Tartan Trail – The Finale

27th September 2011 by

The long feared cycling day proved to be wet and challenging from the start- perhaps due to the tail-end of a certain hurricane (cheers America).  We lost Colin very early due to an exploded tyre (don’t worry, we found him again!) as we headed over the mountainous moors in gale force winds and driving rain. It was hard to keep eyes open in the rain, however we managed to keep our spirits high by singing silly songs (ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIIIIIFE!) and making impromptu and secret stops to tea rooms. Luckily, no-one was swept away in a cyclone and we all made it, limbs intact, to the Allanton Peace Sanctuary just outside of Dumfries.

Looking rather wet and bedraggled we chanced upon the lovely Glenda, and later on Uma, who ran the Peace Sanctuary. Taking pity upon us Glenda ushered us into the Sanctuary’s rather lovely mansion and very very very kindly gave us all beds in dormitory rooms usually housing groups coming to work on various social, environmental and philosophical aspects of peace. She later told us she wouldn’t have been able to sleep if we were all out camping in the hurricane! Equally exciting we were given the use of a really homely kitchen and dining room and… showers and a washing machine. So much luxury I almost cried. Our time in Dumfries was spent doing the usual Otesha activities – we performed at a primary school, and did workshops at a secondary school. This proved to be a bit scary as teenagers tended to have grumpy faces on, but we all agreed that the workshops were of utmost importance as the pupils were our target audience and tended to understand the themes a bit better, even if they seemed less engaged. We also had the honour of volunteering as marshals with the first stage of the ‘Tour of Britain’, a cycling race similar to the Tour de France. Despite a cold and wet wait certain people really enjoyed watching some rather fine pairs of legs whizzing past!! At the same time there were questions about whether the amount of support vehicles (30 vehicles for 90 riders plus whole police cavalcade) was wholly necessary.

We were all very sad to leave Glenda, Uma and all the others at Allanton Peace Sanctuary, but good times must come to end and we mounted our faithful steeds for our last cycle ride as a group (sniff sniff). And what a final ride it was! After leaving Dumfries we cycled south down the bird filled river and along the wild looking estuary. Long flat stretches provided gentle rides for some and racing tracks for others! After passing the infamous town of Gretna (no- there weren’t any Otesha marriages I’m afraid) we reluctantly passed into England and headed to Carlisle.

We arrived in high spirits to the tranquil organic farm belonging to the determined farmer Susan Aglionby, which was to be our final destination- a field to camp in, and a classroom in which to meet and cook. Susan runs the farm with the help of intern Emma, producing both cattle and lamb (which I’m told are very tasty from Colin, Arthur and Andres) but also runs environmental education and support work with young and vulnerable people.

The next morning we spent a lovely time in the local school. We decided to go all out in our finale performance, which resulted in numerous onstage giggles. Despite this the messages definitely came across and we all had A LOT of fun in the process!!! After the wonderful time in the school we returned to base for a walk around the farm with Susan. Despite some conflicting views on vegetarianism the whole group was very impressed by the amount of work she puts in to her organic venture. In return for her generous hospitality we did some work weeding her yard, aided by Colin’s music and discussions about how best to change people’s behaviour. That night many of us patronised the local pub to sample ale and take part in Mike’s pub quiz, quite unsuccessfully.

And so, the final day had arrived. A big sadness hung over the group, but I think everyone was looking forward to the future, whether it was seeing family and friends, starting new jobs, going on foreign adventures or getting back to their beloved rugby club. Iona from the Otesha office arrived to help us wrap up, giving feedback, sharing our experiences of tour and talking about our futures. That night the cooking team excelled themselves with a 3 course meal from around the world. Everyone dressed up in their finest exotic finery, played games and exchanged secret friend gifts, and reveled in each others company for the last time. The next day we all exchanged sad goodbyes, promises to stay in touch and all boarded trains to pastures new.

So here we are, it’s all over. I’m sitting in my parents’ warm and dry kitchen in Wales reminiscing about the amazing adventure we all went on. Of course there were low points – group conflicts, punctures, rain and boredom of porridge. However the highs far outweigh these. Lifelong friendships have been made, and experiences and lessons have been learnt. Thinking about the young people we have reached is phenomenal – hundreds of kids heard our messages about how little actions can have massive impacts in the world and will hopefully think about this as they grow up. Not only that but I think many in our group will really address the same issues in their own lives, whether it be eating organic food, obtaining recycled and second hand goods and clothes or buying fairtrade bananas. I’m just off now to catch up with some old friends so I shall have to leave it here. Will I be borrowing the car to drive the 2 miles to town like I usually do? Hell no! I’m gonna get on my faithful bike and cycle with the wind in my hair, reminiscing about all my two-wheeled adventures!

Thanks for following our blog! Love, Peace and Bicycle Grease! Over and out.

Luciana (Goose), on behalf on the Tartan Trail massive- Colin (Coljop), Dina Dino, Jenny Tree, Jenny A, Catherine (Hunter Gatherer), Kimberley (Eco), Zoe (Zo-ane), Leah (L-pop), Arthur (Arty), Andres and Lucy Colbizzle xxxxxxxxxxxxxx


Many thanks to the Postcode Trust for their generous support of this project which has enabled us to reach over 1000 children and young people across Scotland.



Up in the air!

1st July 2011 by

Eluned is travelling to India to volunteer with Performers without Borders. After a month of train travelling and many months of journey planning, Eluned finds herself aboard a plane for the final leg of her journey.

On the plane
As we sit on the runway at Tashkent airport, I look around at the other passengers settling into their seats. Most of them look bored and non-plussed. When we eventually set off, I strain and wriggle in my seat, trying to get a look out of the window from where I´m sitting in the centre aisle. I´m puzzled to see that everyone else is reading magazines, staring at the seat in front of them, or plugging in their headphones and falling asleep.

No one seems to be in the least bit amazed about the fact that we will soon be forging our way through the atmosphere, travelling thousands of feet above the Earth. In fact, the only person who seems remotely as excited as me is the toddler bouncing up and down on their seat in front! The plane tips into the air and my head and stomach fly away momentarily before I rise up to meet them.

It seems a strange place for our society to have reached, and it strikes me as quite sad, where something really quite miraculous is – at least for the richest fraction of the world – taken as commonplace and boring. Part of my problem with this type of transport is that people do it without thinking twice, either about how amazing it is, or about the big impact it will have. Not only that, but people seem to have forgotten the fascination with not just the destination, but the journey. For me, the train ride from London to Tashkent itself was every bit as exciting and as memorable an experience as each country I stepped out into. It was kind of like meeting new friends in a cosy cinema to watch a live documentary of the world going by.

What’s the problem with flying?
Air travel can be uniquely harmful, because it releases gases directly into the upper atmosphere. It is one of the most significant ways a single person can contribute to climate change.

There are three gases emitted by aircraft which contribute to global warming: water vapour, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The combined effect of the gases on global warming can be 2-5 times as bad as carbon dioxide alone. Because they are released high into the atmosphere, they do far more damage than they would on the ground.

To put it in context, on a return trip from the UK to New Zealand you would add approximately 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, more than the average British person emits in a whole year. If you flew from London to Paris your emissions would be 244kg of CO2 – to go by train would produce 91% less!

In other words, in a single plane trip you could contribute more to global warming than the total of all your other activities in a whole year. Even if you do all you can to reduce your “carbon footprint” (the amount of carbon emissions you produce) in other areas of your lifestyle, and are careful about the way you choose to eat, power and heat your home, consume and dispose of goods, making a flight can quite easily counteract all of it – just like that.

The big C.C.
It can be hard to make the idea of climate change real, to think how what I am/ you are doing every day, now, relates to the climate of the whole world. But what it means is very real, and can be really quite scary.

For me, there are several reasons why I wanted to try travel to India and back overland. Firstly, because by flying I would contribute way more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than I am comfortable with. I try to do what I can to live in a way which doesn´t harm other people or the world around us. For me, flying to India would undermine a lot of the work I would be doing once I got there. It is all the more pertinent because I am travelling to a developing country. Whilst the richest 7% of the global population (which includes the British) create 50% of global carbon emissions – as well as making the majority of flights – it is the developing world which will be the most vulnerable to climate change. It has been estimated by the UK Department of International Development that climate change will cancel the benefits of western aid and debt relief.
Over all, flying to India and back would produce approximately 5 tonnes of CO2, more than it takes to heat a  UK house for an entire year. The same trip taken directly by train would produce just over 1 tonne of CO2.

Because of bureaucratic obstacles, a tight timetable and safety concerns, sadly I chose to fly part of the way on the outward trip. I therefore estimate my carbon output (including a return journey, hopefully all overland but the long way round) to be 1.7 tonnes of CO2. The carbon saving I will make by traveling this way is therefore in the region of 3.3. tonnes (I would really like to make a comparison between this and other activities to make it more real and show how much it really is, so if anyone has any suggestions of where I can find something like this, please get in touch!!).

I also want to travel overland because – wow, what an experience! Already, I have taken in so much more of the landscape, and made so many more real connections with people than I would by sitting in an air conditioned container making jet trails over their heads. For me travel is not just about a single place to go to and come back from, but about the journey getting there. I want to make the most of the opportunity to discover more about the world, but to do it without causing too much damage. (Also, as I discovered during this flight, although I may love being above the clouds and appreciate the miracle of flying, the whole package of aviation, from the arduous check in, the tedium of sterile airports to the hours without a view for those without window seats can be distinctly boring).

Another Way is Possible
Finally, I wanted to attempt this trip overland because I genuinely believe that lower-carbon travel is a much better way forward than sitting comfortably and watching business as usual mess up things for myself and for people that I love and care about. I really hope that in doing it, maybe someone else´s eyes will be opened to the possibilities, and that a few more minds will become aware of how much difference a flight can make.

If it seems like things are unlikely to change, just consider that only 50 years ago, there were no commercial airlines. Things do change. Internet and global communications make planning overland travel a whole lot more straightforward. Within Europe, efficient train connections make overland travel a very viable option, whilst outside of Europe train cheaper train prices can make long journeys less pricey than you might think. Websites like www.seat61.com make planning a lot more easy, whilst a new system to be released soon on www.loco2.co.uk aims to facilitate train booking for journeys in Europe – and to find the cheapest routes. It would make me so happy to know that my trip and this blog had inspired someone to take on the adventure of riding overland, instead of flying.

Before making your next flight, think about its impact. Ask yourself, “hang on, do I have to take this flight? Or does it just seem more convenient? What about doing things differently?”. It is your choice, and there are alternatives – alternatives that can be really amazing! I hope that reading this blog might inspire you to stop and reconsider. Above all, I have to say, there´s nothing quite like a good long train ride =:0).

Grants available for our Northern Soul tour!

5th May 2011 by

We have four grants available for our Northern Soul cycle tour! What are you waiting for?

Starting in Snowdonia on 10th June, the Northern Soul team will be navigating north through the stunning Yorkshire Dales and the lovely Lake District, cruising from coast to coast and spinning into Scotland.  If you fancy joining this six-week life-changing and world-changing adventure we have the following grants available to help you on your way:
– One full grant to cover the complete £800 fundraising goal
– Up to three partial grants towards the £800 fundraising goal

We’re thrilled to be able to give this opportunity to four lucky cyclists.  We want these grants to have the deepest and broadest impact possible, so here’s what you have to do to get your hands on one!
1. Fill in an application form to come on tour (you can find it online here)
2. Write us a little letter explaining:
– the impact coming on an Otesha tour will have on you personally;
– how you hope to promote sustainability within your community after you return from your Otesha adventure;
– your dream project working on environmental and social sustainability that you would love to set up and run if you had desk space for six months and a £500 start-up pot!;
– financial need.

Please send your electronic letter to Calu and Iona at cycletours@otesha.org.uk by Wednesday 18th May!

If you’ve got any questions, send us an email or give us a ring 0207 377 2109.

Super Summer Cycle Tours

7th March 2011 by

It’s a beautiful sunny day here in London town.  It might not be quite warm enough for me to cycle to the office without losing feeling in my toes, but have no fear – if you join one of our cycle tours we can guarantee you six weeks of beautiful, warm sunshine*.

Just in case you don’t know already – this year we’re heading on two terrific tours.  Northern Soul will be visiting Wales, England and Scotland, and Tartan Trail will be winding its way around Scotland.

On tour you can expect to:

– get skilled up and learn loads about everything from bike maintenance to consensus decision making, sustainability to group living

– perform our play and deliver workshops about sustainability in schools, youth clubs, and festivals up and down the UK

– have more fun than you could imagine

But hurry, the places are disappearing, don’t miss out – you can find the online application form right here.

*Unfortunately we don’t quite have the power to control the weather, but you will feel the warmth and beauty of making many new and amazing friendships.

Trains vs. planes

18th January 2011 by

The industrial-age old debate goes on and on, although the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport has been withdrawn (and the village of Sipson saved with it) train travel in the UK is the most expensive in Europe, while airlines continue to fly on tax free fuel. Luckily the Campaign for Better Transport are on hand to explode a few common myths about flying.

Myth No.1: Passenger jets are just 2% of global CO2 emissions.
In the late 1990s aviation accounted for 2% of global CO2 emissions, since then there has been a huge expansion of airports and short-haul flights. CO2 isn’t the only greenhouse gas emitted by flying and those effects are magnified at high altitude (to work out the full greenhouse impact of a flight multiply its CO2 emissions by around 2.7). It’s also worth remembering that most of the world isn’t flying. The British population, on the other hand, takes more flights per capita than any other country in the world (and aviation makes up 13% of the UK’s climate impact).

Myth No.2: Cheap flights are helping poorer people to fly for the first time
Low-skilled people and those on benefits take 6% of flights (despite making up 25% of the population), meanwhile the wealthiest 25% of the population take almost half of all flights. While air travel has been getting progressively cheaper over the last decade, the cost of bus travel (the most common mode of public transport for the poorest 25% of the population) has increased by 24% in real terms.

Myth No.3: We can expand airports and tackle climate change
Not according to the UK’s top climate scientists we can’t. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research predicts that the UK’s aviation emissions alone could exceed the government’s target for the country’s entire output of greenhouse gases in 2050 by up to 134%.

Ash Gate

23rd April 2010 by

Full size version here. More cartoons here.

Slow down

25th March 2010 by

A friend is walking to Jerusalem from the UK. It’s about 3,500 miles, that is far. I guess it’s going to take a long time, he says it’s a secular pilgrimage, and his route is one that would’ve been trampled by many a medieval pilgrim (it also includes a lot of beaches). I imagine he’s just going to keep strolling, taking in what he passes and enjoy the journey. To take on such a mammoth journey you’ve got to totally adjust your ideas about time and task, surely? Just forget about time and keep walking. I doubt I will ever do anything quite like this, but I can accept it, it makes sense to me. Read the rest of this entry »

Holiday in the UK

3rd July 2009 by

We challenge you to send us a postcard, from the UK.

It’s that time again, summertime. We’re all very tempted to pack our bags, jump on a packed flight and catch some sun on a package holiday. Completely forgetting that it’s summertime here too, and the Met Office has promised us a scorcher. So go on, holiday in the UK.

We’re not often particularly patriotic, but here’s why Britain is best:

  • you don’t have to speak English loudly and slowly (often), or be embarrassed by your fellow holiday makers speaking English loudly and slowly
  • trains are great (see our top ten tips for train travel)
  • it’s cheaper financially
  • and environmentally
  • you’ve almost definitely got friends and family in other parts of the UK that you don’t visit enough, kill two birds and take a free accomodation, guilt free holiday
  • the UK is full of beautiful campsites
  • and lovely B and Bs
  • and wonderful places to Woof
  • there must be more, but you get the picture

Head out of your usual abode and across this fair isle of ours.

Please send us a postcard (or even an email, to jo@otesha.org.uk) when you get there. Here’s our address.

Cycle your commute

3rd May 2009 by

The transport challenge – we challenge you to get on your bike. We’re collecting stories and photos about your best biking experiences. Send them to info@otesha.org.uk.

We love our bikes. We don’t understand how you couldn’t love bikes, so this month we challenge you to get on a bike.

Wherever you spend your days, we challenge you to cycle there one day this week. If you’re already a committed cycling commuter, we challenge you to get an unsuspecting friend on a bike. Or take your bike on a journey you’ve never done before. Then, tell us about your adventures on your bike.

We want to know who cycles the longest, the fastest and the most exciting route. Have you ever hitched a lift on a barge? Made a friend on a bike? Given up your car? Or have you just had enough of the rush hour crush and found your way on two wheels instead?


Edmund’s  stories:

The furthest I’ve ever cycled within a day is 160 miles from Bristol to Tavistock via Exeter. Before setting off me and my mate turned an entire loaf of bread each into peanut butter and Marmite sandwiches. By nibbling these continually we managed to stay on our bicycles all day long! The funnest part was crossing Dartmoor because there were huge traffic jams of angry honking tourists stuck in their cars. The lanes were just wide enough for us to squeeze by unaffected.
The furthest I’ve ever cycled within three hours is sixty miles, and that was with clothes, a tent, a big bottle of whisky and two trifles.
My most surreal cycling experience involved hitching a lift in a 40 tonne Tesco lorry from Cirencester to Leicester. This lorry was big enough for my bike to fit up on a shelf in the driving compartment behind the heads of me and the driver. The driver said that he really wasn’t meant to give unauthorised lifts but that he’d make an exception if I sang him a song. To repay his kindness I sang ‘the Ballad of Tescos’ the entire journey. It is a parody of ‘the Ballad of Tom Jones’ by 90’s pop group ‘Space':

♫ This will be fun, it will be such a lark
It is lucky for us they have a big carpark
We’re going to the supermarket, Tescos! Tescos!
I just can’t wait as it will be so good, Tescos! Tescos! ♫

Georgie goes to Sweden – and learns about youth climate action

26th January 2009 by

Dispatch from Georgie, who travelled to Malmo, Sweden to join the Friends of the Earth Europe youth camp

Hells bells! After a quick 2 day pit-stop at home (having only just finished the Wild West cycle tour) my hula hoop and I hopped onto a train to the Big Smoke and visited the famous ‘Hub’, home of Otesha. We were off on a new, different adventure!! And with Jo, Hanna and Liz by my side, being on the move felt like normality, except for the absence of our bikes!

Thanks to the fire in the Euro tunnel we missed our connection in Brussels by 3 minutes! But really it was rather nice as we then had time for a nice dinner in Brussels – over two days we had each meal in a different country. Read the rest of this entry »

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