The Early Years
As a young lad, I was attracted to the outdoor life and soon started the wanderings in the Cheviot Hills that set me up for the sort of lifestyle that I hankered for. I was really lucky; I made some good mates, like-minded and independent guys I met while hostelling and roaming around Northumberland and the Borders in the immediate post-war period.
Now, looking back over almost sixty years, I’m astonished at where we all ended up, and the adventures that we’ve had en-route. Maybe it was something to do with the spirit of those times, when people had to be more robust and self-reliant than today (no welfare state or National Health Service then), maybe it was the fact that we were all in the same boat economically (i.e. we were all permanently skint!), maybe it was because most of us were time-served tradesmen who could find work almost anywhere.
Whatever the causes, most of our group had the wanderlust, graduating from weekends at Wholehope and hill walking trips to Scotland to ski holidays in Norway and gradually extending the distance and duration of our escapades.
My real overseas adventures started in 1949, when Bob Thornton and myself stood in the bay window of my flat above the Fish Quay in North Shields, waving goodbye to the Bergen Line ship ‘Leda’ carrying our mate Bill Pearson away to a big adventure on a work party at the Norwegian Youth Hostel at Mjølfjell. (click this link for more on this story).
As the ship disappeared between the Tyne breakwaters, I turned to Bob and “how much money do you have?” then, “let’s go to Norway as well!” Between us, we scrounged about £18 together and the next day bought two single tickets to Bergen, plus a £1.50 postal order with the remainder. I wrote to Bill to tell him that we were coming over, and to get him to put a good word in for us with the boss of the working party. Starting pay was ten Kroner per week (or maybe it was per month, I really don’t remember), anyway, it was just enough to keep us in postage stamps and rolling tobacco.
We were there for about four months, then the job was finished and we were given a parting bonus of 300 Kroner (at that time, about £15) so off we went to Stockholm in Sweden where we worked for the rest of the winter, returning to England in the spring of 1950. I was still restless, so six months later I cycled back to Sweden with my pal Geoff Fawkes and we got jobs in a shipyard in Gothenburg. Geoff was keen to go back to Mjølfjell, but the job there was finished, and we would have no means of making any money, so Geoff got the British Consulate to pay his fare home, while I stayed on for the winter, working as a plater in a shipyard (that was my trade in those days).
While in Gothenburg, I had been corresponding with Bob Thornton and we agreed to do a cycling tour of France and down to Lisbon, so I packed my job in and cycled from Gothenburg to Bergen, meeting Bob there for the start of the big trip. Going through France was great, but in Spain we were somewhat disillusioned by the intense heat and way they treated their animals, so after Lisbon we took the train back up to the French border. Our route took us through various countries and all the way back up to Sweden, where we both got jobs as platers in the Gothenburg Shipyard. Easter was spent skiing at Mjølfjell, then back home to Blighty. One of the local papers did an article covering our trip, click here to read a transcript.
My hunger for foreign travel and adventure was the most important thing in my life, so by June 1955 I was back on the road again, hoping to find work in a Norwegian shipyard. For old time’s sake, I went via Mjølfjell (where Bill Pearson had been working as Assistant Warden), and I was promptly offered a job as handyman. I reorganised the ski cellar so that people could be fitted out very quickly with hire skis and boots, and so that they could easily change their equipment if things didn’t fit. This job ended in early 1957, so I was back again to England, but I had already made my mind up to emigrate to British Columbia in Canada, drawn there by the big mountains (and because there were shipyards!)
Living and working in remote British Columbia
Prior to leaving, I became engaged to Pat Wisely, a lovely girl whom I’d met at Mjølfjell. Pat followed me out to BC, where we were married in 1959 and on honeymoon we looked around for an area where we could ‘stake out’ a piece of land without having to buy it. After some searching, we found 3.5 acres on Lillooet Lake, about 20 miles from Pemberton. This was an ideal spot for us, it had a power line near the property, and the trees that had been cut to allow the construction of the power line were available as raw material for a cabin. Initially, we lived in a small tent and later in a 15 ft caravan and we planned to build a temporary shelter with the logs, but as things turned out we made a log home which we lived in for 30 years and raised our two girls, both of whom went on to University. During the construction period, I was working for a local logging company and later for the Forest Service. Luckily, that first winter was very mild; the locals had told us that the road was kept open but we later found that we were regularly snowed in, once for a period of two months.
In those days, BC was a much wilder and unexplored place than today, when the country is crisscrossed with logging and access roads and I took every opportunity to get out into unexplored territory and onto unclimbed peaks in our area. I used to take Sundays off to do some exploring, blazing the bark on the trees with an axe, so that Pat would know where I was if I didn’t return.
Often, I was alone on these outings, but I sometimes had my pals Dave Nickerson and Bob Thornton and sometimes two young lads Chris Adams and Tommy Anderson with me and, in 1968, we built another log cabin right up in the mountains, at a place called Lizzie Creek.
The cabin is called Lizzie Cabin (sometimes called Tommy’s cabin) and is still used quite a lot by remote-country walkers and ski tourers. Building the road up to the cabin site took longer than building the cabin itself, we had to dig logs out and excavate the hillside to get the road through. The cabin has been extensively repaired over the years, with a new steel roof brought up by helicopter, but overall it has lasted well, even though it has had up to 25 feet of snow on the roof!
Living beside Lillooet Lake
We lived for 30 years beside Lillooet Lake, and for the first few years we had the place pretty much to ourselves, although we often had friends coming up for holiday breaks. I remember that in 1967 we met up with Eric and Min Rayson when they came up with a lot of other friends to spend Christmas with us. We’d love to make contact with Eric and Min to reminisce.
Apart from friends visiting, hardly any vehicles came past our place, I could recognise the tyre tracks in the dust and know who had passed by.
We used to get lots of Native Indians dropping in to see us, usually when they had problems like flat tyres, out of gas, breakdowns, accidents, etc. Some of these incidents had hilarious consequences, sometimes the outcome was fairly catastrophic for the people concerned. For example, one December a group came up the lakeside in a tipper truck, hoping to cut Christmas trees for free, then sell the trees in Pemberton for $5 or $10 dollars each. As was customary, they brought a considerable amount of booze with them, and, because they couldn’t all get into the cab, they shoved their sleeping bags and kit in the back of the truck, along with Charlie, one of the group.
Bowling up the lakeside, they were having a good time sipping away at the beer, when someone inadvertently nudged the tipping lever and in slow motion the back of the truck lifted up, thus slowly decanting all of their gear (and Charlie!) onto the road. After several miles, someone realised what had happened, so they stopped, lit a bonfire in the middle of the road and had a few more drinks while they figured out the best thing to do. Leaving an member of the team behind to watch over their gear, they set off back up the road, passing a trail of their bits and pieces and eventually finding a rather dazed Charlie, who was wandering along with his little suitcase hoping they would come back for him.
Things went from bad to worse when in their drunken state they went off the road and became stranded about five miles away from where they had left their buddy, so they had a few more drinks and slept in the truck, leaving their pal to wake up in the middle of the road by the ashes of the bonfire to hear the owls hooting and the coyotes howling and wonder where the hell he was.
Mountaineering and exploring
In those early days at Lillooet, I spent much of my spare time exploring the area and climbing the local peaks, and, as detailed maps of BC show, some of the mountains in the Lillooet area have names that any Northumbrian would instantly recognise; names like Tynemouth, Lindisfarne, Priory Peak and Haven (both named after places in Tynemouth) and Beacon (I lived at the bottom of Beacon Street in North Shields).
Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone, I made the first recorded ascent of these mountains, so I was able to claim the honour of naming them for posterity, not bad for a working-class lad from Shields!
For the historical record, I named the following peaks and lakes, just click on the names for more details:
- Cloudraker Mountain
- Beacon Mountain and Beacon Lake
- Priory Peak
- Tynemouth Mountain
- Lindisfarne Mountain
- Whisky Peak and Whisky Lake
- Tundra Mountain and Tundra Lake
- Famine Mountain