At the end of volunteers’ week 2015 I want to thank Alan and Elsie Gaskell, who today celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary. They have worked tirelessly for the Ramblers for decades. They have been stalwart members of the association’s West Riding Area and Calderdale Group when they living in Halifax. Now aged 93 they live peacefully in Grassington, North Yorkshire. Elsie (Davies) is the sister-in-law of Phil Daley who campaigned for freedom to roam in the Peak District.
Alan and Elsie met on the evening of Friday 13 July 1945, in Manchester. Alan was on leave from the airforce and had been dancing; Elsie had been proof-reading a play for her sister Eileen. They were both in the queue for the all-night bus, leaving at 10.40pm. When Alan saw Elsie he thought he knew her vaguely because he’d been organising dances for the youth club and she came to them occasionally.
Says Alan: ‘But when I saw her on that beautiful summer’s evening (double summer time), oh my word! She was a bit of all right!
‘Elsie got me into the Ramblers. I liked walking rather than rambling, the footpaths that I knew locally. When Elsie realised what my job was (I worked with Mercator maps) she said “you’ll know something about maps”.’ She persuaded Alan to walk with the Ramblers.
They were married on 7 June 1947. Alan says: ‘Being married to Elsie I had to be involved in the Ramblers! The Ramblers has meant a lot to me and still does.’
Elsie’s family was steeped in the Ramblers. She was a member of the Manchester Federation before the Ramblers’ Association was formed. She joined as a family member at the age of 13 and was very proud when she was able to become a full member at the age of 16. ‘Walking and cycling have always been my life’, she says. ‘If it was fine we cycled, if it was windy we walked.’ Cycling was cheaper because there were no train fares, although the Ramblers’ excursions were fairly cheap.
At first Alan and Elsie lived in Swinton, 5.5 miles from Manchester. After the war Alan trained as a teacher and and they lived in Knutsford, then at Triangle near Halifax, where Alan was head of primary school for 19 years. When they were in Triangle they both became local footpath secretaries for the Ramblers and Elsie was a member of the West Riding Area council.
I first met Alan and Elsie when we were campaigning for freedom to roam; they turned out faithfully for every rally and event—on Boulsworth Hill, Widdop Reservoir, and other forbidden moors in the South Pennines, West Riding and the Peak District. I can see them now at a Ramblers’ gathering by the locked gate onto Midhope Moor near Langsett in the north-east Peak District. It was 17 November 1999, and they had a transistor radio glued to their ears, listening to the Queen’s Speech. When the Queen uttered those wonderful words: ‘A Bill will be introduced to give people greater access to the countryside and to improve protection for wildlife’ a cheer went up.
I hope Alan and Elsie will enjoy many more wedding anniversaries together.