Toby Simpson has arrived home after cycling round the country for two charities close to his heart – and he had a special reason for getting back in time. PETER BARRON was there to see him return

WHEN he embarked on the ride of his life 40 days ago, Toby Simpson promised to be back in time for his grandparents’ diamond wedding anniversary.

“I’ll be there – even if I have to turn up at the party on my bike and in my sweaty cycling gear!” he declared as he set off from his parents’ home in Darlington.

And, after more than 5,000 kilometres – through the UK’s 15 national parks – Toby was as good as his word.

Just after 12.30pm on Saturday, resplendent in pink cycling shirt, the intrepid 25-year-old appeared at the top of Stokesley Road, in Guisborough, and freewheeled down the hill to Peter and Janet Gale’s home.

“What he’s done is amazing and we’re very proud of him,” said Janet, as Toby was showered with champagne.

“The closer to home I got, the more emotional it became – thinking about the reasons for doing it in the first place,” said Toby.

And they are very good reasons indeed. A gene mutation, called BRCA2, runs through Toby’s extended family, causing premature cancer deaths. He wants to help a charity called The Eve Appeal, which aims to support research that will lead to improvements in predicting risk and preventing cancer.

Toby was also raising money for The Walk and Talk Trust, a new charity striving to boost physical and mental health in the North-East through the power of walking…and talking.

The charity has launched The Big Smile, a series of 50 fully-guided fundraising walks, adding up to 1,000k through the glorious countryside of the north.

Launched at Raby Castle on June 21, and finishing in Durham on August 27, proceeds will be used to supply free walking boots to children and disadvantaged adults.

Toby, whose dad, Geoff, is chief executive of the Trust, decided to split the money he raised between the two causes close to his heart. With gift aid, at least £12,000 will be donated.

“There were dark days, but the key thing with endurance challenges is to think about the reasons for doing them and that’s what gets you through those difficult moments.”

The Peak District was particularly tough. A mechanical issue with the bike meant Toby had to run five kilometres to a cycle shop for help, the hills were killers, and the bad weather closed in.

But he overcame every challenge with the support of around 20 friends who joined him for different stages of the ride.

The final day started at Pickering and featured a climb over Blakey Ridge on the North York Moors, through Kildale, then Commondale and on to Guisborough.

“Guisborough was a natural end point and it was always the plan to get back for Granny and Grandad’s diamond wedding,” said Toby.

“A lot of my training during lockdown involved riding over to Guisborough to see them because they mean a lot to me, and that last couple of miles was very special.”

As well as his dad, the welcoming party included mum, Penny, sisters, Pippa and Hope, and brother Jonny.

Peter Bell, founder of The Walk and Talk Trust, said: "Toby's commitment to both charities is quite outstanding, and we are so grateful for his incredible efforts."

In a rash moment, Toby had pledged to grow a moustache until the end of the ride if he reached the £1,000 mark and – along with having a shower – shaving it off was a high homecoming priority.

“I think my cousins might be fighting over who’s going to do the ceremonial shaving,” he laughed.

Toby’s original plan had been to ride to Asia and, although that was scuppered by Covid, he’s already planning to resurrect the idea.

In the meantime, there was the small matter of his grandparents’ diamond wedding party to attend in the back garden.

“I never doubted he’d get back in time,” said Granny Janet. “He’s always been a good, reliable boy.”

IF you look carefully at the main picture, you’ll see the bubbly flying out of Granny Janet’s glass.

I’d lined them all up for a souvenir family photograph with the instruction to raise their arms and cheer on the count of three.

As I got to three, Granny Janet did exactly as she’d been instructed – and promptly threw her champers all over Toby's Uncle David and his wife, Helen.

They got soaked – I blame the photographer.

TOBY Simpson might be home – but, sadly, football isn't. Not quite.

However, we should still be proud of Gareth Southgate and the England team for reaching the Euro 2020 final and lifting the nation's spirits with their performances on and off the pitch.

One memory that will live with me for a long time is being booked to give a virtual talk on Zoom to Ripon Belles Women’s Institute during England's semi-final against Denmark.

As the members gathered before me on my computer screen, I started with a plea: “Ladies, can I please just say that I’m recording the football, so please don’t give the score away,” I begged.

I confess to being distracted throughout my talk, wondering how the lads were doing, but ploughing on as best I could.

Then, 30 minutes after kick-off, I couldn’t help noticing a lady called Shirley suddenly put her head in her hands in horror before hastily trying to compose herself and pretend nothing had happened.

Had an England player been sent-off? Had we missed a penalty? Or had Denmark taken the lead? As I suspected, it turned out to be the latter, but England fought back to win 2-1 and make it to Sunday’s final against Italy.

Shirley, I forgive you, but I'll be keeping the diary clear for the World Cup.

FINALLY, a message to Marcus Rashford in response to the public apology he issued for missing a penalty which led to sickening racial abuse.

I wish the penalty had gone in, Marcus, but you have no reason to apologise for anything.

I wouldn't change a single thing about you, what you stand for, what you've done, and continue to do to make the world a better place.

Please remember that for every hateful coward, there are millions who simply want to say "Thank You".