Writings of Herbert Gatliff


An Article in The Southern Pathfinder, Easter 1932

 A Motto for the Club

Now that the Club is nearly a year old, it is time we chose a motto. Indeed we might even aspire to a coat of arms, such as “On a field of mud proper a Pathfinder couchant; supporters a pair of shorts improper and a club stove breathing fire. ” But if we put it on the Club notepaper, we shall have to take out a licence to use “armorial bearings” which costs a guinea a year, so we had better be content with a motto. The first that came to my mind was “Let us take the road. ” Those who know their Beggar’s Opera will remember that this is the first line of the Highwaymen’s marching song, and has a fine swinging tune that would be a joy to sing as we set out in the morning. But in these days the road is not often a pleasant place to walk on, and somehow “Let us take the path” sounds a little flat. Then too, if I am not mistaken, the original singers had drunk rather more freely than would be seemly for a Pathfinder and besides if we labelled ourselves as highwaymen, we might find it difficult to get even a cup of tea by the way.

Then I thought of another familiar line “Over the hills and far away. ” There is much magic for the rambler in those plain words. It has been said that the motor car has taken away all the true thrill of travel, which is to know full well that over the hills is indeed far away, but we ramblers know that the thrill, most of all perhaps when we begin to climb Colley Hill and Walton Heath into a keen north wind, lies beyond. And in this case too there is music ready to hand from the Beggar’s Opera. But the rest of the song is even more frivolous than the highwaymen’s chorus and would cause the irreverent to make even merrier at our expense.

So, looking for something a little more serious, I turned to Masefield’s early poems and ballads, whose very words sing of themselves without need of music, and hoped to find a motto there. For no words have expressed more poignantly the spirit of the wayfarer than

We travel from dawn to dusk, till the day is past and by.


Only the road and the dawn, the sun, the wind and the rain,

And the watchfire under the stars, and sleep and the road again.

Or in lighter vein (if it be the right song and the right singer).

Laugh and be merry, remember better the world with a song.


It’s good to be out on the road, and going one knows not where,

Going through meadow and village, one knows not whither nor why.

But lovely as all these are, perhaps they hardly bite as a good motto should; besides they also are songs of the road and not the path, and the last which is otherwise the best might suggest that we always get lost. So rather sadly I put away “Poems and Ballads. ”

And then I remembered a phrase I met in a book about the Sussex Downs. It was said of someone, “Oh, he’s gone cosy. He’s grown soft he cannot do without his overcoat and armchair, he has put away the adventure of youth and shut the windows and sits by the fireside. ” And that, I thought, is just what we ramblers try not to do. We will not shut the windows of life. As the old song says,

What care we for a goose feather bed

With the sheet turned down so bravely, oh,

To-night we will sleep in a cold open field

Along with the raggle-taggle gipsies, oh.

Of course we don’t take the last lines quite literally; for myself at any rate, while I have slept a good many nights in the open under the stars, it has been mostly on a camp bed with a comfortable spring mattress, and earwigs and spiders rather than raggle-taggle gipsies for company. But certainly from being much in the country and the open air we grow harder and tougher; we learn to lead a keener, simpler life than that of the town, to find our own way to go without things, to endure fatigue and sometimes a certain amount of hardship. Not that we lay claim to any heroic achievements. We have too much sense of fun for that; we know that our wildest adventures are very small beer by comparison with those of other places and times. Those who are young now have not, thank heaven, to pass through the fire of war like those who were young fifteen years ago. Not for us the supreme effort of climbing the Himalayas, or wintering alone in Greenland, or even such lesser adventures as jumping out of an aeroplane with a parachute or breaking the ice to swim in Keston Pond (except perhaps by accident). But we do learn to get away from the fireside and the armchair and the street lamp, not to lose ourselves in strange places, or better still to find ourselves when lost (for there is more joy over one pathfinder who loses his own way and finds it again, than over a score that have the way found for them), to stand together in difficulties, to greet the mud and the rain and the cold with a song, to be at home with the wind on the lonely heath, and the dark woods and the night sky and the stars. We learn not to “go cosy”.

And there is a “cosiness” of the mind as well as the body that the open-air life dispels. It is easy in the shelter of an urban civilisation, where so much is done for us, to surrender our minds to the machine and stop thinking for ourselves. It is easy to accept the mechanical routine of town life and the sounds and sights of the city, the office and the shop, to expect to find our pleasures ready made for us, to forget the open spaces of the world and how full of beauty and wonder they are, if we will but seek them out, and how the best happiness is only won by long continued effort. Hard walking in the quiet of the country opens the windows of the mind and lets in the wind to blow away the cobwebs. It helps our minds to think their own thoughts, just as our feet to find their own paths away from the street lamps and sign posts of custom and prejudice. Those who are at home with the countryside and the life of the earth and the open air will not go cosy in mind any more than in body. For how indeed shall youth go cosy beneath the stars?

So I do not think the Club can choose a better motto than “We won’t go cosy. ”

An Article in The Southern Pathfinder, Spring 1934

 The YHA – Some Memories and Hopes

For some of us I think the chief event of the Club’s last year has been our discovery of Youth Hostels. At first, perhaps, we were a little shy of this new thing. We thought it might set our feet on the way of Martha rather than Mary; our minds would be so full of stoves and frying-pans and double-decker beds that we should have no eyes for the midsummer sunset or the bloom on the birch copse in January. We were afraid, too, that it might weaken the common life of the Club – how could we hope to find in so great a multitude that spirit of intimate friendliness that is our joy and pride? But we remembered that our ideal is to teach all our members to find their own way across country; that we are not the less a family party if we go our several ways all day and gather again round the tea table or fire-side to tell each other of what we have seen and done. Then we felt sure that we should find in the YHA that spirit that we value in our own Club. We were not disappointed. And so it is that now I am trying to tell you, both those who are hostellers and those who are not as yet, a few of my memories of the YHA as it is, and my hopes of what it may become.

To me the very names of the hostels (save a few) are full of music and romance. Derwent Hall, Black Sail, Winchester, Lepham’s Bridge, Shottery, Maeshafn, Brendon, Dartmeet, to take a few almost at random – they are like a peal of church bells calling us over the hills and far away to the sea and the moorland and the mountains. My own memories are of but a few, eight only of the two hundred odd that have been opened in three years along the highways and byways of England. Of these there are two or three that live always in my mind.

First of all, the City Mill at Winchester, queen of London Region’s hostels. You may see it as you leave the city eastward, lying across the River Itchen just above the bridge, closing in your view upstream with its mellow brick walls and long roof of weather-worn tiles. But you actually come to it by a side door in a by-street, stumbling down a few steps into a shadowy passage-room. The common room, though, is light and lofty enough with its great open roof; this is the main mill building, lying right across the river. Down below, half underground, are the bath rooms; for your bath at Winchester is unique, the river runs through on either side, and when you want a bath (in summer at least) you take hold of a rope and step down into the mill race. You must not forget the rope; legend has it that someone was once swept out of his bath into the open stream, to the distress of the good people of Winchester. Or if you do not want to be so adventurous, you may step down into the little garden that lies upstream, parting the river in two almost like a boat, with a wealth of bright flowers down the middle, and on either hand flagged paths and low stone walls where you may sit and look at the evening sky and listen to the water.

Winchester is no place for those lone spirits that want only their own company. Even outside the holidays you will find many coming and going there and at Easter or Whitsun or in August there may be fifty or more. Over all Joey, best of wardens, rules with brisk understanding. Lights out is no empty command at Winchester. Gently but surely we are marshalled to bed; one or two of the more restless spirits murmuring maybe of the tyranny of woman, but obedient withal; no bedside gossip here; soon the voices of hostellers are stilled, and only the voice of the river goes on filling every comer and every minute.

A very different place is Nether Wallop. Remember first that it is neither Nether nor Wallop, but high on the open hills, three miles out by a road that runs right over the roof of the Downs unflinchingly into the south—west wind. It was a wet wind when we walked into it that July evening at an hour when I had hoped to be at supper. But at last we found the hostel, and in it that spirit of good cheer that befits a hostel whose warden is an old sailor. Soon we were passably dry and set to work to cook our supper from the ample stocks we had laid in from the grocer in the last village just as he was closing. The hostel (an old army hutment) is not a spacious one; indeed there is (or was) almost need of a notice “Cooking facilities for thin hostellers and small eggs only. ” Still we fed well and slept well, and next morning were well rewarded for our wetting: the rain-washed air was keen like wine, and full of the golden sparkle of sunrise in an unclouded sky, and all around us the long soft sweep of the hills.

Another hostel that will always live in my mind is Lepham’s Bridge. We came to it, a party of fifteen, after twenty-five miles’ walking on that August bank holiday Sunday when the heat was beyond ninety in the shade. Hour after hour we had walked on in the hot, fresh sunshine, regretful that we could find no lake to bathe in, but still cheerful, and in the fading evening light as the air grew cool and large and quiet and a light mist rose on the streams, we came over Ashdown Forest and by valley and woodland, stumbling at last in the dim twilight away from the path through a copse and field to the hostel. There we found a scene almost, one felt, as it must have been in the days when the pilgrims went to Canterbury. By the glimmer of oil lamps we could see hostellers crowded on every bench, drinking tea and eating tomatoes and eggs and cheese – there was hardly space to cook or eat anything more elaborate – and in the doorway Mr. Martin handing out blankets and stores. Somehow we found our sleeping quarters – we latecomers were put on stretchers in the bam – and our supper. And when we were fed and rested a little, Mrs. Martin came in and played, and we sang fitfully and not very tunefully maybe, but with our hearts full of the afterglow of sunset. Some of the old songs, one above all, Annie Laurie, I shall never forget; it was one of those rare moments when time stands still. And so to bed in the barn.

I hope I may go to Lepham’s again many times. It will never be one of those neat and orderly places dear to committees. You cannot expect the mechanical perfections of a Lyons Comer House in a range of outbuildings grouped round a farmyard, where you fetch water from a pump and when the kitchen is overfull do the rest of your cooking on a fire of old wood in the yard. But Lepham’s when it is full has a gaiety of its own; it hums merrily like a slightly disordered beehive, as “Jack” Hobbs with his busy smile flits to and fro.

So much for my memories. Now for my hopes.

The first hope that I have for the YHA is that it will never “go cosy. ” Let us keep always a certain simplicity and hardihood. For the YHA was made for those who, at any rate if they are to taste the full joys of the pilgrim and the country lover, cannot afford to go cosy. We must be sure that we do not become soft or exacting in our demands, else we shall make the hostels too expensive and close them to those for whom above all they are meant, those who have very little money and must think of every penny they spend.

But we do not want to turn away those who have more money, so long as they are happy to abide by our simple standards. Rather we welcome them; for it is the privilege of the YHA beyond almost any other institution, to bring together just as friends “all sorts and conditions of men” (and women). Bishop and blacksmith shall be equally welcome, provided they are young in heart and will share the washing-up. Those who could afford far more than they pay in the YHA can give what they save quietly to one or other of the many needs of the YHA itself or to help save one or other of those beauties of the English countryside for which all true hostellers care. That is a matter that every hosteller should consider sternly with his conscience and his pocket.

For we do not want the YHA to be always begging. Rather do we want it to stand more and more on its own feet. It is my dream that some day no one will be allowed to give money to the YHA till he (or she) has slept a certain number of nights in a hostel. I have another dream that goes beyond that. I dream that some day YHA members may join to save and make free for the people some famous hill or wood or cliff, Kinderscout or Bredon or the woods beside Clovelly. Whatever we may think of the rights or wrongs of private property in beauty spots, such an effort would at least show that we really do care for the things that are lovely, and are ready to make sacrifices to save their loveliness.

But the YHA needs not only our money but our effort. There is plenty of work to be done. There is work at hostels; even the best kept households need sometimes that mystic ceremonial called spring-cleaning. There is painting and gardening and cutting wood and making swimming pools. There are a hundred little ways in which we can help wardens to see that things go smoothly. And there is administrative work too, you cannot cover the land with hostels except by much tiresome committee work. We must not let that fall only on a few shoulders. We do not want the YHA run by some people for others; we want it to be a true democracy run by all its members for all its members. We want its committees to consist largely of members who are themselves constantly using hostels – so long as in the hostels they are hostellers and not committee members. Above all we want every committee to have a large proportion of young members.

Another thing we value in the YHA is its gay friendliness. It has just that spirit of the great family party that we value so much in our own Club. We who are members of the YHA may have many different ideals, different politics and churches, different ways of thinking and living. But we are all pilgrims and wanderers, loving the open sky. Let us maintain that bond unbroken, thinking always first, not of particular interests, but of the YHA and its ideals, all friends together, with a ready welcome for every fellow member, whether he live on beef or beans, be his politics never so fantastic or his costume so strange.

And withal we must not be too serious. Committees and model hostels are requisite and necessary to salvation, but let us not be overmuch preoccupied with them. We may feel that we have a mission, but we must not become Peculiar People or Seventh Day Adventists, thinking that ours alone is the way of salvation. But I do not think we are in much risk of that. We have plenty of members who will see to it that we are reminded of the gaiety of life. Most of us after all are young; those who are not so young have at any rate had their minds well cleansed of cobwebs by wind and rain and sunshine. How shall we not laugh when all around us are the mountains skipping like rams and the little hills like young sheep?

Those are my hopes and ideals for the YHA. What of the world beyond? We are not out to convert the world, but to be young together ourselves in the slow old-fashioned way that is best at the last. But half unawares maybe we shall come ourselves in time to make the greater world a brighter, lovelier place, to help “build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land. ” Pilgrims awheel or on foot, we may become the more pilgrims of the spirit, inspiring others with something of that gay gentleness that simple hardihood – “wanting no tricks save only the one trick o’ courage and the will to stand alone” – that marks the true pilgrim in whose heart it is always morning. After all are not all men pilgrims and wanderers on the earth if they but knew it. Maybe we of the YHA may help them to say with us,

We are the pilgrims, Master, we shall go

Always a little farther. It may be

That somewhere. . .

 Oral Evidence to the Royal Commission on Common Land, April 1950

The points about access we would specially like to stress are that there is access of the eye as of the foot, and access not just in one dimension along paths but in two, a freedom to fling one’s arms out and roam where one wants, and that not merely on the hill tops, but also very much on the hill slopes and the moors. This does not of course apply to all the bogs and thickets that are to be found in the depths of some commons; we know perfectly well that there are some places which are unattractive and impenetrable. We would also like to stress very much the beauty of some wild land – wild things such as bracken, gorse and birch scrub. In their way – and I have said this elsewhere to people holding strong views on the misuse of commons – these have just the same sort of value as the flower beds in St. James’s Park which nobody is going to suggest should be used to economic advantage.

Another point perhaps not quite enough brought out in our memorandum is that the access of the eye and the freedom of the wild place mean a good deal to the cyclist as well as to the walker. Half our members probably are cyclists, less than half in the north, but more in the south, at any rate among those who go to Devon and Cornwall. We are of course not motorists, but the same consideration arises for those who motor through some of these wild places. It is a very great joy after going through much cultivated country to have a stretch of Dartmoor or Bodmin Moor even if we are not going to walk on it very much.

Another point of much importance to the YHA is that there should be remote wild places not a great deal visited. I was on the top of Great Gable at Whitsun and there were twenty-seven people there. My experience of the remote areas is perhaps rather more in Scotland where the question of commons does not arise except I think in the Outer Hebrides, but the aesthetic values are of the same type. When I went through Glen Affric on a similar Whitsunday I was alone for thirty-six hours. There is value in keeping places where there is that kind of remoteness. One thinks of particular cases. I think of the man who got off his bicycle and walked down with me to a hostel in the Central Highlands. I lent him my maps and he went on to Glen Farrar, and he walked alone over a number of mountains that are hardly ever visited. He is now a mathematics senior research student, obviously a rising young leader. I think of the Geordie lad who came in late alone over the hill to the Glen Affric hostel. I remember that later he told me he had walked thirty miles alone one weekend on the Cheviots. He is now an Air Force rescue worker and has made a career of it. Those are the sort of people for whom the remote places are worth something.

On the other hand the YHA have also a great sense of the living countryside, a love of the country in good heart, a joy in good woodland. We are much in touch with the Forestry Commission. We have owed a lot to them in many cases. We are very conscious that they produce a much less monotonous result than they did, and have done a good deal in places for access. It is not always all that one could wish but we owe them that tribute, and many of our people are very interested in their work. I think our people also have a great sense of the value of good pasture and good grazing. It is a great joy to them to see good grassland rather than mere scrub. One story perhaps I might tell is about a row on the South Downs over some fences which the farmer said he must have if he was to keep the land well grazed and so stop the thorn scrub spreading. One of our people, a tough young man who had been accustomed to bait keepers on Kinder was asked to go down and have a look at the place and say whether he minded the fences. On his return he said, “I do not mind the fences in the least, they are no impediment, but I got stuck in the thorn scrub and it took me half an hour to get out. ” I would like to add on that point that the YHA are not too happy that the Ministry of Agriculture is as successful as it would like in getting a lot of private land well farmed.

What it comes to I think is that we do try to take a balanced view of these things, but we do not want to see a major sacrifice of those values of landscape and remoteness that in practice many of the commons in various ways in different parts of the country have given us. On the whole I think the younger generation seem to care less for principles in matters like this than perhaps mine did but I think probably they care just as much perhaps more, for the practice, and perhaps their care for the practice means that in the end they serve those values more effectively. I think that is the spirit in which we try to approach these problems.