The 1963 trip to the Atlas mountains reported in our July 2010 issue has produced two letters of reminiscence:

Richard Woodhead (FS 60-64) writes:
 “This was the school’s first big trip to the Atlas and I well remember much of the adventure, including bumping down through France and Spain (no motorways in those days), all squashed into a small Bedford van. There was a large roof rack on top and we were very overloaded. I recall us all having to decant a lot of our kit and leave it at Dover, and even then, after quite a few punctures, we had to get the suspension welded somewhere en route as it collapsed! The trip still holds lots of memories for me, such as the surprise of coming down the roads around Seville in the afternoon and seeing the warm sun and the orange blossom after the dull chill of snow near Madrid earlier that day. I think I may still have hidden away in the loft the old rug which I bought on the harbour front in Tangiers from a young chap wearing a very grubby djelleba, who, after concluding the deal, then asked if I wanted to meet his sister! Despite the passage of time, I also still well remember eating Edam cheese on cold nights up in the mountains and melting the red rind off the cheese into the candles and watching the warm glow flicker around the tent. On a negative note, I could also mention one really freezing night many of us spent unprotected and lost on the mountain; when darkness fell we all had to huddle together for warmth in a small cave we had found by lucky chance. At the time I didn’t think I had ever been so cold or so tired, but it certainly was an experience!”

David Elston (FS 65-70) recalls a similar trip made in 1971 as well as one ‘forty years on’
in 2011.

“Driving up the Tizi’n’tzec valley in Morocco in a spacious, air- conditioned hire car in the glorious sunshine of April 2011, initially seemed a long way off from the same trip up the same mountain road exactly forty years before in a 12 seater Ford Transit, with seven St Beghians (Jeremy Crook, Tim Penrice, Clive Mendus, Chris Styles, Nick Bacon, John Dunn and me, the latter two having both left by then) and three masters, Alan Francis, Martin Lamping and Chris Robson. Then we were travelling in pouring rain, some of the group already suffering somewhat from too much sun and a bit of altitude sickness. But, in many ways, it was surprisingly the same; the roads were hardly much better and I was frequently driven into the hard shoulder by fleets of battered twenty and thirty year old Mercedes taxis and trucks, just as challenging as Martin had found in 1971 even with his rally driving skills. The scenery was of course as stunning and dramatic and many of the smaller towns and villages looked and felt broadly as they had done forty years previously.
In 2011 with my wife Geraldine and daughter Ginny we were staying in the Atlas foothills, toward the Tizi’n’tzec pass, at La Domaine de la Rosarie, a lovely, comfortable hotel, quite unlike the hostels, mountain huts and roadside camping by the Transit we had enjoyed in 1971.   Our 2011 trip was something of a mission. It was our thirtieth wedding anniversary and we thought we should do something different, (never having been back to Morocco since). The idea was germinated in 2010 when I read Alison Stafford’s intriguing article in the St Beghian recounting her recent trip in the footsteps of her father, Martin Lamping. Alison had sent me a DVD of the amazingly well preserved cine film which Chris and Martin had taken in 1971, as well as a lot of photos, and I had dug out my old transparencies from 1971 and had these digitally copied into remarkably successful prints of that trip. I then met up with Alison and her husband and with a bit of gentle pressure from our children, the die was cast early in 2011 and a trip organised.
So, in April 2011, exactly forty years on, we flew into Marrakech, (not the long yet fascinating Transit trip through Franco’s 1971 Spain), and stayed our first night there before driving up to la Rosarie, where we had four gloriously sunny days of travelling about, swimming in the pool, and admiring the gardens and scenery before a few leisurely pre-prandials and dinner outside - a far cry from the Batchelors packet food of forty years before. We drove up to Tizi’n’tzec, visited a mosque under scrupulous renovation, pushing the poor hire car further and further into the Atlas foothills and potholes. 
However, our most intriguing trip from la Rosarie was to Imlil, about an hour’s drive up a valley from the main Tizi’n’tzec road, Imlil being the very basic little hamlet from where we had done our initial climbs on the north side of the Atlas range in 1971. Now it is a thriving little town with shops, cafes, internet cafes, and the centre for climbing, hill walking, treks and just curious tourists. Armed with copies of my 1971 photos we set about trying to find some of the same views I had taken forty years previously, which proved surprisingly easy. 
We found the old hostel where we had stayed in 1971, now much extended, and a well organised climbing centre providing a base for all sorts of climbing, mountaineering and trips. Delighted, I made contact with the manager, a charming guy in his 40s, who showed us some of the trips now run from there. I showed him my 1971 photos, which intrigued him greatly, especially when I came to a picture of our guide from that trip, Ali. Our host immediately produced more of Ali over the following years and explained that he still lived in Imlil and was indeed none other than his own father. I confess I was initially slightly sceptical of the coincidence, but the photos over the years clearly showed the same man; our host then asked if we could wait fifteen minutes or so as he said he felt his father, now in his eighties and with poor sight, would be delighted to meet up. Sure enough the elderly Ali arrived a little later, ram-rod straight and clearly very sound in body and mind, albeit with failing eyesight. We had a chat for twenty minutes or so as he tried to recall which trip we were, since he had been guiding British and French school and university trips all through the 1970s and 80s. He was delighted to get the photo of himself, which I gave him, and he explained how much had changed in some ways but how nothing had changed once you were up into the mountains.
That was a highlight of the trip, although there were plenty more. A few days later we headed to Casablanca on the excellent empty motorway, where driving was marginally less of a battle of nerves, and then we returned to Marrakech to meet up with our son, Benjie, who had travelled out and spent five fascinating days of visiting the souks, the palaces and other sites, including the Saadi tombs, which we visited in 1971. Apart from their being more tourists, much was unchanged in all these places and we got lost in the souks as easily we did forty years before.  Some of my 2011 photos were almost indistinguishable from that trip. We also drove up to the pass at Tzi’n’Ticka, sorely tempted to drive on to Ouarzazate and the Todra Gorge, which we had visited in the latter part of the 1971 trip. However, we had no time for that with our return flight looming in a day or two, so we headed back to Marrakech, (increasingly grateful that the Peugeot now caked in mud and with heavily over-used brakes was hired and not my own).
It was a great trip and whetted out appetite for a return in the next few years, possibly to get to Ourzazate, the Todra Gorge and Fez again. What it really brought home, however, was how enterprising St Bees (in particular the staff involved) had been in the 1960s in organising so carefully those three challenging, thoroughly worthwhile and truly interesting trips with a real sense of adventure. There was a serious element of risk in what we did in 1971, whereas forty years later probably the main risk was, well, perhaps I shouldn’t go on about the Moroccan driving…”

Please CLICK HERE to see photographs of David Elston's trips.


The St. Beghian Society,    St. Bees School,    St. Bees,    Cumbria,    CA27 0DS.
         Tel: (01946) 828093