Over the past 40 years pedalling and pacing pilgrims have raised an astonishing £4 million-plus to keep Norfolk churches standing.

Sponsored to visit as many churches as possible in a day, participants raise money to keep Norfolk’s world-renowned collection of medieval, and more modern, churches standing.

The event was launched by Norfolk Churches Trust in 1983 to support historic churches across the county - which has the greatest density of churches in the world. The trust, founded in 1976, is dedicated to keeping all of Norfolk’s 650-plus churches open to visitors.

It also cares for 13 redundant churches, including Corpusty which inspired the launch of the trust. Isolated from its village and no longer used for services it fell victim to thieves and vandals, its bell stolen, its windows broken, its font smashed, its carvings taken, even its floor removed by robbers. But a campaign to save it gathered such momentum that not just Corpusty, but hundreds more Norfolk churches have been saved or restored.

Last year’s annual bike ride and walk raised almost £134,000 for urgent restoration projects, with the 622 participants splitting the money between the trust and a Norfolk church of their choice. Some raise just a few pounds, others many thousands – but every contribution is welcome.

Great British Life: Norfolk's three biking bishops. Picture: Diocese of NorwichNorfolk's three biking bishops. Picture: Diocese of Norwich

Last year Mary Heather, of Burnham Thorpe, who is in her 90s, raised the most money, securing almost £14,000 to be shared between All Saints Church, Burnham Thorpe, (where Nelson’s father was rector) and the Trust.

Other notable participants included Anthony Meynell, who lives between Norwich and Dereham and ticked off 70 churches by bicycle, in his 70th year, raising more than £10,000; Stephen Burbridge who cycled to 126 churches during the day, in aid of St Mary’s church in Itteringham, near Aylsham; James Akehurst who walked to 60 churches; and all three Norfolk bishops (Bishop Graham of Norwich, Bishop Jane Steen of Lynn and Bishop Alan Winton of Thetford – in his final churches bike ride before he retired.)

The trust also awards prizes to the participants who submit the best photographs each year. The event began a bike ride and walk, with a driving option introduced more recently for people who still wanted to participate but could no longer do it by foot or bicycle.

The Norfolk Churches Trust was founded to help churches, chapels and meeting houses across Norfolk and the diocese of Norwich carry out urgent repairs by offering advice and awarding grants. Last year it distributed more than £170,000 in grants to 41 churches across the county for urgent repairs. Some of the grants awarded in 2023 include £6,000 to St Peter’s, Upwell, for drains and buttress repairs, £5,000 to St Michael’s, Plumstead, near Holt, for repairs to the tower and a structural survey, St Mary the Virgin in Hemsby for tower repairs, St Botolph’s in Grimston, near King’s Lynn for repairs to the east window and £5,000 to St Andrew’s, Guist, near Fakenham to repair its tower, roof, walls and porch.

For full details, including how to take part in the 40th anniversary Norfolk Churches Trust bike ride and walk on Saturday September 9, visit norfolkchurchestrust.org