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Look out for the bright colours of the rainbow flag on your treks as the Gay Outdoor Club celebrates 50 years. David Millar, Group Coordinator for History & Culture, describes the journey.

The UK’s largest outdoor activity group for LGBTQ+ people, the Gay Outdoor Club (GOC), celebrates 2024 with special pride as we mark the milestone of 50 years of walking, socialising and having fun with friends! With over 1500 members, there’ll be a few of us climbing your local highest peak, gathering in some hard-to-fathom forest car park and, eventually, grabbing large tables in the village local.

Time was when our most inspiring scenery was reminiscent not of sun-drenched memories, but of barbed wire. Closed. Private. Keep Out. But not any longer. Today, National Parks and AONBs boast trails galore. From the Coast to Coast to the 625-mile Monarch’s Way, all lead to that unforgettable pint and feeling of satisfaction after a good day’s hike.

Where we are going to and who we are with is no-one else’s business – although friendly questions on the Cotswold Way are never refused!

In the North Downs. Credit: Martin Gilbraith

In the North Downs. Credit: Martin Gilbraith

The Right to Roam

All outdoors walkers, and our community in particular, were denied choice – the right to roam – for much of the 20th Century. Then came the power of the 1932 Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, which led to the establishment of the Ramblers Association in 1935. The Peak District may have become Britain’s first National Park in 1951, but that decade unfortunately saw nearly 2000 gay men imprisoned for simply loving someone of the same sex.

Roll forward to 1974 and a few London University students, inspired by Eryri/Snowdonia’s heights (and the Gay Liberation Front), were thinking big by starting small. From Soho, via Regent’s Park, to Primrose Hill, that first group walk marked the beginning of a journey that shows no signs of ending. The club has plans for a re-enactment of that historic walk this summer.

Views to Cardigan Bay_credit Martin Gilbraith

Views to Cardigan Bay. Credit: Martin Gilbraith

Now, the GOC hosts over 500 annual events, celebrating freedoms as the 11am walk meeting time arrives and leaders check their phones, wondering if everyone is able to find the rendezvous point, angled, as usual, out of sight on an ambiguous bend! From Kinver Edge to the Forest of Dean, getting up on time, setting the satnavs, checking what3words, and someone’s ‘recce’ beforehand are the things that make the GOC.

A mobile cocktail party

Described as ‘a mobile cocktail party’ over six or more miles, there’s fitness, old friends and new faces. All are planning weekends away, family get-togethers or comparing the cost of weatherproofs – or perhaps even flights to Gran Canaria. (Yes, the GOC hosts events abroad, too!) Could those class of ’74 students have envisaged campus take-overs at our Annual Outdoor Gatherings with discos, quizzes and AGMs at Stirling, Canterbury, Telford, and, this year, Northampton?

People join the GOC at all stages of their LGBTQ+ journey. They might be just ‘out’, wanting a change of scene, or simply suffering too much screen time. There is much advice and mentoring available, and many newcomers progress to being event leaders who relish the opportunity to create new and stimulating walks within the groups’ capabilities – no nasty surprises here! They unleash sheer ingenuity and well-executed Plan Bs for when the unexpected happens – such as the occasion when the mighty Severn again burst its banks right by our planned lunch stop.

Members of Gay Outdoor Club Essex and London on the Essex Way. Credit: Martin Galbraith

Members of Gay Outdoor Club Essex and London on the Essex Way. Credit: Martin Gilbraith

Minehead, for example, offered a weekend away in well-priced accommodation during which we explored the stunning Valley of Rocks section of the South West Coast Path, enjoyed a Saturday night harbourside meal, and walked the Tarr Steps on Sunday. The marina setting of Portishead obliged with linear walks to Clevedon via bus, the nearby Clifton Gorge and trailing a blaze through Bristol’s Sunday café scene. Looking forward, events in North Wales, the UK’s Iron Age hill forts, and Herefordshire’s County of a Hundred Castles are soon to be listed – and we’re waiting to welcome you. Elsewhere, YHA weekends and camping breaks are the draw.

The origins of freedom

Now, each February, an LGBT History Month walk across blue-plaqued London reminds us of our origins. Pubs and tea shops are opportunities to chew the fat, plan the next ‘big one’ – maybe Majorca, or coastal paths and a National Trust visit? As volunteers, and a registered charity, we try to ensure every event happens – even in a torrential downpour at the Cotswolds’ Seven Springs. A dozen members were on time, but airy views of Cheltenham? No. Views aside, it was a great test of one’s kit and staying power, and an opportunity to learn the art of unpeeling wet trousers in the car afterwards. Never were a refreshing bevvy and a late Sunday roast more welcome.

As for the next 50 years? More diversity, use of public transport, urban explorations and up-and-coming leaders with different ideas. There’ll be even more hi-tech aids to buy and more specialist activities for all tastes – although Strictly hasn’t yet been in touch!

To learn more about the Gay Outdoor Club and sign up for an event today visit