Inspirational climber recognised by national body

Date: Friday 29th January 2016
Gwen Moffat doing what she did best, climbing barefoot and free.
Gwen Moffat doing what she did best, climbing barefoot and free.

A VETERAN climber, “vagabond of the hills” and author who lives at Eamont Bridge has been made an honorary member of the British Mountaineering Council.

Gwen Moffat at her Eamont Bridge home with her book,‚ÄàSpace Below My‚ÄàFeet, which has become a climbing classic.
Gwen Moffat at her Eamont Bridge home with her book,‚ÄàSpace Below My‚ÄàFeet, which has become a climbing classic.

Gwen Moffat, now aged 91, and another keen climber, Angela Soper, became the first two women to receive the honour following the first meeting of the BMC’s women’s think tank, which convened in December.

Gwen started climbing at the age of 21 after she met a rock climber while stationed at a suburban Auxiliary Territorial Service station during the Second World War, but soon deserted the Army for a life of climbing.

She went on to lead a nomadic existence which saw her discover new crags throughout the UK and further afield, sleeping in climbing barns and even under hedges as she did do, and generally existing on a very sparse diet.

She then decided she could make a living from climbing, and became the first British female mountain guide during the 1950s signing the necessary forms G. Moffatt, so avoiding the issue of her gender.

When guiding engagements dried up, Gwen worked as a gardener, chambermaid, breakfast cook and barmaid, at one point commuting from Rosthwaite to Borrowdale, where she slept in a farmer’s barn. She also spent time working as a forester, winkle-picker, schooner helmsman and artists’ model.

She wrote about her early climbing career and adventures in Space Below My Feet, which went on to become something of a classic in the climbing literature genre. She also told of her mountain rescue service experiences in Two Star Red, and later turned her writing talent to producing crime fiction, which she did with huge success.

During the 1980s she lived in the Rio Grande valley, in New Mexico, but became homesick and returned to the UK, to live in Eden.

A spokesman for the BMC said: “Alongside a fruitful mountain writing career, in 1956 Gwen became the first female British mountain guide. She wrote her renowned climbing autobiography Space Below My Feet in 1961.

“She was a very committed member of the mountain rescue, writing the non-fiction book Two Star Red about her experiences in its service.”

Last year, Gwen starred in the BMC TV production Operation Moffat, about her life and climbs, which collected the special jury mention at Banff Mountain Festival and the best climbing film and people’s choice award at Kendal Mountain Festival.

Alex Messenger, of BMC TV, said: “Good films have memorable action; the best films have memorable characters. And when it comes to characters, they don’t come any more inspirational than Gwen Moffat. Directors Jen Randall and Claire Carter have created something very special.”

Since the success of the BMC TV film, Space Below My Feet has been commissioned for a reprint and is now available in bookshops once again, priced at £12.99. Gwen will be signing copies of the book in the Hedgehog Bookshop, Little Dockray, Penrith, on the afternoon of Saturday, 6th February.