MOUNTAINS – or even hills of any magnitude – are pretty few and far between in Oxfordshire.
But that has not stopped the Oxford Mountaineering Club (OMC) from forging onwards and upwards since it was founded by an Oxford factory worker in 1962.
Bob Brown, 77, was just back from a spot of rock climbing in Spain when I interviewed him for his piece.
He was working at Cowley’s Pressed Steel factory when he was persuaded Oxford needed its own mountaineering club.
He said: “In 1962, Walters Men’s Shop in Turl Street started selling camping and mountaineering equipment and, as a climber, I went in to have a look.
“I was asked if there was a climbing club in Oxford and I said: “No, except for the university”, so the suggestion was made that I should form one.
“The shop manager said he would ask anyone who came in to leave names and addresses if they were interested and when we had a dozen or so names we all met after hours in Walters to form a committee.”
OMC adopted The Cherwell Hotel at Cutteslowe as its regular meeting place and started planning its first climbing trip – or ‘meet’ – in The Ogwen Valley in North Wales.
One of the club’s most important milestones was securing its own ‘hut’, which was actually an empty farmhouse near Pentrevoelas, just off the A5 on the way into Wales.
Mr Brown said: “In the early days we camped, but the hut was leased to start with for 21 years, with certain levels of restoration having to be carried out every threre years. Things like installing water and electricity had to be done and we did it ourselves.”
“From that point on it was a case of out of work on Friday night and off to Wales.”
The club still has its hut and rents it out to other climbers when they are not using it.
Mr Brown said: “A sort of creche was also formed with members sharing child minding duties so they could take turns climbing.”
He eventually moved to Scotland to teach climbing but remains proud of the club he started.
Now in its 50th year, OMC has a membership of more than 100 mountaineers, climbers and hill walkers mostly in the Oxford area.
President Peter Devlin, 53, from Long Wittenham, said: “The club is pretty much equally split between walkers and climbers and we have a very active meets schedule (approximately two a month), all over the UK and abroad too.
“The OMC is a bunch of people who basically share a love of the outdoors – and evenings together in the pub.
“Our 50th anniversary is a great achievement and we will be celebrating with a special dinner in Oxford on September 22.
“We’d love for former members to come along too, and we’d also like to hear from people who have photos and reports which we can add to our history.”
For more information on the OMC see oxfordmc.org.uk or call Peter Devlin on 07785 971 894.
Former chairman found love at summit
JAN Fraser was there at the start of the OMC – and has it to thank for introducing her to her second husband.
Now 75 and living in Fyfield, Mrs Fraser said: “I was 27 when the club was formed. My first husband worked at Pressed Steel with Bob Brown and because we liked hill walking we agreed to get involved.
“I had a small son and another on the way on the night of that first meeting. My friends and family thought I was mad getting involved with a mountaineering club, but I loved walking and pretty soon I got bitten by the rock climbing bug too.
“I met my second husband Steve Fraser (now 64) when he joined the club a little later. He was a post grad scholar from Oxford University and during one meeting in Wales, he and a mate said they were off to climb a north-facing mountain on a cold and blowy day.
“I advised them against it, but they went anyway and to cut a long story short I was the one who ended up calling search and rescue for them. They were found sitting on a ledge, quite safe.
“After my divorce, Steve and I got together and continued to climb, until we stopped when we were in our 50s.”
Mrs Fraser is a former chairman of the OMC and has organised high-profile lectures at Oxford Town Hall, featuring climbers such as Chris Bonnington and Doug Scott.