and the CCR Relay as an annual event open to the public, raising money for a wide range of charitable causes. It is certainly early days in terms of the route, but with the help of the Newcastle team, our partners and the Cathedral Cycle Champions we are making great tracks


Details of all 42 legs of the Cathedrals Cycle Route can be found on the Cycling UK website. Due to coronavirus limitations on gatherings, the relay event on 30 May will only involve a select few ‘Cycle Champions’ testing the route. However, members of the public can follow part of the route anytime and be guaranteed a warm welcome when we reopen this summer.

Bike Week (30 May – 5 June 2021), delivered by Cycling UK, is an annual celebration to showcase cycling and how brilliant it is. Find out more at bikeweek.org.uk.

To keep up-to-date with Newcastle Cathedral’s involvement in the Cathedrals Cycle Route, be sure to sign up to our mailing list, to receive a monthly e-newsletter.