As a very new Association member but a very old Southendian, it was fascinating to read on joining last year, the first magazine I had seen in years – in fact ever since I left in 1955. I wondered what memories it would trigger and certainly the obituary of Paul Green did just that, helping me remember those days in the School Choir and Elizabethan Singers that we spent together.
But what really started the little grey cells moving were the many references to school trips and expeditions in the magazine. For it made me realise that in fact it’s sixty years this summer since I was part of what I think was the schools very first trip after the war – the 1954 Expedition to North Wales, long before Health and Safety Regulations or Risk Assessments.
It was organised primarily by John (aka Wally) Allen, assisted by Mr Adcock (can’t remember his first name!). We were based at Bangor University with a coach from Southend as our main means of transport. Holidaying in North Wales with my wife last summer, accidently brought us around the same area and I can recall the debates with the driver as to whether we would get the coach through the small archways into Conway as we were doing, but he always did!
Bear in mind that there was no list of specialist clothing or footwear for us to obtain, we just had our normal clothing and shoes. But plastic macs were ‘in’ at the time, which helped. This was particularly so for our trek up Snowdon. WJA had scheduled a practice scramble up a smaller mount which we all completed, even though someone lost their plastic mac which had to be retrieved. But this gave us the taste for the actual ‘climb’.
We used the Pyg Track and all achieved the summit even though I seem to remember the mist did its best to put us off and we had to take care not to miss the edge! No special clothes, just our macs – including plastic. Ordinary shoes in the most part, although I had scrounged my Dad’s TA boots, which with no studs, had little to recommend them. But the spirit of adventure brought us through – safely!
The more hair-raising day was our visit to Betws-y-Coed and the Swallow Falls. We learned there was a public footpath on one side of the river, properly established and wide, but requiring a fee. But our intrepid leaders had spotted on their OS maps, that there was a small footpath on the opposite bank which was hardly apparent but had the advantage of costing nothing. So we set out on that, I can’t remember in which direction we went but the track got narrower and higher. There was no room to pass each other and the roaring river could be seen through the branches of the bushes and trees which also seemed toned to cling to the bank below us. But again we made it, with a great sense of satisfaction, although how Messrs A & A actually felt was not obvious. That trip would never had been allowed if Health and Safety, Risk assessments, or qualified leaders would have been required then.
But apart from the adventuresome aspects, it was also an educational opportunity and we visited the Mostyn Iron Works (I think it was called) and they put on a
show for us by tapping the furnace and we watched the molten iron run out into the channels to make the pig iron. For boys from the seaside, this was something really different. Heavy industry was only something we heard about and had never experienced before.
Also included in the week I think was a crossing to the Isle of Man but my recollections of that are not so clear. In fact, memories such as I’ve had are really
something of a miracle after sixty years, so if there are any other members of that expedition still around, maybe they can fill in the gaps. Whilst that trip may not seem as ambitious as some of today’s trips, it was nevertheless for its day a great eye-opener and instilled in me a sense of adventure which certainly hasn’t left me and has been further developed as I have worked in various developed and undeveloped areas around the world.
Gerald R Peacock (Athens, 1950–55)