Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

91-year old from Penrith honoured for being the first British Mountain Guide

Gwen Moffat says she thought the award was a joke at first Photo: ITV News Border

A 91-year old woman from Penrith has been given a prestigious award for her talents in mountaineering.

Gwen Moffat has been given an honorary membership of the British Mountaineering Council in recognition of her achievement as the first female British Mountain Guide.

She began climbing when she was 21 after picking up a hitch-hiker and deserted the army to take up the sport.

"I dropped my officer off, driving on my own and I met a hitch-hiker. Half naked man, in bell-bottom trousers, standing beside the road, hitch-hiking and I picked him up and he started telling me about climbing and living in the mountains and in a cottage with other people like himself - he was a conscientious objector' - and then I went on to join my unit, and I played table tennis for about three months and forgot about him, because it was the only thing I could do. The war was over and the only thing to do was play table tennis."

– Gwen Moffat, Writer & retired British Mountain Guide
Gwen talking with our reporter Fiona Marley Paterson Credit: ITV News Border

The hitch-hiker continued to write to her, trying to convince her to become a conscientious objector too and learn to climb.

It wasn't until her love life spiraled into despair that she took up the offer.

"I fell in love with a marine and the love affair ended disastrously when I found out he was married, and I was plunged into despair. It was mid-winter (snow and ice) and I climbed with him for two weeks, went back to my unit, and walked out again. I packed a rucksack and walked out but I kept moving between Cornwall and Wales and down in Cornwall I was modelling for artists and cutting trees down and so on with the rest of the contentious objectors and then back to Wales and climbing and they never found me. I gave myself up in the end because I wanted to go abroad you see, and I couldn't go abroad without a passport and I was illegal so I went back and served my time and came out and I climbed ever since."

– Gwen Moffat, Writer & retired British Mountain Guide
Gwen lived between Cornwall & Wales as a deserter from the army
Gwen became a respected climber & travelled all over the world
Gwen climbed in Wales before going back to the army to get her passport

In 1953, the Queen was coronated, Everest was climbed, and Gwen became the first female British Mountain Guide.

"But I signed my form G. Moffat so nobody knew I was a woman - or I thought they didn't - and apparently the proceedings had gone too far before they realised I was a woman and had the qualifications and they passed me so I became a guide. I didn't realise how significant it was until other people started picking up on it. There were women climbing in the 1880's, a woman went up Mont Blanc in a skirt, with guides."

– Gwen Moffat, Writer & retired British Mountain Guide
Gwen learned how to ice climb during winter when she first started
Gwen became the first female British Mountain Guide in 1953
She was a Mountain Guide for 20 years, supporting herself and her daughter

A film has now been made about Gwen's experiences, which has brought her fame.

Operation Moffat was made by Claire Carter and Jen Randall and has won a stack of awards.

Claire Carter spoke to ITV Border about why they wanted to make the film:

Now she joins the likes of Sir Chris Bonington as an honorary member of the British Mountaineering Council.

"I thought it was a joke at first. What had I done? I was never a great climber, I just climbed well and enjoyed it. And I had - I think my clients enjoyed it too. I was only a guide for 20 years."

– Gwen Moffat, Writer & retired British Mountain Guide
Gwen has written lots of books on climbing and walking Credit: ITV News Border
Gwen's autobiography Space Below my Feet inspired the film Credit: ITV News Border

She wrote books, including her autobiography and finally settled in Penrith, writing crime novels. Now her life of adventure will inspire others too.

Gwen claimed several first female ascents across Europe