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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  2017  /  May 2017  /  Forty Years On

Forty Years On

Revisiting a memorable first year field class

Forty Years On

Peter Wood writes:

During the 1970s, the UCL Geography Department used to take first year Geography undergrads on a week’s Easter vacation field class to some part of the UK that was as different as possible from London.

The work included an introduction to both physical and human field methods, usually involving some wading in rivers and interrogation of wary locals. The results were gathered, and analysed in the evenings for as long as the attractions of the local pubs could be resisted without mutiny.

The venues included, at various times, Durham, Swansea and South Devon, but for much of the 1970s the target area was the Forest of Dean. Along with the academic benefits the most notable outcome of such excursions was the creation of close networks of friendship and a departmental esprit de corps engaging both staff and students.

This even survives the passage of time, often re-emerging decades later, particularly as former students approach retirement. Thus the cohort of 1977-80 came to meet again in mid-May, at the same venue, in Littledean, where they had experienced their first year field class 40 years earlier.

Around 30 people, over half the year, were able to be at the weekend, with some flying in from abroad, many meeting for the first time since graduating. Memories of UCL came flooding back, and there was much catching-up of later lives, in families and in work across an impressive range of national and international commercial, public and charity sector careers.

On Saturday morning the group set off to follow ancestral instincts for fieldwork with a “fun walk” from Symonds Yat along the Wye Valley and lunch at a riverside pub. The event was rounded off with celebratory drinks and dinner in the evening before a no doubt bleary-eyed departure on Sunday morning.

Afterwards the weekend was summed up in various emailed messages:

“I was a bit hesitant about the reunion because it has been so long – however I am so glad I went. It really was a pleasure to catch up with everybody that attended.”

“To be honest I was unsure how it would pan out and had come prepared to treat it as a work's do if it was not my thing, as I had not seen any of you for 37 years. However it was great and I am so pleased I came.”

“Excellent 2 days, and great to see how we have all progressed. It was amazing how everybody re-connected after such a long period!”

“I had such a great time catching up with everyone and can only say what a wonderful bunch of people UCL Geographers were back in '77 and still are today.  Forty years is a big gap to catch up on but I think we all managed to do it justice and it was lovely to reaffirm past friendships and acquaintances.”

The event was master-minded by Adrian Day, based on an idea by Sandra Bliss, who also led the Saturday morning excursion. The Saturday evening logistics to the restaurant were arranged by Sue Fennell.


The Year of 1977 at Symonds Yat