A RETIRED vicar has begun a 850-mile cycling pilgrimage from the top of Scotland to the bottom of England to try and raise £50,000 to help persecuted Christians.

Robert de Berry, from Pewsey, set off from Cape Wrath on the north coast of Scotland on Wednesday and will pedal his way down to Peacehaven in East Sussex to try and raise the sum for Release International and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The sprightly 74-year-old, of Cossor Road, will be joined by two other riders for the full 33 days of cycling but an extra 20 or so will be involved in part of the journey, be it as a cyclist or in a support team car.

In those 33 days, the former Church of England Vicar, who has been doing training rides of up to 50 miles in preparation for the challenge, will visit more than 30 churches across the country and stay with more than 30 host families.

"I am so excited for this epic challenge. I have some great people helping me along. It should be an unforgettable journey," he said.

"This is a cycling pilgrimage for me. I hope to raise as much as possible for these two charities as Christians around the world are being persecuted.

"I have been to Nigeria, Kenya and South Sudan and I have seen the horrors that people have suffered at the hands of terrorists like Boko Haram and they need our help. If I can help them that would be brilliant and the more we raise the more help I can be."

After two years of planning, the cycling challenge has finally come together, much to his delight.

"I thought the route had a good ring to it. I will be cycling from Wrath to Peace via the Hope Valley," he said. "The training has gone brilliantly so hopefully I will be able to finish the route without too many problems. Some people do think I am crazy for doing this however."

On Sunday, the church team at St John's the Baptist Church in Pewsey, a prayer was held for their friend, who will finish the ride on June 16, to wish him the best of luck.

Assistant church warden David Hodgson said: "I am very happy to be a support driver for Robert. What he is doing is just awesome."

Paul Jones, UK operations manager of Release International, added: "We think he is such an inspirational figure. When we spoke to him earlier in the week he was raring to go. I think to say he is as fit as a fiddle is a fair thing to say."

To donate visit https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/robertdeberry3