Five Decades of Annual Get-Togethers, 1995 to 2004

History of the Annual Outdoor Gathering (AOG)

We are celebrating our 50th Anniversary in 2024!  Please contact Jim Cornwell [email protected] if you are interested to get involved.

As part of that celebration, we are sharing snippets from our GOC Archives each month.  This is the third of a five part look at the Annual Outdoor Gatherings through each decade of the GOC’s 50 year history, being shared over 5 months from January to May.  For previous posts in the series and other anniversary news & events, see Celebrating our 50th Anniversary in 2024.


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).

1995 Pen Y Pad, Snowdonia

Billed as the 21st Anniversary year. This was planned to be held on, at that time, the usual Bank Holiday weekend but it actually fell a week earlier, Friday 28th April to Monday 1st May.

Saturday’s event was a grand 21st Anniversary meal at the Royal Victoria Hotel, Llanberis (opposite the Snowdon Railway Station); with the AGM and a “Midnight Cowboys Dance” on the Sunday at the same venue. The main accommodation was at the Pen-y-Pass Youth Hostel at the summit of the Llanberis Pass with exclusive use for GOC. A bus was organised for transportation between the Youth Hostel and the Hotel.

Events organised between the Transpennine group and the Shropshire and Welsh Borders group, including walks in Welsh 3000’ers, the Nantile Ride, Moel Siabod, Lliwedd and Llyn Gwynant, Cnicht and the Moelwyns; gentler walks to Snowden via the Pyg Track plus Llyn Padarn and trip to Portmeirion; or a choice of reaching Snowdon via the railway. Cycling was a round trip of 50 miles to Ffestiniog on the Saturday; climbing activities included learning to climb at one of Snowdonia’s “classic climbing grounds”. 160 plus members attended.

1996 Castleton, Peak District

Originally planned to take place in Bath but due to unable to secure accommodation and suitable venues for the May Bank holiday weekend, this location was postponed. It was decided from that then on the National Weekend would be planned and organised two years advance.

Castleton’s event was held from Friday 3rd to Monday 6th May. The AGM and a social took place at the Castleton Village Hall on the Saturday; the annual dinner held at the Marquis of Granby Hotel, Bamford on the Sunday. Both of these nights had dances organised by “Midnight Cowboys”.

Accommodation included GOC reserved places at both Castleton and Hathersage Youth Hostels; 20 tents were reserved for the GOC at the Pindale Farm Outdoor Centre, a mile from Castleton; and all the rooms reserved at the Marquis of Granby Hotel in nearby Bamford.

Arranged walks included Kinder Scout; Derwent Edge and Strines Folly; a circular through Chatsworth Park; Dovedale; Bleaklow. Additionally, there was cycling around Castleton and Matlock areas. A caving trip gave the opportunity to examine the mining rakes above Calver; and there climbing for first timers and the more experienced at Stanage Edge. 150 plus members attended the weekend.

1997 Bath, Somerset

Due to tourist bookings, GOC block booking was not available for the May Bank holiday so the following weekend was chosen instead: Friday 9th to Monday 12th May. Accommodation was exclusive GOC use of the annex at the Youth Hostel, Bathwick Hill, Bath. A welcoming event was held at the 1805 Room, entertainment suite at the Theatre Royal; the annual dinner on the Saturday at the Hilton National Hotel. The Sunday’s AGM, a full hour due to increasing number of questions was at the 1805 Rooms followed by a social and a barn dance.

Planned activities included cycling 35 miles in the south of Bath and Cheddar area on the Saturday, and 35 miles around North West Wiltshire on the Sunday. Walks included Castle Coombe and Nettleton area; the Chew Valley; the Northern Mendips; Lacock and Bowood Park; a linear walk from Bradford-on-Avon to Bath; and a round Bath’s crescents and squares.

1998 Sheringham, Norfolk

Organised by John Sketcher and the Norfolk group, this was held from Friday 8th to Monday 11th May. Accommodation was mainly at the Youth Hostel but nearby camping and B&Bs were available if privately booked. The AGM took place on the Saturday in the Chapel Room at the hostel, followed by the annual dinner at the Links Country Park Hotel in nearby West Runton.

Activities included a cycling on Saturday with 40 miles west long the coat to Wells and back, and another 40 in the Sunday, east to Happisburgh and back via Stalham and Aylsham; walks around Blakeney Point and Salthouse Heath; Wells-next-the Sea and Warham Marshes; the Runtons and Cromer; and a historic walk around Norwich City Centre.

1999 Ambleside, Cumbria

“Silver Jubilee National weekend”. For the first time, in what would become a more regular practise, the accommodation and facilities was at a university campus, namely the Ambleside campus of the University College of St Martin (formerly Charlotte Mason College).  Due to using students’ facilities, this also meant that the date of the weekend was now in July (Friday 9th to Sunday 11th July) rather than what had been the more traditional May.

Organised by Geoff Cook, Peter Dawson and the long running Lake District group, the weekend activities were published in the foyer included cycling and walking in areas featuring England’s highest mountains such as Lakedale Pike, Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Fairfield as well as ferrying along Windemere.

The AGM and Annual Dinner on the Saturday (fully booked with 150 members at the time of the May Newsletter) which helped keeps costs comparable to previous National Weekends. John Asquith, the Chairman, gave a speech about the history of the club, it’s beginning and how it has grown to over 1,000 members. The grand finale of the evening was John being photographed with the GOC Birthday Cake.

2000 Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Held on Friday 28th to Monday 31st July and organised by David Shackleton and Shropshire and Mid-Wales group. Main venue at the Lion Hotel. Dinner on Saturday night for 140 diners (fully booked by the March) in the Robert Adam Ballroom. The Annual Dinner followed by Close-Up Magic with Charles Ihle and “Liverpool Wizard” Philip Partridge as well as the Ceilidh Band. The weather was warm and sunny for the majority of time, apart from a few Saturday showers on activities including walking (graded as strenuous, moderate or easy) in Shropshire, such as the Long Mynd, a Shrewsbury town walk but some just going over to the border into Wales. Nearly 200 members attended.

2001 Exeter, Devon

Held on Friday 17th to Monday 20th August on the St Luke’s campus of Exeter University. Organised by Devon and Exmoor group, activities included a tour of the City on the hot sunny Monday; cycling with a 50 miler from Exeter Quayside to Dartmoor foothill, and lunch stop at Moretonhampsted, on the rainy Saturday and more gentler 35 miles along the estuary to Dawlish on the wetter Sunday; canoeing, started at Exeter Quay, a 10 mile return on the Exeter Canal with two pub stops.  A planned boat trip out from Torquay Harbour to Dartmouth was unfortunately cancelled due to strong winds. After the AGM, around 170 members attended the organised dinner and a ceilidh with local band Spinach for Norman at St Luke’s on the Saturday evening. The accounts of the year showed the event made a surplus.

2002 Oban, Argyll

Held on Friday 12th to Monday 15th July,  it was “only the fourth time [the] annual event [had] taken place North of the Border”. Co-ordinated by Douglas and Robert. Accommodation included Youth Hostel with annexe (Oban Lodge)and the Alexandra Hotel. The AGM and then social of a buffet and ceilidh (by band Keltica) on the Saturday in the Corran Halls. The last event to be referred to as ‘The National Weekend’.

2003 Durham, County Durham

The first event to be held under the title of ‘Annual Outdoor Gathering’ (AOG) (judged via a competition in September 2002), although referred to as “Annual Gathering” throughout the publication of the event. Organised by Martin and David, and the North-East group, this was held on Friday 8th to 10th August at St Aidans College, overlooking the city.

The weekend started with hot weather before opening up to thundery showers on the Sunday. Walking included Wolsingham to Weardale; Bishop Auckland; Castle Eden; Teesdale; a visit to the Saxon church at Escomb; the Bishop’s Palace at Bishop Auckland the Dales, Hadrian’s Wall and the coast. A tour of Durham on the Monday.

The AGM was held in a blast furnace (disused!) on Saturday evening was followed by the social, including ceilidh. The general meeting announced that membership had increased to around 1,350 as well as officiated retirement of chairman John Asquith and election of new chairman, Graeme Brown.

2004 Leicester, Leicestershire

The Club’s 30th Anniversary year. Held from Friday 16th to Monday 19th July at the University of Leicester halls of residence, mainly Digby Hall, next to the Botanic Garden and opposite the racecourse. Organised by Andrew Bodman, Alan Mason and member of the Rutland and East Midland groups, a total 180 members attended.  A choice of 7 or 8 walking destinations included the National Forest, Rutland Water and Leicestershire, a walking along the Grand Union Canal, disused railway tunnel in Brampton Valley and Iron Age hill fort; followed on Monday with an architectural work walk around Leicester.

A Friday evening pub meal was organised for those on their own and/or attending their first AOG. The AGM on the Saturday was held in a “romantic setting” of a grand marque was followed by a dinner and ceilidh. To help commemorate the club’s anniversary, the meal accompanied by personal reflection from Peter, one of the original members of the club.

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