Glenmore Lodge: 60 Years Involvement in Climbing and Mountaineering

© Liam Carver
Glenmore Lodge
© Glenmore Lodge

Glenmore Lodge: 60 Years Involvement in Climbing and Mountaineering

This month saw Glenmore Lodge, the Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre celebrate it's 60th Anniversary. To mark this occasion, last Saturday the 20th September, over 450 people, all of whom had a tangible link with 'The Lodge' over the past sixty years attended a celebratory dinner and ceilidh held in a huge marquee specially erected on the back lawn of The Lodge.

Glenmore Lodge had it's beginnings in 1947 during the days of rationing and post war austerity. Wartime travel restrictions on travel meant that the tourist board at the time were keen to attract people to the area. Coinciding with this the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR) at the instigation of the Scottish Education Department wanted to ascertain how feasible it was to run holiday courses in the Cairngorms. So Mrs May Brown, Secretary of the CCPR invited Group Captain Lord Malcolm Douglas Hamilton to lead the first pilot course in Easter 1947, which was run out of the original Glenmore Lodge (now the Cairngorm Youth Hostel). This first pilot was a success, so much so that the Scottish Education Department leased the Lodge from the Forestry Commission, and requested that the CCPR run courses based from the Lodge for an experimental period. This first series of courses began on the 31st July 1948 and Glenmore Lodge, the Scottish Centre of Outdoor Training, was officially opened by the Secretary of State for Scotland in September of that year so beginning sixty years of providing outdoor training.

Dougal Haston working as a voluntary instructor on a Glasgow Junior Girls course circa Oct 1962
© Liam Carver
However the origins of this concept dated to before the war in 1938 through the National Fitness Campaign, which was in turn inspired by the vision and ideas of Kurt Hahn of Gordonstoun (who was instrumental in the creation of Outward Bound). Lord Hamilton had led the first Keep Fit Summer School at Guisachan House in Glen Affric which was inspired by these ideas. In many respects, the views now being expressed by today's politicians that outdoor education, and undertaking activity in the outdoors is beneficial for young people, echo the views that inspired the establishment of these first pioneering courses.

It was fitting therefore that the first speaker to talk about the history and background of The Lodge was Dr John Berkley, who was an instructor on one of the first courses held in Easter 1947. At the time Dr Berkley was a keen and experienced mountaineer with extensive experience of Scottish winter mountaineering. Amongst the instructors involved in this pioneer course was Dr Noel E Odell who had been a member of the British 1924 (The one on which Mallory and Irvine came to grief on their summit push) and 1938 Everest Expeditions.

‘Full Scottish’ conditions on a winter mountaineering course
© Glenmore Lodge
In many respects this course established links with the world of mountaineering and climbing to the more formal world of instruction. Although in these days regulatory bodies such as the HSE and AALS were far in the future, as were outdoor qualifications, all the staff who worked at the Lodge although not qualified in the sense they had a piece of paper saying they could do the job, were known as being competent. This was down to the simple fact that the climbing world was so small then that people were known by reputation. In addition to competence gained by experience these instructors working the first courses brought a passion and enthusiasm for the outdoors borne from their own climbing and mountaineering adventures.

It was interesting to see amongst all the people attending the birthday bash that there were a large number of climbers and mountaineers, many of whom have made their mark on the UK and world stage of climbing. When I was asked to write this I did not fully realise just how many well known and eminent climbers and mountaineers had been involved with Glenmore Lodge as either voluntary instructors, full time Instructors or on the Night watch trainee instructor scheme. Many of them are still alive and still very much active. Yet I suspect for many people this event will have triggered old emotions as the absence of friends long departed is never more keenly felt than at such gatherings.

In their way everyone has had an impact on both Glenmore Lodge and the climbing world, that I'm loathe to single out any particular names because I'm not sure how you can do that as all their contributions helped shape the Lodge, and in many respects British mountaineering.

George Reid models what the well dressed winter climber used and wore during the 1980s.
© Glenmore Lodge
Suffice to say that from these early days of courses many of the instructors who worked at the Lodge came from established Scottish based mountaineering and climbing clubs such as the Glasgow based Creag Dhu, the Edinburgh based Squirrels, and the Scottish Mountaineering Club.

I can pretty much guarantee that you can pick up any SMC climbing guidebook, leaf through the list of first ascents at the back of the book and be assured that at least 80% to 90% of these names have had some involvement with Glenmore Lodge. In the seventies many of the names associated with British alpinism on the world stage such as Dougal Haston, Pete Boardman and Gordon Smith (who I believe posts here on UKC) all worked at the Lodge. These are only a few of the names, so my apologies for those who I have not named. But as I said you can pretty much name any well known mountaineer from around this period and later, and chances are they had worked at the Lodge or at least had dossed there with someone who did!

Another one of the speakers, Liam Carver who had been one of the early Principles of the Lodge, and who allegedly and according to Sammy Crymble (another speaker and a past Lodge Instructor) introduced snow holing to the Glenmore Lodge programme. This was after a trip to Norway to attend a mountain rescue course there. So snow holes and snow holing found it's way onto the Glenmore Lodge programme. Now snow holing used to be one of these activities that we did a lot more of at The Lodge. In fact so popular was it that there used to be an award for the Instructor who had done the most snow holes – The Golden Shovel. So the identification of the person who introduced this enjoyable activity was appreciated by all instructors, past and present at the birthday bash!

As well as celebrating 60 Years it was also an opportunity to wish Tim Walker, who has been involved with Glenmore Lodge for nigh on thirty years, the last thirteen as principal, good luck as he moves on to pastures new.

After this it was down to the serious and enjoyable business of catching up and chatting with old friends, enjoying the athletic challenges of a round of raucous ceilidh dancing to the sounds of SMUID, and partaking of a small libation or three. At six thirty in the morning, following best Lodge tradition, the dancing was still going strong.

View of the 60th Celebrations Gathering at Glenmore Lodge
© Glenmore Lodge
After celebrating sixty years of outdoor training and adventure at The Lodge it is tempting to think where Glenmore Lodge will be in sixty years. In many respects the concepts Glenmore Lodge was initially founded on were born out of the maelstrom of two world wars. In the intervening sixty years British society has changed beyond measure. In his introduction to “Cairngorm Adventure at Glenmore Lodge” Lord Malcolm Douglas Hamilton published in 1952 wrote –“For a long time our Nation has been becoming over-urbanised, with too many young people brought up in an atmosphere of town without having the opportunity of developing those qualities of mind, spirit and body which country life encourages...” Although to 21st Century ears these words sound somewhat old fashioned now, the sentiments behind them are I would suspect why we go out onto the hills, mountains and crags to pursue our own adventures.

On the world stage issues now exist that challenge us all on a variety of levels. Some such as climate change potentially threaten our very survival as a species. All these issues will affect both our own climbing and how Glenmore Lodge provides outdoor adventures and training for future generations of outdoors people. What I am convinced of is that Glenmore Lodge and climbing will continue to go hand in hand for the next sixty years.

George McEwan

Head of Mountaineering - Glenmore Lodge

Click to visit the Glenmore Lodge Website

george mc
About George McEwan:

George has been climbing and mountaineering for over twenty years. In that time he has put up numerous first ascents both in the UK, Europe and Nepal.

He has climbed mostly in the French Alps around Mount Blanc, both summer and winter. Also climbed in New Zealand Alps. Expedition to Langtang Valley, Nepal 1st ascent of the North Ridge North face Naya Kanga 1989. Second British Expedition to Tien Shan for attempt on South Face of Khan Tengri 1993. 1999 trip to Alaska to attempt Nettle - Quirk route on Mt Huntington, then West Ridge of Mt Hunter.

In the past few years his climbing has focussed primarily on waterfall ice climbing, with this passion taking him to Canada, Colorado, France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland.

His professional career has spanned fourteen years during which he has worked for Outward Bound, and for the past ten years with Scotland's premier National Outdoor Training Glenmore Lodge where he currently works as a Senior Instructor.

Although actively involved in all forms of climbing from bouldering through to ice climbing, George's primary passion is steep water ice.

More information Glenmore Lodge Website

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