Back to the Start: Youth Club Christmas Eve Hike and Party

For Christmas 1963 my story returns to my parents’ house, from which Dad led Mary and me on our earliest walks. Mum and Dad knew and liked our Youth Club friends, so when they heard we were planning a hike on Christmas Eve they asked if we’d like to invite everyone home. We said we’d like that. Mum, as ever, was on the ball with food, and Dad bought in some tins of beer.

The Youth Club rolled in with rosy cheeks and a whiff of booze from a brief visit to the Black Horse at Askwith. Dad seated himself in The Den and handed round his cigarettes to anyone who challenged him in philosophical and political discussion, while Mum stayed on duty in the kitchen, washing up and keeping everything in order. Late at night the gang dispersed, their rowdy seasonal good wishes disturbing dogs and waking young children throughout the neighbourhood.

A sample of our friends from the Youth Club c.1963
A sample of our friends from the Youth Club c.1963
Back: Phil Good, Lynne Jackson, Margaret Adam, Margaret Ballinghall
Centre: Mary Stott, Denise Parkington, Peter Stott
Front: Carole Barras, Jean Bellamy, Jane Sharp, Angela Sharp, Paddy Spencer, Robert Ledger

That Christmas marked the beginning of the end of my years with the Youth Club. So many other things were on my agenda: I was learning to drive; I was in my first year of ‘A’-levels; I was playing first team rugby at school; I could get served in pubs. I still attended Youth Club and went hiking, but my mind was elsewhere. I didn’t feel my future lay in Otley. I represented the first generation of Stotts who could choose to leave home and go to university, rather than being obliged to seek paid employment in their mid-teens. My thoughts were leading me away.

My final Lake District trip with the Youth Club came in 1964. I think the route took us first to Helvellyn Youth Hostel, from where we crossed Sticks Pass in a rainstorm and descended to the Kings Head at Thirlspot to dry out around its roaring fire. Anyone searching for a similarly warming experience today will be disappointed: a huge tourist-orientated motel occupies the site of the simple old pub with stone-flagged floor, where we grew very merry. We headed for Elterwater Youth Hostel, and next day we made our way north to Longthwaite. There we came to the rescue of four London girls who had nowhere to stay. They’d not pre-booked any accommodation, and that day they’d hiked from Wasdale in their kinky boots. We sniffed out a hay barn and chivalrously loaned them Youth Hostel blankets. For the final night of the tour we returned to Keswick, and that happened to be my last night with that excellent bunch of friends.

I turned eighteen years old, and my attendance at Youth Club fell away. Four years earlier, Robert and I used to nip outside or into the boiler room for a smoke, but now Paul ‘Punk’ Rhodes and I were calling into the Three Horse Shoes for a beer. During the ensuing year my Friday night allegiance switched from the Youth Club to the Red Lion, where the elderly sisters Kate and Ethel tolerated the presence of teenagers of almost legal age in their Snug.

At the start of October 1965 I was ready to become a geography student at Nottingham University. As I was leaving the Red Lion, Ethel came out from behind the bar and gave me a hug, to the accompaniment of good-natured jeers.

‘Don’t forget,’ she said to me as she pointed at my mates, ‘you’ll never have better friends than these.’

There followed a long intermission. It was many years before I returned to serious hiking.

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