Category Archives: Organised outdoor

Organised outdoor activity in the UK- The Canoe Club and British Canoe Association

‘In the camp all classes and ages amalgamate;

to be a canoeist and a gentleman is all the qualification required’

John Davey Hayward, Camping Out, 1891

It is unsurprising that the earliest form of organised camping in the UK as a leisure pursuit was associated with the increase in the popularity of pleasure boating and canoeing in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, especially on the River Thames. As the railways took trade from the waterways, many of the less congested rivers became safer places for the more wealthy individual to spend their leisure time and indulge in their romanticised rural idyll. This complimented the growing appreciation in rowing, paddling and athleticism. Small, often quite light, craft could be purchased, rented or built and simplified the carrying of quite heavy, bulky camping equipment. Later, cycle camping enabled budding adventurers to take to the roads in similar fashion. Backpacking, as we would identify with it, occurred later, as still further refinements in outdoor gear were established.

Camping by boat on the River Thames, possibly Eel Pie Island. c1900. Lantern slide

Camping by boat on the River Thames, possibly Eel Pie Island. c1900. Coloured lantern slide

The Royal Canoe Club

Club badge of the Royal Canoe Club. No 36 in series of 50 club badges, Ogden's Cigarettes, 1915

Club badge of the Royal Canoe Club. No 36 in series of 50 club badges, Ogden’s Cigarettes, 1915

John ‘Rob Roy’ MacGregor formed the Canoe Club on 25th July 1866, this was the first canoe club in the World. With royal patronage, they became the Royal Canoe Club in 1873. The Prince of Wales, having joined the club as member and Commodore, was Member No. 57. Membership seems to have been somewhat elitist with members mostly comprised of ‘Diplomats, Doctors, Lawyers and Businessmen’. MacGregor also designed and built a popular lightweight, short canoe suited for paddling, called a ‘Rob Roy’, his boat survives and is held by the National Maritime Museum.

With this boat, MacGregor crossed the English Channel (the canoe travelling as luggage on board a cross-channel steamer) and explored a thousand miles of European waterways, later writing a book of his exploits. He inspired many people to take up the sport of canoeing, including Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson

Racing was the primary interest of most members of the Canoe Club. Camping canoeists looking for kindred spirits had to wait until 1933 when the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland formed a specialist sub-section, later known as the Canoe Camping Club.

The Canoe Club held a grand muster at Thames Ditton, between Hampden Court and Kingston, in May 1867. Robert MacGregor with his 'Rob Roy' canoe led the procession of canoes to the start of the race course

The Canoe Club held a grand muster at Thames Ditton, between Hampden Court and Kingston, on 27 April 1867. Robert MacGregor with his ‘Rob Roy’ canoe led the procession of canoes to the start of the race course. By 1874 the race became known as The Paddling Challenge. Held each year, it is the oldest canoe race in the World. Illustrated London News 4 May 1867

The British Canoe Association

In August 1887 a handful of newly formed canoe clubs were invited by the Royal Canoe Club for a joint cruise on the Norfolk Broads, attendees agreed the formation of a British Canoe Association. This was along the lines of the already successful American Canoe Association. MacGregor became its first Commodore.

The first meeting of members of the British Canoe Association was at Loch Lomond in 1888, the next at Lake Windermere in the English Lake District in 1889 (members included a honeymooning couple). When the 1890 meet was held at Falmouth on the South Coast, the association had in excess of 150 members, females were eligible for membership from the outset.

‘… its object shall be the promotion of cruises and meets… for the purpose of cruising and camping… to procure increased facilities for cruising, camping and exploration’

From- the Rules of the British Canoe Association

1889 was also the year that a classic in English literature was published. Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat recorded the author’s trip up the Thames in a camping skiff, with his dog Montmorency and two friends, Harris (Carl Hentschel) and George (George Wingrave). The book received scathing reviews from the critics but the public loved it.

When Jerome K. Jerome set off with two friends and his dog for a cheap holiday on the River Thames, their misadventures were primarily down to their choice of craft and their amateurish attempts to control it- The camping skiffs had three iron hoops over which a green waterproof canvas canopy could be stretched. Sleeping within their craft reduced any reliance on campsites and unwelcoming land owners. Three Men in a Boat, first published 1889

When Jerome K. Jerome set off with two friends and his dog for a cheap holiday on the River Thames, their misadventures were primarily down to their choice of craft and their amateurish attempts to control it- The camping skiffs had three iron hoops over which a green waterproof canvas canopy could be stretched. Sleeping within their craft reduced any reliance on campsites and unwelcoming land owners. Three Men in a Boat, first published 1889

Sailing Canoes, 1891

Sailing Canoes, 1891

There were various definitions of canoe, but a loose interpretation was usually accepted outside of the stricter criteria used in races and competition. Sailing canoes were introduced in the 1870s, these included the Mersey Sailing Canoe- which were up to 20 feet in length.

Canoe camping became a popular pastime with week long camps being established where fellow campers would live the itinerant lifestyle, foregoing shaving and town garb much to the amusement, interest or disgust of the genteel town people they encountered.

“How jolly to be in a boat again- to be without collars and top-hats- to be beyond reach of the postman, the tax collector and the ‘knocker up in the morning’ “

John Davey Hayward, Camping Out, 1891

BCA Burgee, Sub Rosa Cigarros card

British Canoe Association Burgee, ‘Flags of all Nations’ series, Sub Rosa Cigarros trade card, 1909-11

Lightweight tents, or what passed as lightweight at the time, were utilised. Popular styles were the Mersey, Clyde, Marquee and the usual ex-military or military clone Bell tents. Club burgees fluttered from their apex. In contrast with the US penchant for wood fires, small spirit stoves were favoured for cooking. The Mersey, Irene and Boddington stoves were popular, however I have failed to find any information or images of these. John Davey Hayward, in his 1891 book Camping Out notes that a camper who has not eaten in four hours is a ravenous animal and dangerous to meet.

Popular camps were established along the River Thames. Within ten years of their creation the Royal Canoe Club had provided a camping ground for canoeists at Teddington. Members of the Mersey Canoe Club favoured the popular camp on Hilbre Island at the mouth of the River Dee where canoeists would spend the night in hammocks strung in a rented shed.

Landowners became increasingly annoyed with river campers, trees were pulled down for fires and rubbish left. As the number of people wishing to camp increased, available sites were on the decrease. Between the Wars canoeists became disillusioned with river camping. Many prime waterside sites were now private, had newly built dwellings or were simply fenced off. There was an increase in the number of camping skiffs and camping punts available for rent as this freed rowers and paddlers from relying on finding an affordable or welcoming site each night. A canopy could be strung across the boat itself and provided a cosy home for two or three friends during an affordable multi-day excursion. Such boats also required a degree less skill to control than the lightweight canoes and kayaks. River camping was no longer the preserve of the wealthy.

The British Canoe Association faltered but quietly hung on in spirit into the 1920s. In 1933 it merged with the Canoe Section of the Camping Club of Great Britain. In 1936, The Canoe Section of the Camping Club, Clyde Canoe Club, Manchester Canoe Club and the Royal Canoe Club formed the British Canoe Union, which held its inaugural meeting in 1936.

“When darkness reigns around, the lighted candles from their sconces throw a beam of warm light across the still moving inky water of the pond like river. The Primus starts to roar, the fry-pan splutters, plates rattle, bottles gurgle and tongues loosen. Who can deny that the river camper’s lot is cast in pleasant places?”

The Amateur Camping Club Handbook, 1910

The riparian camper was now no longer confined to canoes and kayaks, huge numbers of camping skiffs and camping punts could be hired and the democratisation of the pastime ensured that many would extend their new found enthusiasm for an outdoor life to the roads, lanes, tracks, fells and mountains. The golden age of river camping may be long gone, leaving slalomists, scullers, rowers, punters etc. in its wake. However the ripples of the Victorian experiments in camping, now extend far beyond the river banks.

Traditional camping skiff sen on the River Thames whilst walking the London Countryway, Windsor to Marlow section. August 2016

Traditional camping skiff seen on the River Thames whilst walking the London Countryway, Windsor to Marlow section. August 2016

There is a timeline of many of the most important or influential UK outdoor organisations on my main website. I will be covering a number of these later in the year. Do have a glance at the list and see where today’s organisations fit in, you may even be able to suggest a glaring omission to the list!

Centre and right are YHA Chief Executive James Blake and outgoing YHA Chair Peter Gaines

YHA Showcase & AGM 2019

Three Points of the Compass attended the Youth Hostel Association’s (YHA) 2019 Showcase and AGM today. For a number of years I have lamented the direction in which the organisation seemed to be heading and today I fully expected to hear a litany of corporate speak and talk of commercial direction backed up with more closures of small hostels and grand designs on city centre hotels. However, for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. It seems the YHA is back on track.

“we are thriving, a confident organisation”

Peter Gaines, outgoing YHA Chair

Appointed Vice Chair in 2017, Margaret Hart today became the first female Chair of the YHA

Appointed Vice Chair in 2017, Margaret Hart today became the first female Chair of the YHA

The past few years have seen swathes of much loved and usefully situated smaller hostels closed. It used to be that anyone completing one of the longer National Trails could walk from hostel to hostel, that hasn’t been the case for quite some time. A questioner from the floor made the point that ‘what used to be a network of hostels is now more a patchwork‘.  Outgoing Chair Peter Gaines admitted that

the YHA has had to close a lot of hostels.. [there has been] a legacy of under-investment but [this] has resulted in a present day portfolio of sustainable hostels. If a hostel has only 20-30 beds, it is very difficult to make it financially viable unless subsidising it from elsewhere in the network’.

This statement was subsequently polished but there can have been few present that didn’t recognise the truth in his comments. And sustainable it is, the YHA, now the ninth largest UK Charity by membership, has been making a healthy profit for some time now.

With some 150 hostels in England and Wales catering for over 900 000 visitors each year, hostel revenue is now circa £50 million per annum, up from circa £39 million in 2010. Much of this is being reinvested. There has been an almost complete refurbishment of all their hostels, with major refurbishments of Bryn Gwynant and Truleigh Hill taking place this year. It is hoped that the difficulties around the completion of the showcase YHA Stratford will soon be resolved. That hostel will be an earner for the organisation as it can be occupied year round.

Sir Chris Bonington has long been a friend of the YHA. He spoke of staying at hostels as a boy when he and a friend made a poor attempt at slimbing Snowdon in the winter of 1951. Wearing hob-nailed boots from an Army Surplus store and a cut down school mac, he was carried down on an avalanche. However, he was then hooked on climbing

Sir Chris Bonington has long been a friend of the YHA. He spoke of staying at hostels as a boy when he and a friend made a poor attempt at climbing Snowdon in the winter of 1951. Wearing hob-nailed boots from an Army Surplus store and a cut down school mac, he was carried down on an avalanche. However, he was then hooked on climbing

Ten years ago the YHA was realising an average of around 50% occupancy across all hostels, this is now around 59%. This is not the case in many of the large city hostels, while Cardiff is around 60%, London Earls Court is 85% and YHA London Central is 89% occupancy. The YHA has enjoyed a trading cash surplus of £3.2 million, which while down £1.3 million from the previous year, is still their second highest trading cash surplus ever. The Executive team is expecting £2 to £3 million to be the annual norm moving forward.

The YHAs strategy for some years previous has been focused on putting them on a firm commercial and operational footing, making themselves sustainable.  We have all been witness to the cuts made, the closures that still rankle with many. It is not now all about the money though.

The outgoing Chair, Peter Gaines has been forthright in his aim to make the YHA more democratic. He has been largely successful in this and can retire with pride. The number of Company Members has increased from 136 in 2018 to 796 in 2019 and the explosion in voting numbers has resulted solely from it being made an online facility. There is still some work to be done in making it more accountable to its 145 000 members, but they are well on their way.

Myself and about 350 others at today’s event heard of plans to provide 500 new beds in key locations in the north of England. There was little more information on that divulged, one can only hope that it is not all city centres. With financial worries mostly behind them, the YHA is making a return to its original charitable aims:

To help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside, and appreciation of the cultural values of towns and cities, particularly by providing youth hostels or other accommodation for them in their travels, and thus to promote their health, recreation and education

YHA Charitable object

YHA Strategy 2020. The contents of this 'conversation document' are ambitious and bold. In draft form at present, it is to be hoped that the final strategy document has not deviated too far from this

YHA Strategy 2020. The contents of this ‘conversation document’ are ambitious and bold. In draft form at present, it is to be hoped that the final strategy document has not deviated too far from this

Only signed off by the Executive days before, the YHA proudly distributed its new Strategy 2020 Conversation document, ‘hot off the press’ (so newly printed it arrived mid-morning), this sets out ambitious priorities for the next five years leading up to their centenary in 2020. It is still a working document and the YHA is seeking comment on the content, However I for one can only be impressed with the vision contained within:

In 2038, every 18-year old in England and Wales will enter adulthood having experienced the positive impact of YHA. They will have lifelong access to hostelling as their route to a world of affordable sustainable travel

(draft) YHA Strategy 2020

Writer, journalist and 'wild sleeper' Phoebe Smith delivered an amusing and joyful presentation. On her first ever solo wil camp she "ran into the one thing that strikes the fear of god into us... a youth group!"

Writer, journalist and ‘extreme sleeper’ Phoebe Smith delivered an amusing and joyful presentation. On her first ever solo wild camp she “ran into the one thing that strikes the fear of god into us… a youth group!”

To put that into context- there will be some 750 000 children born in England and Wales next year. The YHA was born out of social reform in the 1930s. At that time the ambition was to transform the lives of young people born into crowded and polluted cities. The YHA’s very first handbook laid out their early plans… ‘to improve the health of body and mind… [offering] cheap lodging as a means and not as an end’. The YHA’s vision laid out today expands upon this.

As well as providing budget accommodation for members and non-members alike, The YHA is stepping up its charitable ambitions- it provides free family activity breaks for low income families with additional complex needs, hosts residentials for youth groups and schools, free weekend breaks for some families with disabled children, offers socially inclusive volunteering opportunity and works with young people with special educational needs.

There is plenty of evidence showing how young people thrive when exposed to the outdoors. Outdoor adventure is the second-most effective in advancing learning in young people (after 1:1 tuition). Hostels, and the activities run out of them, provide that outdoor facility. The YHA has been voted the number one ‘not for profit’ hostel operator on the international stage and their stated ambition is to be the leading charity in health and well being, particularly with young people. I for one am impressed by this refocus and wish them well.

‘Because where you go changes who you become’

Handstamp impression from YHA St. Pancras International. The Showcase and AGM took place only a few hundred metres from this well-appointed London hostel

Handstamp impression from YHA St. Pancras International. The 2019 Showcase and AGM took place only a few hundred metres from this well-appointed London hostel

Edwardian gentlemen

Organised outdoor activity in the UK- Britain’s first holiday camp

“Only youths and men of good moral character are eligible for admission to this

Holiday Camp and should anyone unfortunately prove, by word or deed, to be otherwise,

he will be liable to instant expulsion”

Joseph Cunningham, M.L.C., J.P., C.P.

Joseph Cunningham, M.L.C., J.P., C.P. Founder of the Cunningham Holiday Camp

Amongst the first public campsites in the World opened on the Isle of Man in 1894. The venture came about due to the frustrations experienced by Joseph Cunningham and his wife when, employed as the superintendent of The Florence Institute in Toxteth, Liverpool, he arranged annual week-long youth camps at Laxey on the Isle of Man in 1892/3. The following year the annual camp was held at nearby Howstrake. Unprofitable at this juncture, Joseph left the institute and he and Elizabeth went it alone, running the next camp at Howstrake themselves as a much expanded and more ambitious enterprise. Within a few years up to 600 men were staying at the ‘tent city’ each week. Open during the finer months, from May to October, the Cunningham’s considerable business acumen ensured the success of the camp and demand quickly outgrew the capacity of the site. However the Cunningham’s were tenants only and sought better control of the facilities they wished to provide.

Howstrake camp on the Isle of Man

Howstrake camp on the Isle of Man

In 1904 they opened a new camp just a couple of miles south at ‘Little Switzerland’. The larger five-acre site they had acquired had room for not only around 1500 tents but also a large dining pavilion where ‘up to 3000 can be accommodated at a time’. The new Cunningham Young Men’s Holiday Camp was originally open March to October but by 1933 this had changed to May to September. The camp at Howstrake continued under separate management.

The Cunningham Camp at Little Switzerland on the Isle of Man had 1500 tents and bungalow accommodation

The Cunningham Camp at Little Switzerland on the Isle of Man had 1500 tents and bungalow accommodation

The 'Camp Herald' was an annual publication that included photographs and reviews of the holiday camp, listed excursions and facilities and included a booking form, 1933

The ‘Camp Herald’ was an annual publication that included photographs and reviews of the holiday camp, listed excursions and facilities and included a booking form, 1933

The camp is usually considered the first holiday camp though some argue that it should be discounted as accommodation was within tents at first. Within a few years wooden huts supplemented the ex- army bell tents. Tents were eventually replaced with more substantial chalets built by WWI internees. The description of these as ‘holiday bungalows’ may be somewhat stretching but, by account, most holidaymakers enjoyed their stays immensely, returning year on year. Reading and writing rooms were provided. There was a 90 feet long swimming bath, lawn tennis and badminton courts, putting and bowling greens, and sports field, at which medals were awarded on the weekly Sports Day.

Bungalows and tents had electric lighting and could each accommodate up to four campers. The same fee was charged for each.  Tents came with wooden floors. ‘spring bedstead and comfortable bed’. More luxurious accommodation was provided in the camp’s ambitiously entitled Snaefell Mansions.

“Use of intoxicants, gambling and improper

language are strictly prohibited”

 

Menu board at Camp Cunningham

Menu board at Camp Cunningham

A programme of daily outings and entertainment was provided, as were three meals a day and an evening ‘supper’ for each camper. The camp had its own bakehouse, laundry, ‘refrigerating apparatus’, electricity generators and workshops.  A ‘camp orchestra’ kept diners entertained at mealtimes. There was a camp farm at Crosby, some five miles away. This grew fruit and vegetable for the kitchen and had pigs and a herd of 130 cows. While the local milk produce was appreciated, young men were forbidden some pleasures, for Liverpudlian Cunningham was a Presbyterian and strict abstainer from alcohol. Though no doubt many took advantage of certain off-camp establishments when away for the day.

Keep Fit Class at Cunningham Camp

Keep Fit Class at Cunningham Camp

Campers could sign up to be bussed to various points on the island. Alternatively, hikes were organised, cameras could be hired and trumpets issued along with song sheets so that groups of walkers could sing while tramping, alongside a ‘merry tune’ from anyone that was musically inclined.

The camp was taken over during both World Wars. In 1914 as an internment camp and as a Royal Navy training school- HMS St. George, during WWII. Following the war the family declined to continue with the camp and it was sold to a Blackpool businessman. Joseph Cunningham himself had died 4th September 1924.

The Concert Hall cleared for a dance

The Concert Hall cleared for a dance

Three Points of the Compass has not, as yet, visited the Isle of Man but has stayed at many a holiday camp as a youth. Various Butlins camps were visited by the family each year as we grew up, they were (relatively) affordable and provided the diversity of entertainment required for a large family with wide age ranges and gave my hard working parents the break they deserved. I am told that we never visited the two main rival institutions- Warners and Pontins, but other smaller independent camps were also occasional destinations. Either alone, or with one or two of my siblings, I would wander off exploring dunes, cliffs, woods and beaches. Rock-pooling and fishing. I invariably had a great time, got sun burnt, sustained multiple scrapes on rocks and thorns, startled adders in the bracken and pulled wrasse from the pools left stranded by retreating tide.

DisclaimerThree Points of the Compass is well aware that the title to this blog is incorrect. The inhabitants of the Isle of Man are British, however the island is not part of the United Kingdom. The Isle of Man, situated between Great Britain and Ireland, has an independent administration and government. However the establishment of this first holiday camp is so closely linked to that which evolved in the UK that it cannot be ignored.

 

1927 advert for the Co-operative Holidays Association

Organised outdoor activity in the UK- Arthur Leonard and the Co-operative Holidays Association

There are some movers and shakers from the earliest days of organised outdoor activity that are barely known today. Mention their name to anyone on the hills and and only a handful would know who you are referring to and how connected they are to the activity that they are enjoying. One such individual is T. A. Leonard.

T.A. Leonard, a Congregational Church minister from Colne, Lancashire

T.A. Leonard, a Congregational Church minister from Colne, Lancashire

Thomas Arthur Leonard, OBE, 1864-1948, was born in London. His father, a watchmaker, died when he was five and his mother raised him almost alone. She ran a boarding house and, being the daughter of a Congregationalist minister, it is not surprising that this influenced the young Thomas enrolling as a student at the Congregational Institute in 1884.

Marrying in 1888, he took pastoral roles in Barrow-in-Furness and Colne. It wasn’t long before another influence guided his movements and energies for the remainder of his life. In June 1891 he arranged for 32 male members of his Young Men’s Social Guild to holiday in the English Lake District. Just four days long, this was a great success and he believed that encouraging working males to holiday together in the countryside, with no alcohol and enjoying simple, spartan pleasures, daily walks and, most importantly, group singing, was the way forward.

Factory workers in the north of England, in common with the lower paid workers elsewhere had only recently had conditions slightly improved by the various Factory Acts, a series of UK labour law Acts, that sought to improve the conditions of industrial employment. Workers sought to escape the confines of still dangerous and unpleasant work environments. Rambling became a respite and popular recreation amongst the working class. In addition to this, mills and factories would close down on an annual basis for maintenance. ‘Wakes weeks’ had their roots in the Industrial Revolution and were particularly prevalent in the north of England and industrialised areas of the Midlands. They started as unpaid holiday and poorly paid workers had little choice on how to spend their newly found leisure time. There was little or no work to be had elsewhere as almost all industrial works within a locality coincided their closure period. This was the root of the annual summer holiday and entire families would decamp to spend their wakes week elsewhere, such as at the increasingly popular large coastal towns as sea bathing was held in high regard for its perceived health benefits.

CHA pin badge

CHA pin badge

In 1893 Leonard introduced the Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA). His holidays provided cheap, simple accommodation and an itinerary of walks, singing and evening lectures. Experts would instruct on geology, wildlife and botany. Later, painting, climbing and other pursuits were introduced. Leonard believed that the holidays that he provided were not an indulgence, but a necessity. A holiday was subject to strict itinerary however, communal activities were not only provided but participation was a requirement.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, those fortunate enough to reside in the towns and villages of the Lakes, regarded with suspicion those who sought simply to visit and ramble in ‘their’ hills. Any such influx was resisted. John Ruskin, amongst others, penned numerous letters to the local press decrying any influx of working class holiday makers. But, obviously, this was a tide that could not be stemmed.

By 1907, workers in the Lancashire mills were guaranteed 12 days annual leave, including Bank Holidays. This had increased to 15 days by 1915. Many would take time off in Blackpool and Morecambe, drink too much, party too hard and generally get up to various activities that Leonard and his fellow ministers frowned upon. Leonard believed that a simple communal life, with compulsory daily walks was far preferable.

At first, holidays were mostly based in the Lake District but quickly spread further afield. The Co-operative Holidays Association moved beyond the English Lakes, beyond Snowdonia and the Peak District, in to Europe, to bring travel, exploration, camaraderie across ethnic, social and class barriers, an ethos, and singing, to thousands. This was an entirely new form of ‘holiday movement’ that led the way for other similar businesses and organisations. Near derelict buildings were rebuilt and restored. This was also an era where large country mansions were put on the market and some were purchased at relatively low cost. However, modest income struggled to meet the upkeep of large houses and grounds.

Daily walks of 18-20 miles were compulsory. Sing-alongs were encouraged, both on the walks and each evening. An official songbook was produced. At first these were mostly psalms but over time became more secular. Everyone would join in and rounds were part of the routine. Despite the best efforts of the organisation however, such group singing had become less popular by the inter-war years. Alcohol was only permitted from the 1960s though no doubt there were those who flaunted such restriction prior.There were many walking and cycling groups and societies starting up and the social and physical aspect of these was invigorated by those who had just returned from a week’s rambling with the CHA in the company of like-minded souls. The idea of escaping to the hills once escaped from the collieries, factories and  dark satanic mills had been propagated.

Postcard showing the Moor Gate guest house owned and operated by the Co-operative Holiday Association

Postcard showing the Moor Gate guest house in Derbyshire, owned and operated by the Co-operative Holidays Association

By 1913 the Co-operative Holidays Association had 13 British holiday centres which catered for over 13,000 guests annually. This increased to 30 centres attracting 30,000 guests by the 1960s. However Leonard had long before become disaffected with the organisation. Leonard was an idealist who quickly became disillusioned with projects and his life choices when he felt that outward influences were compromising his ethics. He took up and resigned his position as a congregational minister three times, serving as a minister for just eight years in all. He dismayed at improper dress and attitudes on the fells. Anything that smacked of elitism and excluded the working classes was, he believed, to be resisted. Middle class workers expected the comforts of home, hot water, boots polished for them and no chores to perform while on holiday, however such things came at a price. Both figuratively and practically. This did not hold with other practices such as the offering of free or subsidised holidays to people who could not afford the fees that were still out of reach of those most disadvantaged.

The Co-operative Holidays Association committee began to aim its advertising at the middle-class rather than the working-class. The advertisement at the head of this post dates from 1927. Believing that the Co-operative Holidays Association was heading away from his ideals and wanting to spread his vision still further on the international stage, Leonard distanced himself from it to start another, back-to-basics, organisation- The Holiday Fellowship.

A group photograph of a happy bunch of people enjoying a weeks holiday with the Co-operative Holiday Association at Grasmere in 1958

A group photograph of a happy bunch of people enjoying a weeks holiday with the Co-operative Holidays Association at Grasmere in 1958. Few, if any, of these would have been working class and the organisation had by this time moved away from its roots

Referred to simply as the ‘CHA’, there were now as many women as men attending their holidays and despite fraternising between the sexes being slightly frowned upon, particularly amongst unmarried youngsters, there were those who referred to the organisation as the ‘Catch a Husband Association’!

The Co-operative Holidays Association was renamed Countrywide Holidays Association in 1964, operated independently until 2002 and stopped providing holidays the same year.

Leonard himself wasn’t finished with organised outdoors activity. The CHA had been encouraging youngsters in to the outdoors from early on, decades before the Youth Hostel Association and Leonard was involved in the formation of the YHA, standing as its first vice-president. He was president of the Ramblers Association from 1935-46. He founded the Friends of the Lake District in 1934 and worked with a number of different organisations increasing access to the outdoors and holidays for the poor or disadvantaged. He was made an OBE in 1937 and died in Conway in 1965. There is a memorial plaque, now by-passed by a redirected path, on Catbells, near Keswick in the Lake District. On this, Leonard is hailed as the-

founder of co-operative and communal holidays

and

“father” of the open-air movement in this country

There is a timeline of many of the most important or influential UK outdoor organisations over on my main website. I will occasionally write on a few more of these over the coming months.

Austrian stamp

Organised outdoor activity in the UK- Friends of Nature

The Friends of Nature was founded in Vienna in 1895. Variously known as Naturfreunde / Naturefriends / Amis de la Nature in Europe and USA, it is an organisation with enjoyment of the outdoors at its heart. Emerging with the burgeoning Social Democratic movement, it sought to link people and countryside by facilitating travel and accommodation. Buildings were taken over or built. In other places simple huts sufficed. These provided affordable accommodation for people walking the mountains and countryside. They continue to do the same today.

Georg Schmiedl was a socialist, free thinker and teacher. He placed an advert in a Vienna newspaper inviting like minded people to found a touristic group. There were some thirty interested people, including  Alois Rohrauer and Karl Renner (future President of Austria). They had their first meeting on 28 March 1895 and a founding committee was formed.
The first clubhouse opened in Vienna in December 1900, the first Swiss and German groups formed in 1905. By 1920 there were over 20,000 members and a group had been formed in England by 1925. Banned by the Nazis in 1933, the organisation was revived following the Second World War.

Three Points of the Compass stayed at the Friend of Nature Eco camping barn while completing the North Downs Way in 2017

Three Points of the Compass stayed at the Friends of Nature Eco-camping barn while completing the North Downs Way in 2017

Simple overnight accommodation at the Ec-camping barn, Puttenham

Simple overnight accommodation at the Friends of Nature Eco-camping barn, Puttenham, on the North Downs Way

One of the largest non-governmental organisations in the World, the organisation now has over 500,000 members in 47 countries yet its impact in the UK has been relatively small. There are over 800 houses in Europe, USA and elsewhere yet at the time of writing, Friends of Nature UK lists only eight houses affiliated to Naturefriends International. These are mostly run by volunteers and pre-booking is advisable. All are situated in great walking locations and are in considerable demand. When Three Points of the Compass completed the Pennine Way in 2018 there were few accommodation options in Kirk Yetholm. The Friends of Nature hostel, also affiliated to Hostelling Scotland, was a great place to finish.

Kirk Yetholm hostel, 13th July 2018, end of the Pennine Way

Kirk Yetholm hostel, 13th July 2018, end of the Pennine Way

Prior to writing this blog I had a brief search to investigate which of the eight houses affiliated to Friends of Nature I had passed, seen or stayed at. I was surprised to find that I have actually stayed at four of them, half of their UK total. That is perhaps testament to how well situated they are in walking hot-spots. Though I had actually camped at two of these- Wetherdown Lodge and Court Hill Centre.

Three Points of the Compass camped at the Friends of Nature Court Hill Centre, Wantage, while walking the Ridgeway in 2016

Three Points of the Compass camped at the Friends of Nature Court Hill Centre, Wantage, while walking the Ridgeway in 2016

At both of the Friends of Nature locations where I camped, I was able to make good use of washing, drying and basic kitchen facilities. Always a boon for a hiker after a day of rain, as it was on both occasions.

Camping in the grounds of the Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way in November 2018

Camping in the grounds of the Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way in November 2018

In 2016/17/18 Three Points of the Compass stayed at:

Court Hill Centre, Oxfordshire on Ridgeway

Puttenham Eco Camping Barn, Surrey on North Downs Way

Kirk Yetholm hostel at the northern end of the Pennine Way

Wetherdown Lodge, the Sustainability Centre, Hampshire on the South Downs Way

There is a timeline of many of the most important or influential UK outdoor organisations over on my main website. I will be covering a number of these later in the year. Do have a glance at the list and see where today’s organisation fits in, you may even be able to suggest a glaring omission to the list!

English language leaflet, 2012

English language leaflet, 2012

Friends of Nature UK