When Geoff Hornby signed up to the wrong course at Brathay it was to change the future direction of his entire life.
It's a story that came back to Geoff recently when one of our 262 Challenge cyclists asked if he would kindly sponsor him.
'Of course I said yes, and maybe because it awakened a soft spot in me,' says Geoff, who recalls working as a shipyard apprentice in Barrow back in the 1970s and accidentally signing up for what he thought was an Outward Bound course that was actually a management course at Brathay!
'I arrived at Brathay Hall, 18 and clueless and totally out of my depth and had to suffer the embarrassment of having to write on my name card when I was last promoted and when I expected to be promoted next. I didn’t know what to do, so I just wrote ‘Never and Never’.
Yet despite some initial raised eyebrows, Geoff's natural physical abilities and sheer determination shone through. He excelled at the many outdoor challenges and proved an valuable team member in cajoling and supporting others.
'I remember we had a rowing exercise on Windermere and every team had a problem getting boats onto their cradles and back into the boat house. All the groups stood there watching the boats spinning around in the wind and kept repeating the exercise without success. I decided to wade out into the lake to chest depth and then manoeuvred the stern of the boat straight and held it whilst the team pulled it in. After that, we were the first team in every morning. Walking back to the Hall soaked to the neck in lake water brought looks of sympathy but I was proud of my contribution. I knew I could not walk in their world of management but I also knew that my world was also relevant.'
By the end of the course, Geoff's confidence grew and he began to feel less intimidated. He tried abseiling, which he loved, and his instructors gave him extra outdoor challenges to do whilst others completed managerial training tasks. But it was an evening slide show that was to have the greatest influence on him.
'A high altitude mountain face appeared on the projector screen and I was absolutely stunned. I saw huge icefields, cascading seracs and endless rock bands and buttresses. I knew straight away that I needed to see those mountains in real life.'
Two years later, still only a young man, Geoff completed an ambitious winter climb on Ben Nevis, followed by an ascent of Mont Blanc the year after, and then the Matterhorn North face.
'It all came from Brathay,' he says. 'That training course that I accidentally signed up for has fashioned my entire life ever since.'
And the Matterhorn was only the beginning. Among his many achievements, all of which he humbly attributes to his Brathay experience, Geoff went on to become an Engineering Graduate and a Fellow of his Professional society, lecturing in engineering safety worldwide. As for his climbing career, he has tackled unclimbed routes in Alaska, the Yukon and the Himalaya; made first ascents through the Western Hajar mountains of Oman and the Setesdal region of Southern Norway, and in the 1990s became Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for his contribution to mountain exploration.
And what makes the story even sweeter - for Brathay at least - is Geoff's reconnection with our charity and his commitment to supporting our challenge events and willingness to come forward in his retirement as an active volunteer.
Geoff Hornby's introduction to Brathay may have been a long time ago, but its impact has been long-lasting and life-affirming.
Thank you Geoff for sharing such an inspirational story.
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- Share your story - You can tell your story in words, or we can interview and film you, or better still, you can film yourself talking to camera and send us the film to use. Films should be no longer than 60 seconds and we can provide you with a quick easy guide to self-filming if this is something new to you.
Just tell us who you are, what your connection to Brathay is, and how Brathay has changed your life. It need only be a small change, like leading you to new job, finding more self-confidence, climbing a mountain for the first time – whatever your experience has been we want to hear about it!
With your permission, we will publish your story alongside others on our website and social media over the course of 2021.
We hope you are as excited as we are about the prospect of collating 75 unique stories to make 75 successful years!