Five Decades of Annual Get-Togethers, 1977 to 1984

History of the Annual Outdoor Gathering (AOG)

As we enter GOC's 50th anniversary year, 2024, we are beginning to celebrate that amazing milestone – please contact Jim Cornwell [email protected] if you are interested to get involved.

As part of that celebration, we shall be sharing snippets from our Archives. We began with 10 years out on the hills 1974-1984 and snippets from the December GOC newsletters of 1975, 1976 & 1977.  Now we begin 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....


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).

1977 Edale, Peak District (National Get-Together)

Advertised in the newsletter as the first national get-together (also known as the first national meet and first national meet-up), this was held on Friday 16th to 17th September. Accommodation was camping at Hodgkinson’s Farm, Upper Booth, two miles from Edale. The site was booked by Sheffield’s group contact, Chris Rodgers, in his name. The event included a “business meeting” with its intention described as “not going to be a tedious, organised affair but rather a chance for swopping ideas and to form a plan for the Club’s continued expansion”. The emphasis being on getting to know one another – putting faces to names. This lasted no more than hour with decisions made such as office type work to be continue as so far with a small group of volunteers handling membership, publicity and the newsletter; each of the six groups present (Bristol, Transpennine, London, Tyneside, Lakes, Scotland) to choose one person to act as co-ordinator for each region until next AGM. A chairman would also be elected the Committee each time it meets. Affiliation was to be sought with the British Mountaineering Club and the Ramblers’ Association.

Beyond the business decisions, activities included a Saturday walk around Kinver Edge which turned out to be a clear cold day; whereas Sunday allowed for later start towards a pub lunch in Castleton before a slow return back to Edale.

15 tents were pitched (with some choosing comfort of a guest house) and nearly 30 people attended, which “wasn’t bad out of total membership of 200”.

1978 Edale, Peak District (National Get-Together)

Held from on Friday 12th to Sunday 14th May, this was also the first meet of the Steering Committee. Accommodation was the option of camping at Hodgkinson’s Farm, Upper Booth, two miles from Edale; or a selection of nearby bed and breakfasts. Event wise it was “free and easy do your own thing” but activities included a 40 miles cycling tour from Edale, visiting Chatsworth House and Buxton; following a rainy and windy Friday, it was dry and bright Saturday for a walk that started from Cooper’s Café with 20 in attendance; and a local member, led a walk on Sunday to explore the area.

For the Saturday evening, a room obtained at the Jolly Rambler in Edale from 8pm onwards was packed with 36 members. The intended short “GOC – What’s right and wrong with?” session was shelved as deemed nothing of importance to discuss (although comments and suggestion made through the evening).

1978 Birmingham, West Midlands (AGM)

The second meeting of the year was held on Saturday 21st to Sunday 22nd October. Saturday activities included a canal walk from Gas Street Basin; in the evening a “Getting to Know You” reception and buffet (members asked to bring their own bottle) followed by a disco. The Sunday featured the AGM in the morning with coffee and tea.

1979 Birmingham, West Midlands (AGM)

The first national event of the year was held from Saturday 17th to 18th March. Based at the Birmingham Gay Centre with dinner and the social. Tony Maycock was responsible for the weekend’s catering by providing a buffet supper on the Saturday (members asked to bring their own bottles) and lunch for the Sunday, a roast (for both meat eaters and vegetarians) followed by apple pie.

Activities planned included walking on the Malvern Hills or a canal boat trip starting from Gas Street on the Saturday; and walking in Cannock Chase or another canal boat trip from Gas Street on the Sunday. Unfortunately, some of the walks were cancelled due to the heavy snow on the Friday evening. To avoid anyone already making their way to Malvern walks a phone call was made to British Rail who gave some free publicity by announcing “Any member of the Gay Outdoor Club on this station is asked to report to the stationmaster’s office”!

Despite the bad weather, around 25 attended at the centre’s meeting room. After the buffet, members watched Latecomer, a gay play written and performed by members of the centre.  The rest of evening was spent by some in the coffee lounge and others at the weekly disco in the basement.

A short business session was on Sunday morning (as promised in the newsletter, “don’t panic nothing formal!”) with coffee and chat before the day’s activities. The discussion included the for and against for a management committee with the general feeling to leave actual the planning to the groups as “over organisation would kill GOC”.

1979 Edale, Peak District (Annual Camping)

Held from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd September at Barber Booth campsite. The informal AGM was shelved due to the poor attendance and lack of venue. Activities included walking to Castleton and back via Man Tor on the Saturday; potholing at Bagshawe Cavern on Sunday; and walking for the non-cavers. Due to the initial uncertainty on which weekend it was to be held, the event was not as well attended as originally expected. However, there were representations from at least three regions.

1980 Edale, Peak District

Classed as the first official gathering, it was stated as the “most ambitious event” in the club’s six year history, held from Friday 9th to Sunday 11th May. Indeed, with a turn out of members from Bristol, Kent, Essex, Birmingham, and London it was very populous event with “almost embarrassing numbers” taking all but one bar in the local pub (the recently renamed The Ramblers Inn; formerly The Jolly Rambler). The main accommodation booked exclusively for the club was the campsite at Upper Booth, Hope Valley, Edale. Anyone who didn’t want to face the outdoor, could make their own arrangement for bed and breakfasts or the option of “crash pads” hosted by members in the Sheffield and Manchester areas. Programme of events included long and short walks each day led by the Transpennine group, such as an Edale circular walk or a ramble to Treak Cliff Cavern, near Castleton. A non-walk on the Sunday was a visit to the Tramway Museum at Crich with others choosing Chatsworth House and some more adventurous members went hang-gliding. Saturday evening at Edale village hall was a short AGM (featuring the election of the first committee) followed by a buffet supper organised by Tony Maycock (salads prepped a few hours by returning walkers in exchange for cups of tea). Members asked to bring own drinks and social until midnight. Around a total 80 members attended the weekend with 60 plus going to the social.

1981 Hawkshead, Lake District

Despite mediocre weather, it was deemed a success with 65 members attending from Friday 8th to Sunday 10th May. A campsite at Hawkshead Hall Farm was the main accommodation. The area was unknown to many members so the attractions of new walking and climbing appealed to those bored of Edale. Walks to the top of Coniston Old Man; a relatively short walk through Grizedale Forest. Cycling to the coats. Saturday evening was AGM at Hawkshead Village Hall, followed by a buffet (members to provide their own liquid refreshments but cups would be provided at the hall) and live music provided by Roy.

1982 Brockweir, Forest of Dean

Another new territory for the club saw the weekend in the Wye Valley, an area chosen as the Welsh borders were as yet seldom visited by GOC. Held from Friday 7th to Sunday 9th May, an entire field was reserved at Beeches Farm campsite, Tidenham Chase on the edge of the Wye Valley above Brockweir. Basic facilities of cold water tap and chemical loo. A slightly longer than usual AGM on the Saturday evening in Mackenzie Hall in Brockweir, followed by cold buffet organised by Michael Porter and members (tea and coffee provided but members would need to bring own drinks) and a disco. Several walks from the campsite were with Saturday walkers returning via the hall with tea and biscuits laid on; and a revived interest in the cycling for those who brought their bikes. Officially seen as the third National Weekend, a total of 90 members attended.

1983 Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway

Held on Friday 6th to Sunday 8th May, the first Scottish located weekend started with rain and thunderstorms but soon became fine for rest of the weekend. Campsite was at Beattock Caravan park with running water, toilets and showers; there was the option of the Star Hotel in Moffat which welcomed GOC guests. The Town Hall at Moffat was booked for the Saturday with tea available for returning cyclists and walkers in the afternoon, and the AGM followed by a slide show by Brian Evitch, editor of Great Outdoors Quarterly (USA’s nearest equivalent to GOC) and then, allegedly, Moffat’s first gay disco. The buffet was organised by Michael Porter.  Walks included the Corbetts of Broad Law and Dollar La on the Saturday, and White Coombe and Hart Fell on the Sunday. Cyclist took a 55 mile trip via the Grey Mare’s Tail, St Mary’s Loch and through the Eskdalemuir Forest. Attendance of 60 people.

1984 Capel Curig, Snowdonia

The preparation for the 10th Anniversary, held on May Bank Holiday, from Friday 4th to Monday 7th May was eventful but for the wrong reasons: Capel Curig village hall was booked by the February for the AGM and meal. However, by April things had changed and become controversial that even made headlines in local and national news. The parish council decided the GOC could not use the hall. Thankfully, by the April it was resolved with the church hall in Betws-y-coed acting as a substitute, thanks to that village’s vicar. Also, campsites were sought in the area but none prepared to accept advance bookings. However, a local farmer was happy for GOC to have a field, close to Capel Curig Village Hall and the River Llugwy.

Co-ordinator for outdoor events was Mike Giddings which included walks to Carnedd Llewellyn; Blaenau Ffestiniog to Llwchwedd Slate Quarry and Gloddfa Ganol Slate mine on the Saturday; Ya Wyddfa via the Miners’ Track and another via the Pyg path; and a trip on the Snowdon Mountain railway on a chilly Sunday. Walks via Tryfan and the Bristly Ridge, walk to Swallow Falls and a trip to Conwy Castle on the Monday. A minibus was hired to take those from London. Cycling was to Ffestiniog on the Saturday and to Caernarfon on the Sunday.

Saturday evening in Betws-y-Coed church hall saw a buffet that included a “sumptuous of banquet of clingfilm clad meat”, intricate salads and “notorious Porter trifles”, organised by Michael Porter and helpers (members to bring own drinks). The AGM include confirmation of the new Newsletter editor (Iain Shand taking over from Michael Porter) and the election of a new chairman, Mike Giddings.

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