Kings of spin
It could be a chapter from the Enid Blyton Bible on having good clean fun and lashings of fresh air in the great outdoors: four hardy adventurers set off last half-term for an exciting excursion in the country.
But this time it's not the lads and ladettes of Famous Five fame, but a group of (mainly) teachers, eager, after a term's hard slog in the front of a class, to jump on their bikes and cycle to Scotland and back to raise money for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Yet any allusions to fresh-faced naivety and Bermuda shorts fall flat when you consider the reality of cycling 80 miles a day in all weathers - starting painfully early and riding until dark. So why do people choose to give up two weeks of their time off to do it?
Calum Campbell, who organised the trip, sacrificed not only his half-term but also the following week's supply earnings to stay in the saddle for the full fortnight ("most people thought we must be mad"). But, as an experienced cyclist, he has found that even the initially-reluctant participants come back from cycle trips enthusiastic riders, if not fresh converts.
The number of tourers along A-roads and country lanes appears to be rising and, according to the national Cyclists' Touring Club, is expected to grow by another 10 per cent over the next seven years. By 2012, the number of bikes sold is estimated to nearly double from about 2 million to 3.75 million.
"I think people are more fitness-conscious now and the summer tends to bring people out because they want to enjoy the weather," says club spokeswoman Cath Harris.
According to Calum, 30, the main attraction is that, in spite of the vagaries of the British climate, cycling can give you a real adventure as well as making you feel good. "It's really relaxing and quite therapeutic. You feel very clear-headed - any long-term physical activity tends to make you feel good," he says.
Cycling can also be a reminder of what life is all about: "Life takes on totally different priorities for that period. It's very basic, your life is cycling, eating constantly and sleeping. It's total escape from what goes on normally."
Born and brought up in the outer Hebrides, he has always been the outdor type. He completed his teacher training three years ago at Charlotte Mason college in the Lake District, which specialises in outdoor education.
Now based in London, he cycles to school and tries to get out of the city most weekends to go mountain-biking over the South Downs or something similar.
Four years ago he rode from Land's End to John O'Groats - a total of 1,000 miles - with his 12-year-old brother, who became one of the youngest cyclists in the country to complete the full stretch of the island.
This time, he and three friends, plus others who joined them along the way, faced a 985-mile trip which took them to Edinburgh via Cardiff, setting out at the end of May. It turned into a tale of triumph over adversity as the weather conspired against them - almost every day of the 11 was a battle against the rain and wind.
Yet almost daily they saw other touring cyclists on the road- including a group of police officers who shared chocolate bars and energy drinks with them. "It's given us a good view of the country and the people. It gives you a lot of faith in human nature and people's sense of community."
Among the highlights was the taxi driver who reversed uphill when he spotted the cyclists (who had got lost) studying a map by the roadside. In supermarkets staff bent the rules so the riders could bring their bikes inside while they had a hot drink in the shop cafe. "People helped out in commonsense ways and it just made life easier," he says.
"People in general have become wary of doing things like this and you can understand why but it's a bit of a shame when we are social beings and the majority can get along quite well."
Calum says the trip was testimony to what can be achieved with minimum fuss. The team spent less than an hour planning it, yet managed to raise pound;1,000 for the NSPCC.
"Sometimes in life things can be done a lot more easily than people make out," says Calum. He has chosen to be a supply teacher - last term working at Rosetta primary in Newham, east London, where he says colleagues were generous sponsors - partly to avoid the usual school bureaucracy. "I'm not one of those people who has a lot of time for assessment and form-filling. I think the main thing, especially when you're teaching, is to encourage children to get out and do things and take risks."
E-mail Calum for cycling tips on: firstname.lastname@example.org