Alumni Memories: 'The Open Air Club' by Ernie Savage

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The OAC (Open Air Club), now known as OAC Gold, reunited in Sedbergh, Yorkshire Dales in 2021

Our University days are full of some of the greatest achievements and most treasured memories of our lifetimes. In the next of our 'Alumni Memories' series, alumnus Ernie Savage (BA Hons Geography 1962) shares the joy of University societies, as many members from the Open Air Club (OAC) of his time continue to meet as the 'OAC Gold' - still going strong 60 years on!

"But Ernie, surely you aren’t a member of the Open Air Club? Isn’t that a rather immoral organisation?”, I was questioned by another resident of Rathbone Hall, where I was a student in the early 1960s. It was partly the name. Some believed it was a nudist organisation, or worse. When it was founded as a rambling and climbing club in the 1930s, the name reflected healthy ideas of living typical of the time.

In the 1960s there was a satirical programme on BBC1 called Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life. In many ways this seemed to describe the OAC. In part it was an ordinary club for those outdoor activities, but it was much more. It was a very friendly group and many met their life partners there. In addition to organised hikes and youth hostelling or camping weekends, and the social event held on Fridays during term time, many of us also met for lunch in the Students’ Union and even had breaks from our studies in the Cohen Library to have coffee and a chat in the Union.

It was an exceptionally well-supported society; on a few weekends two coaches were needed to take over a hundred students to one of the National Parks and that was when there were only about a sixth of the number of students that the university has today.

I can recall one Sunday hike when standing on Ashurst Beacon, a 172m hill about 30km from Liverpool, and looking back I could count perhaps fifty intrepid ramblers emerging from the mist to gain the summit, on a hike which ended on Ormskirk railway station. It was a chilly day and we had a short wait for the train so naturally we did an ‘Eightsome Reel’ on the platform – there was a considerable overlap between us and the Folk Dance Society after all!

Few of us were Scottish, but we organised a few days in a Highland Youth hostel for Hogmanay and then we celebrated our release from study with the post exam trip to the Lake District or one of the other National Parks.

It was all too good to say a final "goodbye" to, so some of us began to arrange to meet after graduation. At one point it was advertised as OAPOAC… we were in ours 20s at the time! We now style ourselves OACGOLD. At first pre-children, some of our weekends were in hotels though for many years camping was the norm, but there was a feeling that in our old age we would prefer a little more comfort. Most recently we have discovered HF and have had stays in several of their country houses.

Last October, 24 of us spent a much postponed and rearranged five days at their house in Sedbergh, in the Yorkshire Dales and in the spring, we had a six-day break in Dolgellau. Some were able to reach the summit of Cadair Idris, others contented themselves with valley walks. All of us enjoyed good food, pleasant company and some shared memories, which now stretch over sixty years!"

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