This page will be used for Memories of Graduates and Staff of field trips, reunions and other occasions. Photographs will be particularly welcome.


Mike Ryan

Date: 14.10.06

The Exeter Youth Hostel Incident

Do 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.
So 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.

Getting 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 them.

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.

Now, 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!

Before 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.

Our 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?”

“Terribly 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!!”

What 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!

They 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. 

Eventually, 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 bunk-bed above!

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’ wives!    Pandemonium!!

Sunday 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!

Brian 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!

Well, that’s 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.
Shame!    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!

We 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!!   

To 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.

The resident 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 time!

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!).

Mike Ryan


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!