/ INTERVIEW: Reading Between the Lines - Gwen Moffat

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UKC Articles - on 28 Jun 2017
Gwen Moffat in the Lake District, 3 kbAs Britain's first female mountain guide, Gwen Moffat never chose the well-travelled or familiar path in life. A free-spirited, barefoot-climbing vagabond with no interest in adhering to traditional gender roles of the 40s and 50s, Gwen's quasi-existentialist attitude gave her life purpose in a variety of ways in order to fund her climbing travels around the UK and European Alps: as a driver and dispatch rider in the Army, a forester, winkle-picker, helmswoman, artist's model, mountain guide and writer.

Natalie Berry interviews 93 year old Gwen about her climbing, writing and reading, as someone who has managed to fit in a fair amount of all three throughout her long life of adventures.



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planetmarshall on 28 Jun 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Fantastic.

By this you mean the best writing where people have a grounding in correct English, take care with words and communicate simply. Too much current writing is pseudo: transcendental, narcissistic, often careless, sometimes sloppy. The ability to publish one's own stuff, cheaply, to put it on-line with even greater ease, has produced an infinity of DIY authors.

Harsh, but true I think. But then if Dan Brown and his awful prose can sell millions of copies, I can't really blame equally mediocre talents for thinking they can write.
Greenbanks - on 28 Jun 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Excellent stuff. I greatly enjoyed her 'Itching to Climb' a few years ago.

BTW, I also followed the link to 'The Climbers' - this seems like a 'must have' book for anyone interested in the history of our game (in its broadest sense) and in photography.
grunon - on 28 Jun 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Thrilled to know she is still alive. I still have my copy of Space below my feet, and it deserves reading again after all these years. Well worth seeking out a copy for a glimpse of a very different world. Remarkable woman.
Tony Jones - on 28 Jun 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

I spent much of this morning on a train reading a "A Space Below My Feet'. I am overjoyed to hear that Gwen Moffat still retains much of the spirit so evident in the book.
Sean Kelly - on 28 Jun 2017
In reply to Greenbanks:

> BTW, I also followed the link to 'The Climbers' - this seems like a 'must have' book for anyone interested in the history of our game (in its broadest sense) and in photography.

Yes, I got side-tracked by the Jim Herrington link. Looking forward to seeing that, but it all depends on the writing that accompanies the photographs.
GM certainly had an interesting life. In one of here books (2* Red?) she writes brilliantly about walking up to the CIC hut as the weather takes a change for the worse. That feeling and sense of being lost and panic beginning to set in is a riveting read.
whispering nic - on 28 Jun 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Fascinating thanks Nat!
vallorcine - on 29 Jun 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Thanks, Natalie, for continuing to pursue an editorial vision for UKC that raises the content above "news" and highlights the richness of climbing as something much more than an activity

Mark Kemball - on 29 Jun 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Thanks for this article, GM has always been one of my climbing heros (read her books as a kid).
mpparsons - on 29 Jun 2017
In reply to Greenbanks:

> Excellent stuff. I greatly enjoyed her 'Itching to Climb' a few years ago.

> BTW, I also followed the link to 'The Climbers' - this seems like a 'must have' book for anyone interested in the history of our game (in its broadest sense) and in photography.

'Itching to Climb' was written by Barbara James.
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Greenbanks - on 29 Jun 2017
In reply to mpparsons:

Of course, you are quite correct. Stupid error. GM's book I read much earlier than that.
Colin Scotchford - on 29 Jun 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Inspiring read. Couldn't help noticing though that 'La Belle Dame sans Merci' is Keats not Tennyson. Looks like I remembered something from O level English Lit!
pneame on 29 Jun 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great interview - she was a bit of an idol when I started climbing and she is still impressive.
Curiously, I don't seem to have ever read "Space Below my Feet". I'll have to remedy that.
Mick Ward - on 30 Jun 2017
In reply to pneame:

Please do read it - it's an utter delight.

Mick
alex - on 30 Jun 2017
In reply to

At the risk of a blatant plug. For those that haven't seen it, Operation Moffat, the BMC TV film about the life of Gwen, is available on SteepEdge and Vimeo:

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/bmc-tvs-operation-moffat-swarming-to-a-screen-near-you


pneame on 30 Jun 2017
In reply to Mick Ward:

> Please do read it - it's an utter delight.

The joys of instant gratification in the modern world! On Kindle - now on my various eDevices. Now being read (as I write). She really has a lovely writing style.
And her second climbing day is one of my all-time favourite things to do: the N. Ridge of Tryfan. Joy!
Mick Ward - on 30 Jun 2017
In reply to pneame:

She way she discovers the bohemian lifestyle - and then climbing - quite by accident and yet both are absolutely right for her. The bohemian guy, not really a climber, taking her up a route on Lliwedd - that's pretty adventurous. And then the north ridge of Tryfan - doesn't she see the lights of a car speeding by, far below, imagine another world of luxury, a world for others, not her?

She beautifully catches the sense of being different, of not fitting into the quotidian and then magically finding the lifestyle that's right for her. The golden summer, never to be repeated, when grades seem to dissolve and you move so confidently through them. And then parenthood, the conflict between responsibility and a peripatetic lifestyle.

Her daughter Sheena took barefoot climbing into another realm, reputedly leading the boldest route I've ever done. I might have had the odd manky wire; a decade earlier, she'd have had nothing, apart from the not very far in at all peg of death. Total commitment - a 'belay' which would never hold the kind of fall you'd take. Only two UKC logbook entries for this one (both in 1974). And the chilling comment: 'A truly character deforming experience.'

Gwen Moffat and Sheena Moffat - two very different (I suspect) but equally remarkable ladies.

Mick



Mark Kemball - on 30 Jun 2017
In reply to Mick Ward:

Which route is that Mick?
Mick Ward - on 30 Jun 2017
In reply to Mark Kemball:

Tabula Rosa, Langcliffe Quarry. As far as I know, the old trad routes on the main wall at Langcliffe weren't checked for several guidebooks (too dangerous?) I've always wondered whether the looseness was superficial and could have been banished by careful cleaning from an ab rope. There's a note on the UKC logbook re the only other route I did there, The Corner, which says it's been cleaned and is OK now. So maybe some (all?) of the looseness is superficial.

I think Tabula Rosa used to get plain VS - they don't give away much in Yorkshire! John Lumb suggested E3 5a. But no grade can do justice. There was a continual horror of knowing that any hold could (and really should!) snap and, if it did, both leader and second were dead. I accept compared to watching Dave Thomas on Breakaway, it's the square route of nothing, but enough to give me the vapours!

In the late 1960s Sheena Moffat's climbing star burned very brightly indeed. She must have been the best female climber in the country. She dated a young man whose climbing star would also burn brightly - John Syrett.

Mick



John Stainforth - on 02 Jul 2017
In reply to Mick Ward:

Interesting article. I found it slightly strange that Gwen did not mention Sheena at all.
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Mick Ward - on 02 Jul 2017
In reply to John Stainforth:

The last time I read her mentioning Sheena was about fifty years ago.

Mick

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