GOC is the oldest and largest outdoors club in the UK for everyone in the LGBTQI+ community, founded in 1974 – see About us.
As we approach our 50th anniversary in 2024, we are making plans to celebrate that amazing milestone – please contact Edward (Ned) Voelcker at [email protected] if you are interested to get involved.
As part of that celebration, we will be sharing snippets from our Archives – starting with this article, published in Capital Gay in 1984 to celebrate our 10th anniversary. If you have any items to contribute to the archives, please contact our archivist Simon Ball at [email protected].
10 Years ‘Out’ on the hills
Reg Connolly, the founder of the Club, recalls:
“The group was advertised as a CHE (Campaign for Homosexual Equality) Special Interest Group and used the then CHE London Information Centre (CHELIC) as a postal address. Using CHE’s prefix and address was to give the non-existent group some credibility in order to advertise. The idea of gay people camping, mountaineering, or cycling was then quite radical. The GLF (Gay Liberation Front)/CHE type scene was only four years old and even that was radical – the idea of Gays “coming out” and taking political action, prior to that the only accepted way to act was by being skittish or fey and cruising one another.
But the idea of gays actually wanting to go out into the country, in daylight mind you, and get wet and cold and sleep in tents without even a teensy weensy orgy – well, it drove most people into paroxisms of laughter…
But the advert stayed in – and the laughter and the tired jokes about camping made me even more determined to give it a try – and the letters slowly trickled in and eventually (July 9th) about eight of us met in CHELIC (22 Great Windmill Street London WI) and organised our first weekend – in Snowdonia (12-14 July).“
In celebration of the 10 year’s existence of the club, the 1984 Annual National camp was held in Snowdonia. It was particularly satisfying to reflect on the way the GOC has grown since that first small group of enthusiasts clambered up these peaks in 1974.
The Gay Outdoor Club is now a national organisation of about 450 members. It is affiliated to both the Ramblers Association and the British Mountaineering Council, and has long since released the apron strings of the CHE.
There are some 20 regional groups arranging walks etc. throughout England and Scotland and Wales. In addition, there are three thriving activity groups – Swimming, Cycling and Waterways. Occasional events have also been arranged for such activities as climbing, caving, cross-country skiing, fishing and even hang-gliding.
The Annual National Camps have become a feature of the Club Year. Typically up to a hundred gays gather together in the Hills. Somewhere squeezed between the walking cycling etc. and the bean feast and social usually laid on in the local village hall, an attempt is made to get into the Guinness Book of Records for the shortest AGM.
Christmas and Easter especially, ie. when the weather is a bit parky for camping, have become times for get-togethers based on Gay Hotels in good walking areas, or for groups to hire country cottages.
During the Summer several of the camps are based on the coast allowing those into sunning themselves to grin and bare it on the many naturist beaches.
Not all of the events are limited to this country. The International Contact is in touch with similar groups throughout the world. Villas are occasionally hired in good walking country on the continent. In 1981 there was an expedition into the foothills of the Himalayas. The National Press latched onto this with great amusement, and good humour.
The king pin of the organisation is the Newsletter. This typically has been 6 closely typed pages of events and info. From 1976 onwards this very professionally produced monthly has enabled local groups publicise their events.
There is a Committee of course, but this is only to deal with the administrative chores. The important people in the club are the members. The Club only exists because individuals are keen enough to band together and organise events for their own and other’s enjoyment. The future of the club is in their hands. With continued enthusiasm, when GOC meets in Snowdonia in 1994, it could be very large and successful club indeed.
A typical walk
There is no such thing as a typical GOC London walk, they are as diverse as the landscape, weather and distance they encompass. This particular one started at Horsley and was part of the London Countryway, a 250-mile circular footpath around Greater London. The weather was ideal, dry and clear, and around a dozen brave souls set off at 10.00am.
We were soon in open woodland, which was carpeted in bluebells, filling the wood with their vivid colour and fragrance. We climbed gently onto a ridge and had marvellous views over to the North Downs and the previous section of the Way. Then after a few more miles it was time to don rucksacks and tackle the afternoon.
We followed well defined paths onto the heavily wooded Ockham Common and were soon surrounded by the coolness and of trees and the dense cover of rhododendrons beginning to flower. After a quick tea break we were on the enclosed path through the RHS garden at Wisley, and here we had views across the lawns and trees toward the main garden. All too soon West Byfleet loomed on the horizon and with it the end of the walk.
The Gay Outdoor Club exists on two wheels as well as on two feet. GOC Cyclists organise runs of a medium length, every month exploring the countryside around London. This year we have ventured as far as Cambridge and Brighton. Cycles and cyclists of all vintages are welcome.
A St. Valentines Day swim in 1977 proved so enjoyable that the swim has been repeated in the Oasis Pool in High Holborn on Monday evenings ever since (see Goslings Swimmers). We just mix in with the general public. Relations with the pool management have always been good, and last year we were given sessions of our own – every second and fourth Thursday. These have proved very popular -sometimes a hundred swimmers turn up.
The group is more of a social club than a serious swim. The apres-swim, in a pizza house on Mondays and in the basement bar of the Oporto Tavern on Thursdays, are good opportunities to chat and get to know people. All gays are welcome, as indeed they are at all GOC events.