History of the Annual Outdoor Gathering (AOG)
On this first day of LGBT+ History Month 2024, in GOC's 50th anniversary year, we continue to celebrate that amazing milestone – please contact Jim Cornwell [email protected] if you are interested to get involved.
As part of that celebration, we are sharing snippets from our Archives. This is the second of a five part look at the Annual Outdoor Gatherings through each decade of the GOC’s 50 year history, to be shared over 5 months from January to May. For the first, see Five Decades of Annual Get-Togethers, 1977 to 1984.
The history of annual events goes back to the early years of GOC, evolving from a more causal affair of small groups in a campsite field (sometimes anonymously due to attitude of the time) to major organisation, quite often taken place on university campuses. Although camping outside the usual territories had formed a major part of the club’s activities, different regional groups meeting together as an annual event didn’t occur until 1977. This seemed to continue in varying forms until becoming a more formal structure in 1980, classed as the first National Weekend. Indeed, the actual name of the event has changed through the years including National Get-Together, Annual Camping, AGM (this term being quite interchangeable with the actual general meeting and the whole weekend); the more standard National Weekend and then from 2003, Annual Outdoor Gathering (also known as AOG).
1985 Isle of Purbeck, Dorset
Another new area for the club to explore, this was held over the Bank Holiday weekend from Friday 3rd to Monday 6th May. Organised by Ian Kirk and chairman, Mike Gidding, activities included walking, cycling and sightseeing. Accommodation at Knitson Farm campsite, one mile north of the main Swanage/Corfe road, nestling under the Purbeck Hills. A field exclusively reserved with GOC members which was limited to 60 tents but did have a tap for running water and a cess pit of emptying the portaloos more than the previous year’s facilities). Others also stayed at Ingleside Guest House in nearby Swanage (which was fully booked by GOC members by April). Names badges issued. The village hall in Worth Matravers was the venue for AGM, which included a discussion that agreed for the GOC membership would run for a specific time each year. A social followed with GOC t-shirts being available for sale and a display of the club’s archives. A buffet meal was provided by Michael Porter and helpers but members asked to bring their own “grog”.
1986 Settle, Yorkshire Dales
Organised by chairman, Mike Gidding, for what turned out to be a very wet May Day bank holiday weekend, Friday 2nd to Monday 5th May. Campsite in Stainforth, North Yorkshire near the River Ribble with “flush toilets, hot and cold water, showers”. Other accommodation included nearby B&Bs and a Youth Hostel at Taintlands [closed in 2007]. The AGM and a buffet was held at the nearby Bowerley Hotel, Langcliffe. Activities included two planned walks, including a start from Ribbleshead Viaduct; cycling with Saturday’s event being a 25-mile cycle from Appleby; and potholing on the Sunday, a couple of miles north of Horton in Old Ing Cave.
1987 Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Held on Bank Holiday weekend, Friday 1st to Monday 4th May. Organised by Committee members, Iain Shand and Eric Hart. Campsite at Mill Farm, Greet which had milk available for sale but not “all the amenities”. Other accommodation included bed and breakfast at The Old Manor House, Bishops Cleeve; and Cleeve Hill Youth Hostel. The AGM and social was held in the National Hunt Room at Cheltenham Racecourse on the Saturday with views of the Cotswolds and the Malverns. Ideas for activities included a bird-watching morning run by the Cotswolds Warden Service and visits to nearby National Trust properties. Walks were led by the local group, up the scarp of the Cotswolds on Saturday; a windy Cleeve Hill on the Sunday; and a morning walk to Belas Knap burial mound on the Monday.
1988 Pitlochry, Perthshire
Held on Friday 29th April to 2nd May 1988, several areas in and around Pitlochry acted as venue. The AGM and evening buffet was convened at the Scotland’s Hotel on the High Street, Pitlochry. An option for camping was at the Blair Castle Caravan Park in Blair Atholl which was 7 miles away from the town. It was stressed the members had to “remain incognito at the campsite”. Activities includes walks up Schiehallion, Ben Vrackie, Beinn a' Ghlò; cycle tours around Glen Quaich, Loch, Lock Tummel and Loch Rannoch.
1989 Edale, Peak District
Announced in January of the same year, this was held on the Bank Holiday weekend from Friday 28th April to Monday 1st May. Accommodation was at Cooper’s campsite, Newfold Farm and Fieldhead campsite, a National Park Site, in Edale both with “modern facilities” of hot water, flush loos, showers and a shop. Other options include Youth Hostel in Rowland Cote, Nether Booth or B&B at The Rambler Inn, Edale and Brookfield Guest House, Barber Booth. Walking, cycling and caving were the activities. The AGM was at Edale Village Hall with 120 attending the Saturday evening meal, organised by Alan Darby and his helpers. A Committee meeting was held on the Sunday “by torchlight” at Fieldhead Campsite, including discussion of two new logo designs (it was decided to use a small version of the current logo on t-shirts and sweatshirts for Pride ’89); as well as confirmation of booking the following year’s weekend away.
1990 Wantage, Oxfordshire
Held from Friday 4th May to Monday 7th May. The main venue was Court Hill Ridgeway Centre, Letcombe Regis near Wantage, Oxfordshire. Consisting of five local barns, around a courtyard and converted into a Youth Hostel with GOC given exclusive use so YHA membership was not required. Camping could also be an option onsite with a view over the Vale of the White Horse (including nearby Didcot Power Station). The AGM was at the hostel, followed by a buffet meal (organised by Alan Darby and his team) and social with members asked to bring a bottle or can of their favourite tipple. Events included walks planned by the Berkshire and Mid-Thames group and the Wilts and Glos group; and multiple cycling groups around the Downs. Sunday night featured a slide show by Rob Foster of his recent travel and four past Chairmen were photographed on the balcony.
1991 Wooler, Northumberland
Organised by the North-East group, from Friday 3rd May to Monday 6th May. Accommodation including Highburn Camping and Caravan site; a large choice of B&Bs and a Youth Hostel. Organised by the North-East group. The AGM (expanded from 15 minutes to a “more democratic” 90 minutes) was at Wooler Community Centre. This was followed by externally catered meal buffet meal in the function room at the Red Lion Hotel in Wooler. Activities including walking into the Cheviots, walks from Craster via Dunstanburgh and Howick; and to Lindisfarne. On the Sunday was a social evening compromised of singalong at the piano.
1992 Brecon Beacons, Powys
Held on Bank Holiday weekend, Friday 1st to Monday 4th May with around 150 members attending. Accommodation included Brynich Camping and Caravan Park with shop, laundry, hot showers and electricity; a GOC exclusively booked bunkhouse at the Held, south-west of the town (which became fully booked by the time the May Newsletter was published); as well as several B&Bs, hotels and two nearby Youth Hostels. The AGM was held at the Queen’s Head Vaults, near the Market Hall in Brecon on the Saturday. This venue served also as a welcome desk on the Friday. On Saturday, a buffet meal provided Alan Darby and volunteers (with the “AGM meal charge” waivered for these people”). Activities included walks in the Beacons, a 15 miler with lunch by a waterfall and walk along the canal. On the Saturday the town was not only host to GOC members but also a Royal Visit from Prince Charles.
1993 Wareham, Dorset
Announced in the February, this was held on Friday 30th April to Monday 3rd May at the Masonic Hall, corner of North Street and Howard’s Lane. The AGM took place on the Sunday evening rather than the usual Saturday. The reason was that Saturday was booked for only 120 people and with numbers higher it allowed flexibility to those who need to eat out. Accommodation including several hotels and B&BS; two campsite, Redcliffe Farm Campsite, Ridge and the other being The Lookout Caravan Park, Corfe Road, Stoborough, Wareham. Activities of the weekend don’t appear to be recorded (beyond a possible tour around Wareham on the Monday) although members were asked to assemble at the Masonic Hall to split into groups for the day’s events.
1994 Stirling, central Scotland
The Club’s 20th Anniversary year, held on Friday 29th April to Monday 2nd May. The main venue was the new Stirling Youth Hostel located just below the Castle, next to the Old Guildhall and the Holy Rude Church. Other accommodation included camping at the Witches Craig Caravan and Camping Park, in Blairlogie as well as several hotels and B&Bs. The Saturday group evening meal was a 13 minute bus ride to Old Manor Hotel in Bridge of Allan. On the Sunday, after the AGM, was a Ceilidh in the Old Guildhall.
A well time tabled list of activities, starting at midday on the Friday. Walks were put into four categories (easy, moderate, challenging and very challenging). These include Dumyat and the Abbey Craig; the Ben Lui group of Munros; Dunkeld; an historic stroll around Stirling with local historian; and a treasure hunt. Cycling included 27 miles via Kilsyth along the Forth and Clyde canal, 50 miles through Stirlingshire; 40 miles around the Aberfoyle area’ a choice of two routes past the Campsies, the Fintry and the Gargunnock. There were also cruises on Lock Lomond from Balmaha, Loch Katrine and the Western Isle from Oban and Waverley; plus options for skiing on Glen Coe and the White Corrie. The event broke the record of being the largest attendance to date for a weekend with 180 members taking part.