ACROSS the Bradford district people of all ages are putting on their walking boots to enjoy rambles with an organisation that began a century ago.

They are members of Bradford HF Walking and Social Club which offer guided walks in the Yorkshire Dales and surrounding areas, as well as holidays further afield.

Founded in 1920, the group is one of many across Britain affiliated to the national body HF Holidays, founded seven years previously.

Bob Gomersall, of Ilkley, has been walking with HF since boyhood holidays with his family. He has the organisation to thank for his marriage to Tricia, who he met at an HF Holidays-owned country house in Portinscale near Keswick, one of 18 such properties across the country. “Our children and grandchildren are now members,” he says.

This remarkably forward-looking organisation was founded in 1913 by Thomas Arthur Leonard, one of the key figures in the British outdoor movement.

Having created the Co-operative Holidays Association, Leonard founded what was then known as the Holiday Fellowship, and was its general secretary until 1934.

In the 1930s Leonard also helped create the Youth Hostels Association and and was one of the founders of the Friends of the Lake District. He chaired the first national meeting of the Ramblers Association in 1935.

As the Holiday Fellowship expanded local groups emerged in most major towns and cities. Bradford’s was one of the first, being established by Jim Booth and local businessman Harold Ogden.

Originally named Holiday Fellowship - Bradford Group, it also had a philanthropic arm, arranging sponsored holidays for the less well off in the city. These holidays were held in HF’s country houses in picturesque settings, many of which continue to offer a wide variety of walking holidays today.

Bob is the current president of Bradford HF, which has 90 members from across the district. Affiliated to the national organisation, it is marking it’s 2020 centenary with a special weekend at Newfield Hall, Malham, a property acquired by the fellowship in the 1930s.

“People join the group and make life-long friends,” says Bob. “There is the combination of getting out in the countryside and the social side of the group.”

In the early days of HF there was a spirit of idealism centred around the ‘constructive use of leisure’ and ‘not striving for our own enjoyment’, yet this did not deter prospective members, and indeed led to a waiting list for membership.

Candidates were invited in turn to join a walk and presumably assessed for their suitability, much in the manner of an interview, following which - if they were accepted - their names were read out at a ‘general gathering’.

“Times have changed and new members are welcomed with fellowship and friendliness being fundamentals of the club,” says a Bradford HF spokesman.

“It is testimony to the benefits of exercise that many members have lived long lives: Doreen Bakes and Irene Relton have been members of the club for 70 and 69 years respectively.”

It is a happy feature of the club that members are able to continue with the social aspects, meeting other members at events, even when their walking days are over. “The social nature of the club as a whole is an important feature for members of all ages,” says the spokesman.

Social events are held throughout the year. They include monthly speakers during the winter season, an annual photographic competition, a summer meal and walk, a fish and chip lunch, Christmas dinner and visits to places of interest.

Irene Relton, 92, of Allerton, who won this year’s photographic competition with an eye-catching image of an empty rowing boat with an oar hanging over each side, in a pond with water lilies, has been a member of the Bradford group for almost 70 years. “I used to go on walks for many years, and now I enjoy the social side,” she says. “I have made many friends through the group and love meeting new people - everyone is so nice.”

Walks are organised for each Wednesday and most Sundays throughout the year, and are generally in the Yorkshire Dales or the local area around Bradford, with the typical distances being between seven and ten miles.

The difficulty of the walks can vary according to the personal preferences of the leader, who ideally will have tried out the walk in advance and identified such things as a suitable lunch spot. A key benefit of club membership is that there is a pool of good leaders, leading to a varied range of walking experiences.

A couple of times a year, Bradford HF,which has an annual membership fee of £8, organise walking holidays that are usually held at one of HF’s country houses. HF nationally offer guided and self-guided walking holidays, leisure and activity breaks in the UK & abroad. Over the years since its conception, more than five million people have holidayed with HF.

*To find out more about Bradford HF visit the group’s website: