Five Decades of Annual Get-Togethers, 2015 to 2023

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 last 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).

2015 Bath

Held at the University of Bath from Friday 14th to Monday 17th August, this was first AOG with a new method of organising due to help reduce stress: the secretary would take responsibility of administration, whilst the local group would organise the events programme.

On Saturday, walks included Bath Skyline and Prior Park Garden; Lansdowne Racecourse; Two Tunnels Walk; Macmillan Way and Slaughterford; Bradford on Avon; Bath to Keynsham. Cycling around the Cotswolds village. In the evening, the AGM with David White announcing he was standing down as chairman, was followed by dinner and a disco.

Sunday walks gave chance for those who missed out on Saturday with Two Tunnels walk; Bath Skyline plus Little Solsbury Hill; in and around the village of Box, Wiltshire. A small group led by Philip Judson and Martin went to Priddy and tried out the caving in Swildon’s Hole, the longest cave on the Mendip Hills. It also included a rarity of a changing barn near the village green to saves the blushes of cavers and villagers alike! The weekend was attended by 190 members (six of which were women).

2016 Falmouth, Cornwall

Held at University of Exeter, Penryn near Falmouth on Friday 5th to Monday 8th August. 116 had booked by the April with a total of 130 attending (with a record of 14 women attending).

For convenience, all walks started from the campus. These included a Violet Walk on Saturday, which started from Mawnan Smith to the Glendurgan Garden and along the Cornish Coastal path and arriving at the cove in Meanporth. There were also climbing and canoeing.

After the busy day of activities were the socials in the evenings. On Saturday, the AGM included David White officially standing down as Chairman, with presentation given and new chairman, Richard Dorling gave his vision of the club. This was followed by dinner and then a disco. On Sunday evening, quiz night in the bar. Proceed given to the local LGBT youth group.

2017 Lancaster, Lancashire

Originally to be in the Yorkshire Dales, based at the Dalesbridge Activity Centre, between Settle and Ingleton, but cancelled as the centre stating that due to commercial and logistic reasons they were unable to accept the booking. An alternative venue was sought and moved over the border to Lancaster University, a revisit to the site used 10 years previously. Held from Friday 4th to Sunday 6th August 2017, 110 members booked by April; 158 by June.

Programme events were organised by Kevin Nuttall who had organised the previous AOG in Lancaster in 2007. Saturday walks includes Arnside Knot and Silverdale Coast; Dolphinholme and Abbeystead; Glasson Dock and Lancaster Canal; Grit Fell and Clougha Pike; Heysham coast and village; along the Luneside Paths near Bolton-le-Sands; rock climbing near Ingleton. A Cycle ride of 30 miles around the Lune Valley and near Carnforth on the Saturday.

A busy AGM involved a presentation by Jon Stockton, Group Liaison; Nick Thompson, retiring Treasurer gave good news of club’s finance with a strong balance of income from subscriptions, Gift Aid and self-financing events. Nick was also given a thanks and presentation gift.  Chairman, Richard Dorling presented the annual report which revealed 2016 slight drops in membership and the number of events increasing with 1510 members about the same as the start of the year; Robert Poniatowski, Group Co-Ordinator of Western Midlands, gave presentation for 2018’s AOG. Resolutions were put forward and passed, apart from changing the club’s name. This was then followed by the Saturday meal and music provided by Platinum Disco.

It was an overcast but dry Sunday (until early afternoon) with walks included Barbondale near Kirby Lonsdale; Ingleton Waterfalls; from Scorton up to Nicky Nook Fell; Cockersand Abbey and Glasson; Ward's Stone Fell. Non walking activities were a cycle ride of 23 miles to Cockersand, Glasson and The Wyre; caving in Lower Long Churn Cave near Settle; and a coach trip to Levens Hall, Gardens and Deer Park. In the evening was a quiz night with 83 members participating, and proceeds going The Bridge, a Croydon based support group for LGBT people.

2018 Telford, Shropshire

Held from Friday 27th to Monday 30th July at the University of Wolverhampton’s campus in Telford. The event programme organised by the Western Midlands group. Fine weather on the Friday evening allowed the planned BBQ to go without a hitch. On Saturday walks included Stanmore Country Park, near Bridgnorth to River Worfe; Brown Clee; from Church Stretton, making an ascent to ascents to the top of Caer Caradoc and the Lawley; a circular tour of Norbury; around the Clee St Margaret area, starting at Aston Munslow, across Corvedale and ascent to Liberty Clee; east of Shrewsbury, around the Haughmond Hill area; the women only group (a first type of activity for an AOG) took a route around both side of the Ironbridge gorge; and a historical walk around Shrewsbury with many information stops provided by the leader. Cycling was led by John Asquith and John Heathcote: 35 miles, following the old Telford railway line to cross the River Severn to Bridgenorth before returning via Shifnal. Or a secondary option of 56 miles, around the Shropshire Hills via Telford, the Ironbridge Gorge, to Much Wenlock and then up to Wenlock Edge, through Corvedale and following the River Severn on return.

In the evening, following the AGM was the meal and then disco provided by GOC’s very own Paul Robbins. Also, the Club’s Archive display was setup in the bar’s corridor which fortuitously captured the interest of those travelling the disco and the loos!

Sunday started rather wet but soon the showers and grey skies broke up allowing for mainly dry day. Walks included around Bridgnorth, starting around the market town and then long the River Severn towards the hamlet of Hampton Loade, with a return to Bridgnorth High Town and a ride on the funicular railway; Craven Arms to Hopesay Hill for panoramic views of the Shropshire countryside; an upward walk to Long Mynd via Light Spout Hollow; on Wenlock Edge via village of Easthope and Shropshire Way/Mytton Way; over the Wrekin, via the “easiest” route up (all relative) and back again via Little Hill and then Little Wenlock; a figure of 8 walk of Ironbridge Gorge walk for all, starting from the town that carries the name then via the decommissioned power station with towers that were demolished in and then second loop around the former cast iron industrial sites and assent up to the gorge for views of bridge and river. Sadly, especially for those not familiar with the area, the famous Iron Bridge was unable to be viewed in its usual glory due to major restoration project being started a few months before. Cycling was a flatish 60 miles around Shropshire Kale, to the historic market town of Wellington, then via Adamaston Spa through High Ercall to Shawbury and to Wem and Ellesmere with a route back via Myddle; another option was 35-mile ride via Upton Magna, Cross Houses, Acton Burnell, Cressage and the Wrekin.

To finish the weekend off on the sunny Monday, a historic tour around Telford including the town park (which hid a few dinosaurs!) and nearby villages.

2019 Swansea, south Wales

Held at the Singleton Park campus of University of Swansea from Friday 26th to Monday 29th July, events programme organised by West Wales group.

On Friday afternoon, a fully booked walk for 2 miles of Swansea, including through the University’s wildlife area, along the seafront and into nearby Singleton Park. On the Saturday, cycling of 40 miles around the Gower Peninsular via Upper Killay and Reynoldston, back via Scurlage, Oxwich, Kittle and the Mumbles. Walks for the day included the women only group towards Three Cliffs, Park Mill and Pwlldu; for those late risers, an afternoon of “Swansea Discovery” with walks (boots not required) in three of Swansea’s park, a visit to the city’s botanic garden and finishing for refreshments at the top of the tallest building in Wales on the waterfront; around the Whiteford National Nature Reserve and Whiteford Sands; a walk in and around Onllywn, the mining village made famous where the LGBTQ+ community supported the miner during the miners’ strike in 1984-85 (the story immortalised by the 2014 film, Pride) including lunch at the Miner’s Welfare Hall and welcomed by a couple of locals who told stories from 1980s and current updates; in and around the Clyddach Valley; around the Gower Peninsular, taking in Three Cliffs Bay, the almost deserted port of Pwll Ddu and old smugglers’ haunt of Brandy Cove; and a circular around Carreg Cennen Castle.

On Sunday, a coach trip to St Fagan’s open-air museum, near Cardiff (free of charge entrance for Welsh museums); cycling around the River Loughor Estuary, 37 miles skirting Llanelli towards Llanon returning via Hendy and Gorseinon.  Walks in around the Mumbles; an illustrated guided tour around Neath Abbey Ironwork including up Cwm Clyddach valley; Margam, near Port Talbot; exploration of the deep wooded gorges, waterfalls and caves near Ystradfellte, southern edge of the Brecon Beacons; Baglan and Port Talbot and towards the Aberavon seafront; a figure of 8 walk in and around Rhossili. Sunday evening was quiz night with proceeds going to the Albert Kennedy Trust who support LGBTQ+ young people who are facing homelessness.

For those staying on Monday, walk offered included Melincourt waterfall, near Neath; walk and lunch at the botanical gardens near Carmarthen.

2020 No AOG

The unprecedented arrival of COVID-19 pandemic had forbidden large gatherings. This meant that the planned Stirling event would have to be held over for another time…

2021 Moreton-in-Marsh, Cotswolds

The first AOG since 2019, held from Friday 31st July to Monday 3rd August at the Fire Service College, Moreton-in-March.  Programme of events organised by Mark Parker and Ian Harrold and the South Midlands group.  Possibly due to the appreciation of freedom since the pandemic lockdowns, there were around 200 members in attendance but still within safety restrictions.

A showery start Saturday walks included from Chipping Norton to the megalithic monument of Rollright Stones; Winchcombe area, following Cotswolds Way and Warden Way, ascent to view of distance hills and then return by Sudeley Castle, Charlbury and the Wychwood forest; through North Cotswold Villages of Chastleton, Adlestrop, Daylesford and Cornwell; Moreton-in-Marsh to Longborough; women only walk in Stanton, Stanway and Snowshill; Chipping Campden and Dover’s Hill; Woodstock to the landscape of Blenheim Park; Whichford and Cherington; a walk around RSPB Otmoor in Beckley. Cycling was a hilly 36 miles from Morton-in-Marsh to Bourton-on-the-Water via Windrush Valley and Evenlode. On Saturday night, slightly different to usual, the meal was followed by the AGM which included discussion on the website and whether requirement to pre-book event would continue after COVID; then the disco, DJ’d by Paul Robbins.

Rain persisted on Sunday, but it gave chance for those who were unable take part on Saturday with repeats of the walks around RSPB Otmoor in Beckley; Stanton, Stanway and Snowshill. Additional walks included Great Tew in North Oxfordshire; in and around Broadway, Worcestershire with ascent up to the tower; a leisurely stroll around Batsford Arboretum; a moderate walk Stow-on-the-Wold, taking in Wyke Rissington, Bourton-on-the-Water and Lower Slaughter; another chance to visit Rollright Stone but shorter version from Little Compton; from Blockley including up and the valley, and visit to Father Brown’s parish; Temple Guiting; Sherbourne and the Windrush Valley;  from Sibford Gower to neighbouring villages of Burdrop, Epwell, Swalcliffe and Sibford Ferris. For those cycling it was a 40-mile trip taking in the towns and villages west of Morton-in-Marsh such as Chipping Campden. Sunday evening was quiz night, questions set by Paul Ashcroft with Derek as MC for the evening, with proceeds going to the Fire Fighters Charity.

Monday provided three short walks: in and around Chipping Camden; Chipping Norton; and Cold Aston, taking in Turkdean and Notgrove on its way.

2022 Stirling, central Scotland

Originally slated for 2020 but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Held at Stirling University from Friday 29th July to Monday 1st August, walks organised by relative locals and the Transpennine group.

Saturday included a strenuous walk up the two Munros of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin; a mountain walk up the Corbett of Beinn Each, near Callandar; a difficult hill walk via the Orchil Hills, Dollar Glen, Kings Seat Hill and the Glen of Sorrow; another difficult hill walk up Dumyat via Bridge of Allan and the North Side, starting from the campus; the Bannock Burn and North Third Reservoir Circuit; a women only walk in Dumyat Circular; a moderate woodland and hill walk starting from Callander and via the Callander Crags and Bracklin Falls; a moderate linear walk Bridge of Allan Woods and River Allan to Dunblane by starting from the campus and then returning by train; and an easy town walk taking in the historic sites around Stirling. For the cyclists, a 43-mile cycle ride starting from the campus to Dollar and Glen Eagles.

On Saturday night the campus’s Stirling Court Hotel was venue to the AGM and RAP session and then the evening meal. This was followed by Edinburgh Gay Men’s Chorus and then ceilidh with the legendary accordionist, Sandy Brechin.

Sunday activities included a strenuous mountain walk over the two Corbetts of Ben Ledi and Benvane from Brig O'Turk; the Ben Cleuch Circular, a mountain walk to over 700m up the highest point in the Ochil hills; a short mountain walk up the ”mountain in miniature” of Ben A'an; a moderate circular hill walk up Dumyat; a moderate woodland walk from Brig O'Turk via Finglas Woods; a moderate walk of Kilmahog and The Falls of Leny; another chance to do the Stirling Town walk. Cycling was 40 miles to Kippen and Fintry. Also, a Loch Katrine Steamers Coach trip, a boat cruise on loch Katrine to Stronachlachar and an easy walk along the shores of Loch Katrine.

On Monday was third chance to do the Stirling Town Walk; an easy walk on the hill of Abbey Craig to the Wallace Monument; an easy walk of the Hermitage Woods behind the campus to Bridge of Allan and back.

2023 Canterbury, Kent

Held at University of Canterbury, 18 years since GOC’s previous visit, took place from Friday 28th to Monday 31st July 2023. AOG organiser, Aaron Speed was on hand for questions about the weekend (different to previous AOGS in no display boards of the walks) Aaron Speed (AOG organiser); whilst the event programme had been organised by the East Kent Group. Following the AOG (with 142 in attendance), evening meal and disco in the bar; and quiz night on the Sunday.

A sunny Saturday for activities which included walking from medieval town of Faversham heading to the marshland with views of across to Isle of Sheppey and the back via Goonestone; a stroll through the Kent Downs; the Women Only walk entailed a circular walk staring from the campus through villages of Harbledown and then back via Thanington; another walk from Faversham, through orchard to Luddenham, up Oare Creek; a North Downs walk taking in Devil Kneading Trough and the Wye Crown; Reculver and the Wantsum, starting from St Nicholas at Wade; top of the North Down from Charing and returning via Westwell; a tour of Canterbury; a short linear walk from the campus to Whitstable; Wickhambreaux and Stodmarsh, starting from Sturry. Cycle led by Kent based cyclists, Graeme Brown and Nick Thompson from the west of Canterbury, taking in Whitstable, Chilham, Faversham. 37 miles, 1650 feet of ascent.

On Sunday, walks included circular around the area of Sandwich; around the surrounding area of Bredgar village, near Sittingbourne;  a chance for others to do the circular walk from the campus through villages of Harbledown and then back via Thanington; a linear walk to Whitstable, along the old Crab and Winkle rail line; coastal walk from Herne Bay to Reculver; a linear walk from Bekesbourne back to Canterbury,  via Little Stour, Littlebourne and Fordwich; from the mining village of Aylesham, across to North Downs Way to Barfrestone, Fredville Park and Nonington; Patrixbourne circular, via Littlebourne, Wickhambreaux; Ickham; a repeat of the tour of Canterbury, but this day in town part with Dr David Wight continuing the second half; a linear walk from Dover to Deal across the White Cliffs. Cycling for the day was the east of Canterbury, taking in Sandwich and Deal areas. Views of a moored former US Navy Patrol Boat and millionaires’ mansions, the weather turned from sunny spells to rain showers, with a 47 miles cycles over 1850 feet ascent. For something different a coach trip to Hythe, with a short walk to the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway for a steam train journey to Dungeness.

Contrasting weather for last day of the gathering, with a wet Monday for walks: an historic walk from Deal to Walmer; another chance to do the linear walk from Dover to Deal across the White Cliffs; west of Canterbury, following the Crab and Winkle Way to Harbledown then via Blean Woods and Chartham Hatch, finishing at Canterbury’s Westgate Towers. There was also a garden visit of ground of Chilham Castle, 7 miles south-west of Canterbury, with chance to view the grounds of the restored garden of the Jacobean mansion.

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