The importance of rock climbing and hill walking at school
The ‘Third Form School Journey’ was an important tradition at Aske’s. It took place at the beginning of the summer term before concentrated work for GCE ‘O’ levels in the 4th year. It lasted for two weeks spent in outdoor and other educational pursuits. In my year we went to Scotland staying at a residential hotel in Rhu, Dumbartonshire, on the edge of the Trossachs. An important element of the two weeks was hill walking and we climbed to the top of Ben Lomond and Ben Arthur and numerous other small peaks.
At Aske’s there were many after school and lunchtime clubs. Consequent upon our hill walking experiences in Scotland a group of boys, of which I was one, with the support of a teacher, formed a new one ‘The Explorers Club’. The first major trip was in the summer of the following year when 20 or so boys under the leadership of Mr Grant and Mr Gordon went to the Cairngorms in the central highlands of Scotland for two weeks. This was in the days before the encroachment of ski slopes and lifts on the north side. We took part in after-school physical training every week for months beforehand to get fit enough for the trip. At the end of the circuit training sessions we would take cold showers to accustom us to the rigours of camping in the highlands. At that time when we were camped near the southern entrance to the Lairig Ghru, the narrow glen that bisects the Cairngorms from south to north, we were 10 miles from the nearest road in any direction.
It was without doubt a wonderful life enhancing experience. To climb Angels Peak at the southern entrance to the Lairig Ghru by torchlight at night to watch the sunrise over the mountains was simply awe inspiring – there are not adequate words to describe it and I have never forgotten it. Fortune was on our side that night and dawn. We raced one another to the top of the conical peak, and then sweating heavily and cooling rapidly we sat and waited for the dawn. It came with a flash of orange across the horizon reflected off the sea of white morning mist ebbing and flowing in the valleys just below our vantage point and between the islands of black peaks all around us and beyond, Lochnagar to the south east and far away to the west through the clear morning air the peaks of the Cuillin on the Isle of Skye.
The whole two weeks were just sensational. Walking to the summit of Ben Macdhui in the driving rain soaked us through and through, despite our supposedly waterproof anoraks, and exposed us to some danger on the summit plateau which is surrounded by steep crags impossible to see in the thick mist. A few days later following up the rear of our group climbing Lochnagar by Black Spout Gulley I could have died when an enormous boulder across the whole width of the steep gulley was loosened by those in front and started to move downwards towards myself and my friend Colin ‘Bert’ Baker. Fortunately it stopped. After getting above it we gave it a shove and sent it thundering down the mountainside into the bottom of the corrie so that it could not be a hazard to any other climbers who might be trapped below it in the future. But other days were gloriously sunny and then the air was thick with midges which ate us alive. The result of those two weeks was a network of friendships that lasted for many years. At the end of the two weeks we trekked North out of the Cairngorms through the Lairig Ghru and the Rothiemurchus Forest to Aviemore to catch a train to take us home via Aberdeen.