Like an invading army of push bikers, Blue Coat Cycling Club boldly pedaled where no Blue Coat cyclist had gone before, whirling around western Europe during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, led by the irrepressible Mr Keith Caulkin.
Mr Caulkin, one of Blue Coat’s legendary Physics teachers, recalled these hugely popular cycling tours during our first Old Blues virtual event in December 2020.
“We started cycle tours in England and continuing each year for a week in the Easter holiday to such areas as the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, the Cotswolds and East Anglia, staying in Youth Hostels,” said Mr Caulkin.
“Students then kept asking me, ‘Can we go abroad to France, for our next tour Sir?’ It seemed like a good progression so, with the help of the French department, principally Mrs Prebble, who directly called the French hotels and sorted out the bookings and other details, the club ventured abroad.
“Our first continental tour got underway with cycling to Lime Street station. Then we took the train to London Euston, cycled across London to Waterloo station for the boat train to the coast and the ferry to France. Mr Davies, known affectionately as Taff to the students, also accompanied us in his Rancho car, acting as an excellent support vehicle. We cycled through France to a small village called Saulges and stayed six nights at the Hotel L’Ermitage, in the Mayenne region. This meant we could do day rides to interesting towns and villages.
“The students were encouraged to talk in the shops and to local people which improved their French in preparation for O levels and later GCSEs. Riding on the wrong side of the road (sorry the right side of the road) took some getting used to, particularly at round-a-bouts! The success of the tour prompted me to make the Easter tour a default continental trip for years to come. I was fortunate in most later tours to have Mr Tony Stoddart, a deputy head and physicist, who had two sons at Blue Coat, cycling with us. This enabled us to share the responsibility of looking after the students and enjoy adult conversation in the evenings after the usual hearty French meal at the hotel.
“The tours included Picardy, Normandy, Belgium, Switzerland and numerous trips to Brittany, a lovely coastal region much like Cornwall, with delicious fresh fish for tasty evening meals! For the Brittany tours, we took the ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff and the bikes went in a box trailer towed by the school minibusses. These vehicles were then left at the ferry carport.
“There were many hilarious moments on the tours, plus punctures and mechanical problems, all being solved by hook or by crook. On some later tours, Lower Sixth girls participated and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The Parents’ Association was generous in their grants to the cycling club which provided us with panniers, saddlebags, and racks to hold our luggage.
“All the students did really enjoy the tours with their camaraderie, exercise (roughly 40 miles per day), incidents, and each tour left an unfading memory of a special experience.”