A nostalgic, even indulgent, look back at all those routes of old.
I used to climb in the gritstone Wilton Quarries, there are four of them above Bolton, regularly in the 80s and 90s, my climbing mates living in that area. We would drive down after work to tackle some of the classics. Our standard was for repeating the routes done back in the 60s and 70s, generally up to E1, but the quarries were buzzing with local experts climbing, often soloing, the more modern test pieces. After a midgy exit we would retire to one of the local pubs, Black Dog or Bob’s Smithy, for a pint or two to chew over the evening’s activities and plan for the next week. Wonderful care free days with like-minded individuals.
Well the Wilton devotees along with the BMC have for the last ten years hosted an annual festival of Lancashire quarry climbing to invigorate and perpetuate our unique climbing culture. The Wilton Fest.
I was always out in France for September at my friends’ house in the Lot Valley, a lovely place and a lovely time of year, so I had never attended the Wilton Fest. Unfortunately the house has now been sold, and I’m left in the UK at this time of year. The upturn of this is that today I was free to drive down to Bolton and join in the fun.
I have never seen as many cars parked up in the quarries and on the busy road alongside them, hope nobody gets a ticket. The good weather is a blessing to the hard-working organisers.
I drop down first into Wilton One, the largest of the quarries. Only the early risers are climbing. The prow is a unique feature of this quarry, left standing for whatever reason by the labourers. Inside is sunny and dry whilst the outer face looks forbidding as always. A couple of blokes, of my vintage, climb Rambling Route a pleasant VD, whilst a younger couple tackle the impressive Christeena up the edge of the prow. I am beginning to wish I had brought my camera rather than relying on the phone which can’t cope with the contrasting light and has let me down today.
There is nobody climbing on the outside of the prow which I was hoping for – Cameo, Flingle Blunt, Fingernail etc. Don’t ask me where some of these names come from. Nor was there anybody on the big lines farther left – Loopy, Wombat, Central Route. There were later in the day, apparently. I did however watch a pair on Leucocyte Right Hand. I remember the moves up at the start were bold towards a high prominent quarryman’s ironwork, but today’s climbers are able to place a camming device into one of the shotholes lower down, if only that had been my option 40 years ago.
I move on past climbers on regular routes of old – Virgin’s Dilemma, don’t ask, and 999.
I start climbing out of the quarry only to meet a friend from 30 years ago. He and his son are heading down into One to witness the 60th anniversary repeat of another classic, Black Out. There is promise of a good crowd and drone footage. The crowd is of a certain vintage and I recognise many old faces. Eventually Ian Lonsdale introduces the original protagonists, Ray Evans and John Nuttall. (the truth is that they were led up the route in 1963 by a Dave Brodigan, so a lady from that era sat next to us expounds) Let’s just ignore some of the detailed history, and nobody blacked out on the climb. Ray climbs elegantly up the groove with little protection, the pegs are long gone, before the delicate moves left along ledges to the original belay of pitch one. John joins him and leads through the groove above. A masterful display from these pensioners.
I eventually find myself up in Wilton Two where all the trade stands and facilities are. Only to be greeted by “geriatrics are not allowed here” from another old Longridge colleague. I obviously ignore him, and we proceed to where there is free flowing coffee.
After lots of chats and meetings up I make my way over to Wilton Three. (What you see in there are the ranges and huts of a gun club which shares access with the climbers.) This was possibly our favourite evening venue in the past. Lots of accessible routes of quality in our grade range. I’m eager to see someone climbing Shivers Arête, and just as I arrive there is a climber on the crux moves near the top. When we did it there was a rusty peg in a crack for illusionary protection. That has gone and now there is a bolt in its place – controversial in many climbers’ ethics.
Times have changed and now there are as many boulderers as roped climbers. They seek out the hardest technical problems without hardly leaving the ground, or at least not a few feet above. I admire their sport. They are the recognisable turtles with bouldering mats on their backs.
Back to Wilton Two and another coffee. Crusher Holds is there, along with his young family, on his trade stand. His children have their own little shop, so I purchase some wooden toys to enrich their day. (The cars are only allowed in for this special day) .
My dodgy hip, that is preventing me climbing, has had enough of scrambling between venues. Time to go home. It has been good to catch up with friends, and I was impressed by the number of climbers all enjoying themselves. It has been estimated that 500 attended. I should have stayed for the talk to be given by Johnny Dawes, the original ‘Stone Monkey’.