A Short History of Swaledale Outdoor Club

The Club was formed on 12 November 1966 at a meeting of 14 outdoor enthusiasts held at the Oak Tree Inn in Richmond. It was initially known as Swaledale Outdoor Centre and its purpose was to encourage and provide outdoor activities in the Yorkshire Dales area. It was intended to acquire a headquarters hence the word Centre.

The initial activities promoted were:

Skiing - Portable tows were originally used behind the George and Dragon at Hudswell, on Westfields Richmond, at Satronside near Gunnerside, and at Arkengarthdale. In 1972 resources were pooled with the Glaxo Ski Club of Barnard Castle and the Harwood Ski Federation was formed with a tow on Harwood Common some five miles west of Langdon Beck. In 1977 the Long Gill Ski Club, formed by local people in the Middleton in Teesdale area became the third club to join the Federation. In June 1988 the Harwood Ski Federation became a limited company.

Fell walking – Most walks were originally local and about ten miles in length. Camping weekends were held further afield in the Lakes, Scotland and North Wales. In 1973 Hut Weekends started first within the Yorkshire Dales and later the Lake District.  A wider variety of walks including shorter family walks and longer walks were added to the programme and in 1970 SOC developed the Swale Watershed walk – an unsupported 60 mile test of endurance to be attempted during the winter months.

Rock climbing – From initial climbs in the Dales the climbing section expanded to the North of England from Derbyshire to Northumberland with occasional forays into North Wales and Scotland. Winter mountaineering became common in Scotland and in the last decade expeditions have taken place across the World.  

The following activities were added later:

Canoeing – Starting in 1968 canoeing was devoted to cruising on rivers and lakes. White water racing became popular and beginners’ classes were held for many years on a Saturday morning on the Swale. Richmond School and SOC jointly organised some slaloms locally. Sea canoeing was also developed. The Swale Charity Paddle was started by SOC in 1985 and ran every year until 2008 when easier access and a run of unreasonably low water levels meant that it was no longer a useful service to the paddling community (the event was cancelled in 2009 when it was far too low to run). A large number of paddlers attended over the years and many thousands of pounds were raised for various charities. The section is now very active in both white water and on the sea, but no longer involved in competition.

Cycling – Began in 1976. As well as day rides the Cycling Section organised regular weekend and longer tours.

Caving/Potholing – There was some activity in 1969 but Caving was not officially established until 1977.

Mountain Biking – This developed from off-road excursions on road bikes to informal occasional mountain bike rides in the mid to late 1990’s to a fully fledged Mountain Bike section in 2001.

Fell Running – In 1979 the Club started the Swaledale Marathon. Approximately 130 participants took part in the first marathon. It quickly grew to its present level of 550 entries at which it has been maintained for many years to avoid problems of footpath erosion and overloading of local resources. The Marathon starts and finishes in Reeth and is about 24 miles in length with about 3,000 feet of ascent.

Orienteering – This became an official section of SOC in 2009 and was disbanded in 2017.

Social Activities – The Club has deliberately not created a social membership category but from the beginning has believed that social events are important in bringing sections together.

Every year we hold a Dinner Dance – these have been held since the inauguration of the Club and include a ceilidh and the award of trophies. For many years they were held at Bolton Castle in Wensleydale but after the Castle dance room was converted into a museum the Dinner Dances reverted to local hotels. In 2009 we used Richmondshire Cricket Club for the first time.

Other events have included: ceilidhs; folk music nights; slide shows; barbecues; jazz nights; disco nights; theme evenings; indoor and outdoor games evenings; hut weekends; club camps; and club relay events involving all activities.

The Club has also organised a number of fund raising events particularly to finance the purchase and conversion of the Clubhouse. Originally these took the form of jumble sales and bring and buy sales of used equipment. In 1977 and 1978 the Club organised “It’s a Knockout” events as part of the Richmondshire Festival.  Since 1979 the Swaledale Marathon has been a major contributor to Club Funds and replaced the need for other fund-raising activities.

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