Youth Club: Adolescence and Hiking

I was about fourteen when I heard there was a Youth Club on Saturday nights at the Congregational church. I don’t remember how I found out about it, but Robert and I went along.

The Club had been started by Barry Richardson, a former Scout Leader, and was run by a committee of its own members, without adult supervision. Neil Spencer and John Parker were leader and deputy respectively. We occupied the large hall, which then had a balcony, and we had access to the kitchen for soft drinks. The evening started with ball games for the males in the hall, and I joined in despite the huge size and strength of the other participants. After that came ballroom dancing: Barn Dance, Progressive Barn Dance, Veleta, St Bernard’s Waltz, Military Two Step, Gay Gordons, Schottische, Square Tango, and Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Excuse-Me Dances. The techniques and the girls were far beyond me.

One Saturday night we held a public dance. Who should walk through the door but Cappo, now a working man-about-town. He came across to me and Robert to flaunt his superior status, and we all sat together on the sidelines. I noticed Cappo couldn’t take his eyes off an attractive girl as she danced round the floor. She smiled each time she passed us, and she was standing close by when the next dance was announced. I pushed Cappo to his feet, turned to the girl and said, ‘He wants to dance with you.’ Cappo stepped forward, they went into hold, and they danced away, and that was the last I saw of my old Patrol Leader for many a day. They got married, and later he was elected to the Council and became Mayor, but he never even thanked me for the part I played in his success. What more can I say about the man who taught me to swear so volubly that I caught a stinging blow from Dad’s hand and a warning as to my future conduct?

Back then I was stuck in the painful rut of adolescence, and life was greatly improved by having the Youth Club. The transition from child to adult progressed: nipping outside for a smoke; wearing more grown-up clothes. I also found that dancing with the girls started to feel a little easier.

The Club was developing at the same time. It moved to Friday nights, and Neil arranged midnight hikes on some Saturdays. Mostly we walked from town, and occasionally we caught the last bus for Harrogate and got off at Spacey Houses to walk back via Almscliffe Crag. Neil’s nocturnal ascent of a chimney on the north face came close to disaster, his sprained ankle being a lucky escape after a fall onto an unyielding gritstone boulder. That was one occasion when he didn’t join in the dawn game of touch rugby in Wharfemeadows Park, where early anglers rubbed disbelieving eyes at our mad antics.

Neil next organised day hikes. The first of these took place on Sunday 12th March 1961 when we took the bus to Bolton Abbey, walked through the Valley of Desolation, and crossed the moor to clamber onto the rocky top of Simon’s Seat, one of the skyline features that Dad had shown me years earlier from the top of the Chevin. Gazing up Wharfedale, I realised my boundaries had been extended again.

At Bolton Abbey Toll Bridge, 12th March 1961
At Bolton Abbey Toll Bridge, 12th March 1961
Back: Alma Lucas, Don Marston, Nancy, June Wise, Caroline, Robert Ledger, Pam Ramsey, Carol, Paddy Spencer, Tony Roberts
Middle: Sandra Illingworth, Neil Spencer, Christopher Howard
Front: Dave Vowles, Pete Stott, Peter Wardman, John Parker, Dave Austin

Thereafter the Club made regular Sunday sorties into the countryside around Otley. We seldom ventured over the hill into Airedale, except when skirting Ilkley Moor en route to Dick Hudson’s, the famous pub that attracted so many hikers, cyclists and, latterly, motorists for teas and ham and eggs. On our side of the Chevin, however, the broad austerity of Askwith and Denton Moors, the rocks of Almscliffe Crag and Little Almscliffe, the narrow confines of the Washburn Valley, and the wide expanse of Wharfedale, all felt the tread of our boots and heard the sound of our joshing, laughter and songs.

Most hikes started and ended outside the Congregational church, where the Club was based. Physically based, that is, rather than spiritually: not everybody was a church-goer. While we innocently enjoyed the great outdoors, the table tennis, snooker and dancing, it was drawn to Neil’s attention that some members of the church felt our Youth Club membership should be conditional on church attendance. At first this looked like bursting our bubble: hikes started at 0930h, not at noon after a morning of hymns, prayers and sermons. What was to happen?

Once our initial protests had stilled, we heard the eminently sensible proposal that we should attend evening service. So the following week we trooped in at 1800h, still dressed in hiking boots and anoraks, our rucksacks on our shoulders, and we filled the north transept – which caretaker ‘Old’ Bill Vance called ‘the calf ‘ole’ - and we joined in with lusty singing.

Reactions from the traditionally attired church members were, I understand, somewhat varied. On the one hand, we were turning up. On the other hand, our behaviour was perhaps a little less reverent than they might have wished. They didn’t seem to appreciate that some of us had to finish our homework as well as our packed lunches. What else could we have done?

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