NOSTALGIA: Looking back at the Brathay Exploration Group

The Westmorland Gazette: Surveying glaciers in Norway was one of the roles of the Brathay Exploration Group Surveying glaciers in Norway was one of the roles of the Brathay Exploration Group

Maurice Dybeck, archivist and historian of the Brathay Trust, looks at the history of the Brathay Exploration Group, which is based in grounds close to Brathay Hall The Brathay Trust is a national charity that empowers young people, helping them to make a positive contribution to society.

In its early days, youngsters who did well on Brathay Hall four-week courses were recommended for further experience – this time with a volunteer-led group specialising in adventurous field work.

In 1949 the Brathay Exploration Group established its own hutted headquarters in the Brathay grounds.

Its first activity was to sound the depths of all the Lake District tarns, going out in all weathers to high mountain camps and coming back with results of real scientific value.

This was work that had never been done before.

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Soon young explorers were off overseas, surveying glaciers in Norway and farming communities behind the Iron Curtain.

A popular venue for more than 80 expeditions was the remote Scottish Isle of Foula, where the chief task was ornithology. Then there was Iceland, with BEG pioneering the way for other school and youth groups.

All this work linked to the needs of universities and other research bodies, and today the Group often gets inquiries that relate to that earlier work and how valuable it has been.

But the BEG was not just for ‘Brathay boys’. Expedition members also came from schools, including Kendal Grammar School, and this mix of backgrounds was a distinctive feature. It was felt that, socially, each ‘side’ could learn from the other.

At its peak the group was running up to 20 expeditions a year with more than 300 participants. Overseas, they extended into Uganda, North America and China, establishing partnerships with other youth groups.

I was privileged to lead the first one to North America. The Uganda expedition of 1962 achieved television fame with a film which I shot of its work, which was shown at peak viewing time in a series started by David Attenborough.

In 1997, the Royal Geographical Society awarded BEG a medal for ‘services to exploration and youth adventure activities’.

But it was not all science, and there was always a blend of adventure, fun and, in the later years, community service.

Conscious of its pioneering role, BEG was one of the key founder members, in 1972, of the Young Explorers’ Trust, which is now a national force, offering help to all groups who wish to explore the world.

Since 1989 the group has been independent of the main Brathay operation.

Now, in 2014, there is a strong move to re-invigorate its adventurous work with young people. Buildings are being renovated or replaced and attractive courses will be on offer.

  • ‘BrathayExploring’ – the history of the Group, written by its founder Brian Ware, is available from BEG at Brathay.

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