Harrogate Fell & Dale Club celebrate 70th anniversary

2 November 2012

70 YEARS is a significant event in peoples’ lives, a time for looking back and pondering the future. Perhaps three-score years and then . . ?

So it is with an organisation which reaches that milestone, and one that the Harrogate Fell & Dale Club reaches this year.

Some local walking clubs have already passed 70 years and are going strong.

However the Fell & Dale is unusual, being formed in 1942, a dark period of the Second World War. The dangers of life in London and the south of England caused the government to relocate civil servants elsewhere. Many had to come to live and work in Harrogate, reckoned to be a safer place.

No doubt some of them came with reluctance, wondering what life here would be like.

Many worked at the civil service ‘Huts’ on St George’s Road. So it must have happened that some people soon became curious to see the countryside around.

Harrogate Fell & Dale Club members at Berwick Youth Hostel
Harrogate Fell & Dale Club members at Berwick Youth Hostel

Like-minded people got together and formed a local group of the Youth Hostels Association (YHA).

A report of the first walk held in April 1942 describes the members setting off from outside Bettys Café and walking through the Valley Gardens. Approaching Almscliffe Crag a diversion had to be taken because the Home Guard were practising throwing hand grenades!

In the early days the group catered for about equal numbers of cyclists and walkers. On weekends away it seems to have been the pattern for both groups to meet up at a youth hostel for the evening.

During wartime, YHA trips to the Yorkshire Dales and elsewhere were not always easy. Food rationing was in place, something which must have caused many problems. Coupons had to be produced for catering and the amounts of basic foods allowed would seem very small to us. Certainly, very little food would be wasted! Everyday items like cutlery and crockery were in short supply. In those days it was rare to have specialised clothing for outdoor activities, and most walkers and cyclists would wear their ordinary clothes.

The rules forbade talk of military matters in youth hostels and bicycles had to be locked away so they were not available for enemy agents. Even in the countryside the ‘blackout’ meant lights should not be visible outside. However with few cars about it was a heyday for walking and cycling, as well as for the YHA itself.

The Harrogate YHA group continued to flourish as the better times of the 1950s came along. Not all the civil servants returned to London, and there were already some members marrying, which perhaps added stability.

Later the group became an organisation mainly for walkers, though several of today’s members are cyclists too.

In the following years increased leisure and mobility gave those who enjoy the countryside the chance to walk in all parts of the north of England and abroad. The formation of National Parks were a significant step forward. Many organisations had to change as work and leisure patterns altered, and in 1986 the YHA group was renamed the Harrogate Fell & Dale Club.

Weekly walks are still arranged throughout the year, usually with an early start on Sundays from outside Harrogate Library. Weekends away remain popular, often using youth hostels.

The Fell & Dale Club is marking its 70th anniversary with two events. The newly built youth hostel at Berwick on Tweed was booked for the May Day holiday weekend and a Ceilidh will be held on Saturday November 10th at the Cairn Hotel in Harrogate. It is hoped that as many former members as possible will meet up to renew acquaintances. Full details are on the website at www.fellanddale.org.uk

Access to our countryside is easier now than in previous years, though many issues make forecasting the future difficult. It is likely that members of the Harrogate Fell & Dale Club will continue to enjoy getting about on their own two feet for a few more years!


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