The Rough-Stuff Fellowship
60 years a-cycling - a commemorative special
On Whit Sunday 29th May 1955 about ‘Forty members who, in pursuit of their pastime, traverse the rougher and less beaten ways’ attended the inaugural meeting of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship held at the ‘Black Swan’, Leominster. Charlie Chadwick of Bolton took the chair by general approval. Right from the start, we learn from the minutes, there was some controversy about whether a minimum age of 16 should be set and after the considerable debate, this was approved. We’ve come a long way now sixty years later but who doesn’t recognize 'controversy’ and ‘debate’ at our AGMs at the Easter Meets!
It is interesting to know that the Easter Meet we still have was chosen in 1955 because at the first meet ‘it was obvious that those present felt that future meetings were essential and useful ... and after discussion and a vote, Easter was decided’. 60 years on and lots of things have changed, including bicycles and hairstyles, but we managed to hang on to Easter time to come together and socialise, join rides, enjoy the meals and have controversies and heated debates at the AGM.
Before it all really officially started at the Black Swan, the idea of setting up the RSF as a fellowship of cyclists traversing the rougher ways had been ripening in the minds of various riders. It took a while to work it out into something attractive but by the end of 1954 the first proposals, written down by W.H. (Bill) Paul for the founding of the RSF, appeared in the cycling press. 10 people reacted enthusiastically. They are, together with Bill Paul, indeed the founding members. A year later membership had reached 165 and over the years membership steadily increased to an all-time high of well over 1000 in the 1980s and now in 2015 more or less stable at around 600.
Diving into my personal and other members’ archives yielded a lot of information on how the RSF developed over the years and together with the material I received from other members I managed to compile the overview, with emphasis on the early years, you will find on the following pages. Enjoy.
Well known to a large cycling audience was “Wayfarer”. He wrote numerous articles in Cycling and gave lantern lectures about his cycling exploits.
Although he was not the first ‘rough stuff' cyclist his enthusiasm for this type of cycling was infectious. He repeated his Liverpool lecture to give those who had not been able to attend the first one another chance.
Rough-Stuff cycling as such was already done long before the Rough-Stuff Fellowship was founded in 1955.
From the 1933 cover of The C.T.C Gazette, the official organ of the Cyclists’ Touring Club (founded 1878) we learn that the moorland and valley roads were popular with cyclists looking for peace and delight:
‘The Cardiganshire moors and the upper valley of the Towy will afford peace and delight to the cyclist who has shuddered at the “sophisticated horrors” of the Devil’s Bridge. There are no finer moorland or valley roads in Wales but take some food in your bag or obtain it at Strata Florida’.
1956 - 1957
The biggest project undertaken by RSF members in the early years was the erection of a stone memorial to the memory of ‘Wayfarer’ on his favourite crossing the Berwyns, Bwlch Nant Rhyd Wilym, in central Wales.
‘Wayfarer’ was the pen-name of Walter MacGregor Robinson, (1877-1956), one of the pioneers of rough stuff cycling. The article ‘Over the top. Crossing the Berwyn mountains in March’ (in Cycling, 8th May 1919), describing the conquest in wintry conditions of one of the most challenging and beautiful passes in mid-north Wales, together with other articles, made him a well-known character to all the cycling world.
The idea of erecting a memorial to him was aired by Bill Paul among some of the
Lancashire members in January 1957 and it was Charlie Chadwick who suggested a stone on Bwlch Nant Rhyd Wilym. For those interested in how the project was carried out see ‘The ‘Wayfarer’ Memorial’ in The Rough-Stuff Fellowship. The Early Years by Bert Williams (still available). One of our first members, David
Warner, who is currently publishing a series of books of extracts from the writings and journals of our founding Chairman, Charlie Chadwick, sent me some letters written by another founding member, Vic Ginger. Vic was an outstanding member who fortunately actually lived in North Wales and by virtue of his occupation as a salesman, he emerged triumphantly from his mission to get permission to erect a memorial stone on the Bwlch from the government who were the landowners. Vic’s assistance with this project to erect the memorial was absolutely crucial. The letters are an entertaining read, as can be seen from the following extracts (with incorrect spellings maintained):
As stated in my last letter to you I had several more “bods” to interview re the above [i.e. the permission, HF] . Firstly (that is after my last letter) I was passed on to Brigadier General
Best of the Polish underground Flying Cops (sorry corpse), who in turn said that Mr Parry of the Sheep Research Association Cynwyd, would have to be contacted. ... By the way, I’ve arranged for British Railways, Carter Paterson, and the Elder Shipping line to drop two or three tons of food (over next weekend) at strategic points, so that Fred Dunster [the second RSF Secretary. HF] doesn’t go hungry, also a supply of handkerchiefs, for us to cry our eye’s cut on if Bill Pauls resignation goes through.
[Letter of 19.5.1957 to Charlie Chadwick]
I arrived home after a very wet journey and received the “Bird” (as usual) from my Wife, however’ I am used to that so can’t do ‘owt about it. ... I had a Bill Oakley Week-End, and as a final took Bill over the Nant Rhyd Willam Pass, BUT.. woe is me, we are going to have a tough job getting the stone to the site, the rain and the bulldozers have made a hell of a mess of the track...
[Letter of 13.4.1957 to Charlie Chadwick]
‘aint we writing a lot of letters, but as they have been, I hope, to some purpose.. who cares. ...today I contacted a business acquaintance, and he very kindly offered to lend me a small trolly kind of thingumebob, which I can put on the roof rack of my car, and take it as far as the hut wherein lies the stone, etc.
[Letter of 21.5.1957 to Charlie Chadwick]
The stone was eventually unveiled on Sunday 16th June 1957 at 2 pm.
Height of Ambition
Height of Ambition
In 1956 member Frank Goodwin reached an all-time high on Skye by traversing the Cuillins main ridge. In a letter from Bernard Heath to Bill Paul, dated 27th October, we can read:
‘Frank Goodwin (that 54 years old youngster) achieved the ambition of his Rough Stuff Cycling Life when he crossed the Cuillins main ridge in Skye this year. ... Frank had to admit that it was “Good ‘un’ even by his standards, and at the 2,500 ft contour remarked, “This is damned near climbing”.
I think you will agree that for one as advanced in years as F.G. this crossing marks the peak of his rough stuffing. His own title that he has given to a lecture-based on this crossing shows his own acknowledgement of this fact. It is “Hight [sic] of Ambition”. The whole point of this letter Bill is to tell you of an incident that took place just before we turned off the Sligachan path for the big climb. We met a senior fell-walker who [was] surprised, and indeed very interested in our activity. Several of the more severe
crossings that Frank has achieved were mentioned in course of the conversation and our plan to cross the ridge that day. From where we stood it certainly looked formidable, and our walker friend said quite definitely, “You deserve a medal if you get over there with the Bike”.
Well, that’s the idea - a medal for F.G. How about an RSF badge, mounted centrally on a blank medallion, inscribed on the back:
with cycle and camping kit crossed
“Cuillins of Skye”
Although I know if he were asked, Frank would never hear of such a thing, I’m sure he would accept and feel honoured if such a medal were presented to him at our Easter Meet. If you approve of the idea, May I go ahead, see a good jeweller and get such a medal produced. I would meet the expenses.
Yours faithfully, Bernard J. Heath.
Rough Stuff Bike
(by Mary Hodges)
I am a rough stuff touring bike
My owner’s pride and joy
I’ve mudguards and a saddlebag
I’m clearly not a toy.
I wouldn’t say I’m shiny
But I am my owner’s pride
And every day, come rain or shine,
I’m guaranteed a ride.
Rough-Stuff Tales from the North
Rough-Stuff Tales from the North:
Blackburn and District CTC
Blackburn and District CTC have a long history of incorporating Rough-Stuff into their day rides from North Lancashire and week-end/ Easter/ summer tours further afield.
Tom Melling talks of a Feb 1963 club run east to west over Mastiles Lane when the heavy snow settled level with walls on the side, on arrival in Malham the cafe was closed and the snow became freezing rain, the club arrived back in Blackburn at 10.30 pm. He also remembers an epic crossing of Langden Castle in a 1963 blizzard.
Once while camping in Little Langdale, the club did Striding Edge via Glenridding. The descent was rideable and after Dunmail Raise, a Morris Minor later declared it could not pass them even at 70mph!
Another 1970's epic during a week-end away was on Wrynose after Hardknott in the snow when 10 riders rescued the Mountain Rescue Land Rover from snowdrifts. Much embarrassment/ hilarity can be imagined after this episode!
An invitation ride organised by Ken Hartley had too many frisky youngsters so he asked an experienced 3 Peaks cyclo-cross rider to take them over Langden Castle, consequently, there were some tired legs but keen new members. Tom Melling and Tony Stott have done Striding Edge and Helvellyn both ways. Ian Stott has done Helvellyn via Glenridding and Low Man, also the Roman Road over High Street. Several riders have done High Cup Nick (both ways) and the Stott family including a young Ian and Clare went over Cross Fell to Greg's Hut in the snow (an epic). A dozen or so members including the Gregsons, RSF members, did a snowy Gatescarth Pass on a recent February tour. These February Lakes tours were an annual feature of the club for many years from the 1980s until recently. Anne and Tony Stott ( Section and D.A. secs.) have done the South Downs Way twice, the North Downs Way 3 times, the Ridgeway 3 times, and the Icknield Way 3 times.
Scotland, of course, has always been a favourite and in the early ’80s, Jim Boocock leads a small Blackburn CTC group bivvying over the Lairig Ghru in August. On another club hostel tour, 6 or 7 youngsters with an adult were on a track high above Loch Morlich when they came across an unlocked Land Rover with loaded rifles inside. When the occupants arrived back they were admonished by one of the cheeky youngsters who also piped up “You are Princess Anne”. She replied “who are you?” but she was amazed, impressed, and interested in their exploits with such heavily loaded bicycles.
The club runs from Whalley, Accrington, etc continue to incorporate many sections of Rough-Stuff e.g. Stockdale Lane, Hardwick Clowder, Salter Fell, etc. The informal Wednesday runs have also incorporated a lot of rough-stuff through the years, especially when Ian Appleby, an RSF member is present.
It shall be noted that these rides mostly began and still begin in Blackburn and are carried out on standard club-tourers.
(This article courtesy of RSF member Steve Gregson,
Blackburn, Lancashire, who is also a CTC Life Member )
The RSF Awards
The RSF Awards, the badge, and their origins
(By Brian Parkinson. Photos: John Kemp and Roger Thorpe)
The Alan Mepham Merit Shield...
Awarded each year for meritorious service to the Fellowship, but can be withheld.
The Merit Shield was introduced at the 1959 Easter Meet at Chipping Norton; at this AGM it was decided that it would be awarded to the member who had rendered the most ''signal service'' to the Fellowship, or to rough-stuff cycling generally. Alan was born and bred in Bedfordshire and held various posts within the Fellowship, including, President (1995-2001), Chairman (1958-82), Route Librarian (home) (1955-91). He was also made an Honorary Life Member.
The Charlie Chadwick Memorial Shield
Awarded each year for the best overall digital photo (note: was awarded for slides). Charlie, from Bolton, was present at the Fellowship's inaugural meeting on Sunday the 29th of May 1955 at the Black Swan, Leominster. He held a variety of posts within the Fellowship, including, Vice-President (1963-69), Chairman (1955-57).
The Nellie Hill Trophy
Awarded each year for the best rough-stuff slide or digital photo. Nellie, together with her husband Bill, have both been rough-stuffers since the 1930s and have toured extensively in Great Britain and Ireland, mostly in the hilly districts. Nellie had a passion for mountains, especially Nellie Hill’s hills (Lakeland Hills). They joined the RSF in 1955 and were very active members. They were recipients of the Alan Mepham Merit Shield in 1975. Sadly Nellie passed away on August 5th, 1978 and Bill in December 1994, just after his 90th birthday.
The Alwyn Taylor Jubilee Trophy
Awarded each year to the best article published in the Journal. Alwyn was born in Malton, Yorkshire, and was always a firm supporter of the Fellowship from his early days as warden of the Farndale YH.
When the RSF's 25 year anniversary meet was held in Malton he was Mayor of the town at that time and was of great help with the organisation of the meet.
The Bert Williams Award
Awarded each year in the annual best sketch competition. Bert was born in Liverpool on New Years Day 1915, he was one of the ‘The First Ninety’ and a Honorary Life Member. He held a number of posts within the Fellowship, including, President (1986-91), Vice-President (1963), Journal Editor (1955-62), he also designed our badge.
Bert was inspired by the views in the region of Dinas Mawddwy...the Arran's ... Wales.
There were two other awards for photographic prints. With the rise in digital media and the almost complete disappearance of film cameras from 2020, these will no longer be awarded although the trophies will still remain in existence. Perhaps they will be awarded for something else in the future?
For completeness they were:
The Eric Savage Trophy
Awarded each year in the general prints class. Born in Burton-on-Trent, Eric held a number of Fellowship posts, including, Chairman (1983-94), Journal Editor (1991-92). Eric has penned many Journal articles.
The Arthur Matthews Trophy
Awarded each year for rough-stuff prints. Arthur, from Southport, was at the inaugural meeting in 1955. He was elected an Honorary Life Member in 1993 and has been twice awarded the Merit Shield. He held many posts within the Fellowship, including, Renewals Secretary (1967-73), Vice President (1976-78) and as Journal Distributor for 9 years. He was instrumental in fixing the ‘Wayfarer Stone’ on the Bwlch Nant Rhyd Wilym.
Into the Future
Into the Future
It is always good to realise that rough stuff cycling today owes a great deal to the pioneers of the past. Sixty years on, there is still the urge to escape on our bikes into the wild and lonely places, far away from the madding crowd. We still enjoy the wonders of nature, alone or in the company of others. There is also the sun, the clouds, the rain and wind, the snow and hail, and whatnot. And yet we strive and find and do not yield.
There have been a few changes, though. Whereas Charlie Chadwick & Co. crossed the snowy mountains in plus-fours, worsted jackets, and bareheaded, the modern rough stuffer can easily defend himself against the elements in state of the art garments. And what about the type of bikes: relatively heavy and without gears then, relatively lightweight now with umpteen gears and all sorts of brakes and other paraphernalia, including bar-fixed GPS.
Historically speaking the RSF has long appealed to those looking for some adventure on the byways and tracks. Leaving work and home behind, enjoying weekend rides and cycling holidays in this country and abroad. Cycle touring became ‘a way of life’, sometimes pitching the tent in places where angels fear to tread. Or seeking the comfort of youth hostels and b&b. RSF membership soared and reached high levels: well over a thousand in the 1980s. And then things changed. The welfare state developed, people had more time on their hands and all sorts of challenging sports were introduced. Among them mountain biking. On the whole, the new generations do not bother about cycle touring that much, they seek the thrills of, sometimes dangerous challenges, such as steep downhill races, jumping over all sorts of obstructions, etc.
But there will always be people also longing for the peace and quiet of the great outdoors. This may entail rough terrain to cross through, but it is the fellowship and joy together with the cycling that appeals. The type of cycle may have changed, we have got those who prefer the good old tourer or a hybrid, tandem or folder and those who prefer the mountain bike, but in the end, the bike is just the means to cycle on and enjoy. Apart from the present RSF membership, there are undoubtedly more people, young and less young, who still have to find their way to a fellowship like ours and join the band of dedicated rough-stuffers. We need to reach those people by any means: by talking to those we meet while cycling, advertising both locally and nationally, and via modern social media. There is still a solid foundation for the RSF to cycle on, forward into the twenty-first century.