page will be used for Memories of Graduates and Staff of field trips,
reunions and other occasions. Photographs will be particularly welcome.
The Exeter Youth Hostel Incident
you remember back in the 1960’s when Geology was a Section of the
Department of Chemistry & Geology….. and consisted of six or
seven academics and an equal number of technical staff? We
taught Geology to students on London University (External)
degrees. A programme of field-courses was provided for students
to attend as they saw fit. Notices were pinned up advertising
particular trips, the students signed up and away we went. And
attend they did; always…. without exception.
it was that Brian Walton and I took a weekend field-course to Dartmoor
during the winter of 1967-68. There were about a dozen
students, including Kevan Walton, Keith Wells, Roger MacCallum, Brian
Locke, Brian Lee, Kathy Rosser, Denis Evans, Charlie Jamieson and
others plus one technician, a young, eager, fresh-faced teenager named
Janet Dilling, who was the apple of all the (male) students’
eyes. Transport was by Departmental Land-Rover and a couple of
student cars; accommodation in Exeter Youth Hostel.
to Exeter on a Friday evening, after a full day’s lectures and labs,
was in those days a long and tiring affair. After setting off at
5.00 pm, with no M27 and few dual carriageways to speed the
journey, we were only too glad to have to be in bed by 10.00 pm,
lights out at 10.30! The Warden of the hostel and his
wife took Brian and me to one side to explain that, in addition to our
party, Exeter Y.H. was hosting the South-West of England Regional
Conference of the Y.H.A. and all the wardens of the region (and
their wives) and the “top brass” (and their wives) from the
Y.H.A. headquarters in St. Albans were down for the
conference. So they hoped that our party would be on its best
behaviour……. for obvious reasons. “No problem” we assured
Next day we were up bright and early
for breakfast, did our Youth Hostel chores and were out on Dartmoor all
day looking at rocks. After a splendid day it was back to the
hostel to wash and change before going into Exeter to eat.
Brian and I had arranged to meet up with a research student at Exeter
University who, like us, was working on Greenlandic geology at that
time. In fact, we had all mapped adjacent areas in S.W. Greenland
and we needed to compare notes etc. So this fellow, Jim Andrews,
now lecturing at Southampton, invited us to a party at the
post-graduate hall of residence where he lived. Anticipating that
we might be out a little later than the 10.00 “curfew”, we asked the
Warden if we might be given an extension. “When all’s said and
done” we said, “we are all over 18 years of age and responsible adults”.
After what seemed like an age of whispered confab with his wife, and
with a worried frown, the Warden agreed. In by 10.30, lights out
at 11.00! Not exactly what we’d had in mind – but
better than nowt!
Brian and I left for the Exeter campus, we implored our students to be
back on time, not to drink too much and to take care of our young
technician, Janet. And off we went.
evening was a great success. Lots of good food and drink and
company at the party. And we even found enough time to discuss
Greenlandic geology! The hours simply flew by and
before we knew it, it was twenty to twelve!! We
hurried back to the Youth Hostel and breathed a huge sigh of relief
when we found the door unlocked and the whole place in darkness,
peacefully asleep. We took off our shoes and crept inside and
made our way noiselessly to our dormitory in the dark…… when suddenly
the lights went on and we were confronted with the Warden’s “Where the
hell have you been? Have you seen the time?”
sorry” we said. “Just lost track of time…. So busy talking
geology to our colleague at Exeter Uni……. But at least the
students are all quiet….”
“All quiet!?” our host interrupted in a
‘loud whisper’……… “Too true they’re all quiet!
There’s none of them back yet!!”
had happened, apparently, was that the students had gone into Exeter
for a meal, eaten in a pub… and then been led astray by some locals
into a scrumpy drinking contest!
finally began trickling back to the hostel at about 1.00 am.
Opening the five-bar gate (it did have an unusually tricky catch)
proved impossible for some of them. With Janet having to be
carried home (she was out like a light and being carried like a log on
the shoulders of four bearers) and then man-handled over the gate
safely, there were a few giggles.
all but two students made it back….. and after a lot of tooing
and froing, lights on and off, doors opening and shutting, we all
settled down for the night. I should explain here that the
visiting male wardens were together in a separate dormitory, their
wives were in another and we were in a third. Janet and our only
female student were in with the wardens’ wives,
unfortunately! ‘Settled down for the night’ is not
exactly accurate……. Before that happened there was the usual
exchange of stories from the night’s revelries…. a few jokes….all
whispered, of course!
And then, just as
peace and quiet seemed to have been established, one of the students,
Kevan Walton, had to go to the loo. “For goodness sake!”(or words
to that effect!). “Don’t put the lights on again or you’ll wake
up all the wardens.” So ‘Wally’, being a good and obedient student,
groped his way out of our dormitory to find the loo in total
darkness! Trouble was he got lost in the
dark! And on the way back he ended up in the wives’
dormitory! Worse than that, he proceeded to try and
get into what he thought was his own bed!! (He was
still very much under the influence of the scrumpy, you
understand). The poor, startled occupant of ‘his bed’ woke up
with a terrific screech….Wally stood up and banged hid head on the
Now, I should explain at
this point that in those days most students wore pyjamas to bed and
Wally was no exception. In his case it was just the ‘jama
bottoms….. and unfortunately his ‘jama bottoms had the cord
missing. So in order to avoid having them fall down, he had to
have one hand holding them together…… The shock of the screech, the
bump on his head and the sudden bright lights as the whole of the
women’s dormitory woke up in alarm caused him to let go of his pyjamas
as he shielded his eyes and held his head…..and down dropped his
pyjamas around his ankles. And there he was: a fine specimen of
naked manhood in the middle of all the wardens’
breakfast was, to put it mildly, memorable. As we entered the
dining-room we were met by the angry glares of the South-West
Regional Conference… and their wives. If looks could kill!
and I were summoned to appear in the warden’s office. None of our
apologies would placate him! He was
livid! “Of all the times for such a thing to have
happened…… when the spot-light was well and truly on me…. all my
fellow wardens and their wives…..not to mention the bosses from
H.Q….. and their wives……” He had no option but to confiscate our
YHA Group Leader Cards – they would be black-marked, sent to HQ and we
would be thrown out of the YHA!
fair enough, we thought. Can’t really complain about that.
Back we went to the dining-room to continue our breakfast. Back
past the glares and pointing fingers.
Black shame!! And to add to the situation, the two
students who had failed to make it back (they had got lost and when
they did eventually find the hostel failed to cope with the five-bar
gate and its catch…. and rather than make a fuss, they had
very thoughtfully decided to sleep out in one of the cars) turned up
looking very sorry for themselves. More shame!
gathered the students together and explained the situation. We
all agreed that we must try and redeem ourselves. We decided that
when we were given chores to do, we wouldn’t do them well….. we
wouldn’t do them better…. we would all do them the best they had
ever been done! Times ten!!
their eternal credit, the students rose to the occasion. They
cleaned the windows till they sparkled like crystal. They
polished the brass so it gleamed like gold. You could have eaten
off the floors – they were so spotlessly clean!
Everywhere the students were in a cleaning frenzy. Everything
they did was completely, theatrically over the top. It was
hilarious! But it worked!! In no
time at all we were receiving approving nods and smiles from the
wardens and their wives. If they tried to do even the smallest
chore, it was taken out of their hands, politely of course, by some
eager beaver from Portsmouth.
warden’s face was saved. He called Brian and me back to his
office and actually thanked us for our post-breakfast
performance. In fact, so impressed were he and his bosses that
they gave us our cards back, shook hands and bid us welcome back at any
Janet, our technician, recovered from
her first serious drinking binge. She took to studying geology at
night-school, eventually doing her “A” levels and leaving us to do a
degree at Hull. That night out in Exeter was the beginning of a
romance that led to her marrying Kevan Walton. They disappeared
into Africa for a while to work in mining and mineral exploration
before returning to settle down in northern England in the quarrying
industry. (Some say she must have liked what she saw when the
lights went on in the women’s dormitory!).
Greg Power and a yard of ale on the Assynt field trip - 1978. Sadly Greg died in 2015.
Easter Field Trip to Assynt - 1978
Photo link - B.Sc Geology Students in Cornwall - 1977
Photo link - B.Sc Geology Students and Staff in the Forest of Dean - 1978
Geology Graduates 1981 hard at work in the field!