Travellers' Tales: Post-war CTC touring

At the summit of the Col de l’Iseran in July 1949
Now in her 90s, Val Higgs looks back to the CTC tours that she and other HQ staff led in 1949

When I read that CTC Holidays and Tours had been wound up, it started me reminiscing. But my memories were of decades earlier – to the first organised tours arranged by CTC after World War II.

In 1949 I was working as a shorthand-typist secretary at CTC’s then headquarters at Craven Hill in West London, when it was decided that the time was appropriate to start organising group tours to the Continent. All bookings with hotels had to be made by post – in the hope that somebody would understand English! Each hotel received a typed letter together with a return-addressed envelope and an international reply coupon to cover postage.

I was working for Bill Stiles, then CTC Assistant Secretary, who was in charge of the Travel Department, so this was part of my job. In hindsight, I wonder how at the time (when we still had food rationing at home) they were able to cater for large parties of hungry cyclists – but they most certainly did. And we were always made very welcome.

Those first post-war tours (there were four) were to the French Alps, and all were led by members of the CTC headquarters staff. As the years went by the choice of destination widened and other leaders were appointed. I led ten tours to various areas between 1949 and 1958. Now, in my nineties, I look back on a different world – a world where many country roads and mountain passes were only rough surfaced but, more particularly, a world where the roads were almost traffic free. A world without mobile phones to help you if you were in trouble.

Looking at my old photographs of the 1949 tour, I am struck by the clothing and shoes worn by the cyclists – in complete contrast to the wonderful sportswear available these days. Clothing rationing ended only in May of that year.

Thank you for stirring my memories of those long-ago days and the many friendships made.