The Larks poem by Development Officer and poet Seamus Kelly
The Larks by Development Officer and poet Seamus Kelly

Cycling UK's 'Bard on a Bike' helps get Rochdale cycling.

With the 40km Connect2 network well established around Rochdale, Cycling UK’s local Cycling Development Officer Seamus Kelly decided to use poetry to revive interest in cycling along the routes.

Seamus, a writer and poet in his spare time, came up with the initial concept  to display some poetry along the pathways and shared the idea with colleagues in the council and local arts groups. The Library Service, through the Maskew Bequest offered funding for the project and along with match funding from Cartwheel Arts, the idea of displaying poems on the routes became a realistic possibility.

The group decided to commission 40 poems  to be written specifically for the project by local poets, including Seamus, and to hold a competition for locals to take part in. Once the poems were submitted,the exact locations for each were agreed with landowners, mostly the Canal and Rivers Trust and Rochdale Borough Council, and once permissions had been obtained, the poems were engraved onto stainless steel plaques and installed on wooden posts on the routes.

There is also a Smart phone app which  identifies the nearest location of one of the commissioned poems and then allows the user to take a photograph, before asking simple questions and using the users’ replies to create short pieces of poetry for themselves.  The poems created using the app can then be edited and uploaded onto the The Connect2Poetry website. The site also has an interactive map with the locations of the 40 commissioned poems marked.

A series of walks and bike rides on the routes, with workshops on writing poetry and using the app from local poets, took place culminating in a final celebration event held at Healey Dell in Rochdale last month.

Two groups cycled from opposite ends of the network to meet up with a third group who had walked to the location for an afternoon of poetry and music performance in a solar powered marquee. Over 40 people attended the event where all of the performances were well received.

The combination of walking, cycling, fresh air, poetry and music was a unique experience and the day finished with many people asking when we could do something similar in the future.  Seamus Kelly Cycling Development Officer.

At the end of the project all of the poems submitted were judged and the winning poem was “Poem at 64 and a half” by Rob Raikes, who was presented with a prize at the Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival on Saturday 2 October. 

Cycling UK