International Women’s Day 2018: One who did so much Gwen Moffat Guide.Mountaineer, author and pioneer well worth a read.

My inspiration was my Mum – but that is for another day.

Today is International Women’s Day  and nowadays  there are so many inspirational Women  about. I give lectures and talks all over Scotland and there are so many women climbing and walking nowadays and most audiences there are more women. It a great change for my early days when few women were on the hills.  I was very lucky to have been brought up with some many  friends telling me the tales of past Mountaineers and other incredible people.  I have always loved books especially mountaineering books and as my Blog stated the other day and stirred a bit of interest with many stating what their favourites were. It made an interesting discussion and I updated my blog with the comments.

Few nowadays will know the tale of Gwen Moffat  – She was the first female British Mountain Guide in 1953 and an incredible climber in her day . Her book “Space between my feet” is an incredible tale of a single Mum in these early days after the war.  These were the days well before “Women’s Lib”  and this book is the tale of these days. I advise everyone to get a copy and read this story. She also wrote a great book ” Two Star Red”  about the early days of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service.

Gwen Moffat was Britain’s first female mountain guide. Moreover, in the austere world of post-war Britain where women were expected to stay home and get married, Gwen’s Bohemian attitude was very much against the norm – in fact she was 40 years ahead of her time.

Her autobiography “Space Below My Feet” was out of print for many years and it was long over-due being republished.
Like so many people later, Gwen just lived for climbing. The book is fascinating, not only for the tales of climbing and mountains, but also just how different her lifestyle was for the times. Dossing in climbing barns and sleeping under hedges was not lady-like behaviour  in 1947! – Highly recommended. I still am amazed at her attitude as the Mountaineering World was pretty slow to appreciate the role of women in the mountains in the 50’s and later on. Even in my time 90’s when we got women in Mountain Rescue in the RAF it was a tricky time and yet many of the girls showed us all how to do it! How Gwen did this in these early days I have no clue, she is an inspiration to us all and how few know her story. It is a story worthy of passing on and admiring her achievements throughout her life. Get that book “Space between my Feet and enjoy it”.

The classic photo barefoot Gwen

The book I love is Two Star Red that is a book I always  wanted and was lucky to get a copy many years ago. I have had it for over 30 years and it is signed by so many in RAF Mountain Rescue. I was an honour to have met Gwen at the 60 th Anniversary RAF MRT party and she signed my copy. She was looking great and very fit, we had girls in RAF Mountain Rescue by then and I have a great photo of them meeting.  Many of the greats of RAF MR have signed this including Johnnie Lees , John Hinde, George Bruce, Ray Sefton, Taff Tunah, and so many others. I take it to re unions and have so many comments and signatures from troops. It is great that the girls are now a huge part of Mountain Rescue and what they have done to improve the system as Mountain Rescue moves forward. It took a long time in this male dominated world but great to see.

Gewn Moffat mets Jenny Annabel and Sharon at a re union both Jenny and Sharon were in the Kinloss Team.

Two Star Red by Gwen Moffat is a great book about the early days of the RAF Mountain Rescue and gives an  insight into mountaineering and mountain rescue in the 50’s and 60’s. Gwen married Johnnie Lees and was one of the first women guides, she has had an incredible life and is a fairly well-known author. Her other books describe how hard it was to be a single woman climber with a young child in these years. How things have changed, thank goodness. You can pick up some of Gwen’s books on Amazon she is still an incredible lady. The BMC did a film on her recently it is wonderful what a lady and I will introduce my grand kids to her life soon she is an inspiration.

This is from an article a few years ago about her.

” When I look back now on my climbing times, it seems like a different life. You lose flexibility, and once your physical strength goes, so too does your confidence, and that’s it. Nowadays I’ll look at pictures of some of the things I did, the crux of some route on Ben Nevis, and suddenly I’ll think, did I do that? Was that really me? ■”

I was very lucky to meet Gwen at a big Reunion many years ago and today I received and email from her it made my day, what a lady!  What an example and how lucky do are we that she is still going strong and she truly is an amazing person.

WATCH: The Operation Moffat trailer on BMC TV”

It was her other story of a women in a man’s world of  climbing and living life to full, her life story or part of it is in the other classic book Space between my feet. These were hard days and one it is hard to understand how women were treated in these dark days. This was in the late 50’s and 60’s and is some tale and how these days have moved on from what we have now.  Gwen has moved on and has inspired generations in her books and her life, it is great to see her being acknowledged after all these years. Well done the BMC I watched this film it is magic Gwen was 91 when this film was done and still has that sparkle in her eye, wonderful.

Heavy – Any Comments ?


Heavy, the picture on the front of Space Below My Feet is of Gwen on Longships Ridge, down near Lands End. We can include that on your next Cornwall climbing adventure (as well as Right Angle).

Heather is a big fan of Gwen Moffat and we climbed it when she came down this way in 2011 – Pete Greening

The route on a colder day Photo P. Greening Longships Ridge.

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Books, Charity, Enviroment, Family, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, People, Recomended books and Guides, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

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