Outward bound...

Brian Tuffin's old Brathay Group of 1956
Brian Tuffin's old Brathay Group of 1956

This is the first of two articles about outward bound style courses that were held at centres in the Lake District, especially during the 1950s and 1960s.

These were intended for 14 year old boys (no girls initially) whose schools were right across Oxfordshire including several in Banbury and its hinterland. The lads were in their final years of secondary education and for the most part happy to participate in activities such as mountain climbing which were challenging and offered scope for the emergence of leadership skills and a chance to test themselves in a very different environment.

The organisers of these courses were headmasters and supply teachers from within the county who acted on behalf of the Education Authority and directed pupils towards courses at Old Brathay near Lake Windermere and Patterdale close to Ullswater. My column today is about the first of these, which was also within a short distance of Brathay Hall intended for older students drawn mostly from the north of England. I will be looking at Patterdale in a fortnight’s time.

Tony Hall (1955) from the Windmill School in Deddington and Brian Tuffin (1956) of Easington Secondary Modern School both went to Old Brathay. Courses here were less rock climbing orientated than those at Patterdale and began with the fundamentals of compass work and associated orienteering. The nearness of Lake Windermere meant that water-based skills could be readily acquired within the centre groups known as Broughton and Shirburn.

Overall the programme included benefits for most school subjects but especially history and geography. Visits to Wordsworth’s cottage and grave made some English studies more meaningful.

Back at Old Brathay Centre boys quickly discovered that various leisure activities like swimming and trips to Ambleside could be the reward for a busy day in the field. Some of the boys became involved with preparation of articles and sketches for the Brathox Newsletter, which was intended for parents as well as those working for the Education Authority at Oxford.

One such person was Patrick Findlay from Hailey Secondary Modern School at Chipping Norton. He was inspired to compose verse arising from sightings of Herdwick sheep.

It was part of the outward bound philosophy that the course programme went ahead whatever the weather.

In early October 1956 the day expedition was a very wet experience. In his diary Brian Tiffin wrote that when the group reached Todd Crag ‘it was hailing hard and stinging our hands’, conditions which impeded map reading. Learning to handle different boats on Lake Windermere could often be a happier occasion and one which offered an alternative view of the mountains.

Towards the end of the course there was a three-day expedition mainly in the mountains. The boys had to cope with the unexpected.

Typical was having to walk in marsh up to their ankles on route for High White Stones from Black Crags.

Another way of looking at the mountain country was expressed by Tony Hall. Climbing Wansfell Pike in the company of Mr Sutton, his instructor, ‘made me more eager to go climbing again’. Overall his diaries are interesting because each activity is accompanied by a reflection on his performance in for instance compass work. Striding Edge provided an opportunity to overcome fear of challenging landforms. In this case a yard wide track was paralleled by a spectacular drop.

His final day in the mountains involved climbing Scafell Pike. On the way down some in Tony’s group had first-hand experience of a rescue incident. A boy had suffered broken ribs, cracked collar bone, a broken finger and lacerated head.

At the conclusion of Brathay courses diaries were sent to Oxford so county organisers could assess the effectiveness of courses and identify the benefits to participants. Perhaps the last word should be a quote from a newsletter editorial. ‘We feel that in everything we are gaining confidence and developing a sense of responsibility. Above all we are learning to live and work together’.

l My thanks to Tony Hall and Brian Tuffin.