We are back at our secret crag, the sun is shining and all’s well. The day passes, and four new climbs are accomplished. All on beautiful clean rock, each one a different style and difficulty. I can’t tell you more, but all will be revealed soon.
As I write this today, with the rain coming down, yesterday’s welcome sunshine seems a distant memory. After several Lancashire walks taken directly from a guide book it was time to visit a different area and plan a route for myself in hopefully contrasting scenery. It worked out better than expected.
We were up the motorway out of Lancashire and into Cumbria, but only just. Not the Lakes but a quiet corner hidden away in the extreme south of the county. In the past I travelled here often to climb and boulder on Hutton Roof crags, beautiful sculptured limestone in the exquisite landscape above Dalton. It was time for a revisit and going over the map the night before I came up with a circuit including the summit trig point which I had not knowingly visited before, my focus then being primarily on the climbing area. It’s complicated up here with several ‘rakes’ of rock running across the fell, presumably fault lines in the limestone, creating miniature walls of rock. Paths are everywhere, but don’t always go anywhere and once the bracken is up it’s like finding your way through a maze.
I phoned Mike at a respectful time in the morning to see if he fancied a walk, but he was due to visit family on this Coronation weekend. Maybe I should therefore go for a longer walk in Bowland? Before long however he phoned back to say he thought, taking advantage of the good weather, he would postpone family to another day. I outlined my planned walk with only vague ideas of how we would navigate across the limestone plateau. Sandwiches hurriedly made we set off.
It was almost noon when we parked up in Burton-in-Kendal, but this worked to our advantage as the misty morning had given way to bright sunshine and blue skies. The first pleasant surprise was the old bridleway, Slape Lane, leading out of the village. A Panoramic Viewpoint has been erected to honour Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, the distant Lakeland Hills depicted were unfortunately hazy in reality. At least closer at hand Farleton Fell appeared prominent.
Between hedges and walls the bridleway snaked slowly up the open fell side, first through farmland and then into forestry. Our attention was taken with the spring flowers and the unidentified bird song in the trees.
Cumbria Wildlife Trust seem to have a hand in managing the woodlands and provide helpful information boards and permissive paths going who knows where. We stuck to the bridleway which came out onto a short stretch of road leading to a col where the Limestone Link footpath crosses Farleton Fell on its way from Kirkby Lonsdale to Arnside or vice versa. Nearby Newbiggin Crags look worthy of exploring.
Turning right we followed the footpath through coppiced woodlands and then onto more open limestone fell. Purple Orchids sporadically appeared giving a splash of colour. What a place for our lunch, looking out over fertile farmland and farther into Cumbria and the distant Howgill Fells.
I knew, or thought I did, my way to the climbing area, marked as The Rakes on the map. Soon we spotted climbers along the edge. Most were doing roped routes, and we stopped to watch for a while – what a perfect afternoon for them. Can you spot South America?
Now for the difficult bit. There was a path leading away from The Rakes which I thought might take us to the trig point, but it kept going down. Trying to make a straight line back up the hill was impossible across the shrub covered limestone blocks. Not wanting to break a leg we surrendered and back tracked on the path we had come in on. This brought us back to our lunch spot! I glossed over this by praising the weather and suggesting to Mike it was good training for him, he’s off to the Amalfi Coast in a couple of weeks. We struck off on a higher path heading in the right direction only to find it twisting and turning through the rocks. Forward visibility was obscured by the vegetation, one just had to keep going the most obvious way. Junctions caused some serious discussion, but we might as well just have tossed a coin. A runner appeared coming in our direction, on asking him if he had come from the trig point he looked baffled obviously not recognising the term. Onwards. A well-used path came up from the valley, so we joined it. A couple of dogs came past us followed by their owner who gave the impression of knowing the way but in fact this was her first time too. We followed the dogs and suddenly came out on to the more open top with the summit trig clearly visible.
A true 360 degree viewpoint, now with Ingleborough coming out of the cloud. The Bowland Hills were clearer than the Lakes. Morecambe Bay was a silver shimmer and one could see Blackpool Tower through binoculars if you wished. I don’t seem to have taken may picture at the top. It would be worth getting up here early one morning in the crisp air to make the most of the visibility. And what sunsets you could witness.
If we didn’t get a move on we might have been seeing one of those sunsets. But once into Dalton Hall’s woods the forest tracks lead us unerringly down to a lane through the few houses of Dalton and down eventually to Burton.
It was 6 o’clock back at the car – oh well I could forget about cutting the lawn.
What an exceptional walk this turned out to be. On reflection, I see on the map public footpaths from Dalton that would have taken us to Burton without the road walking, maybe next time as I’m sure there will be a next time.
I hadn’t decided where to walk this morning but after a bit of faffing I hurriedly opted for a ready-made route, no 39, in Cicerones’s 40 Lancashire walks book by Mark Sutcliffe. It is described as the Reservoirs of Worsthorne Moor, but it is far more; traversing post-industrial landscapes, wild gritstone boulders, trackless moor, endless views and the summit of Black Hambledon, Hoof Stones Height, 479 m. I haven’t knowingly been up Black Hambleton before and today’s route virtually circled it before committing to the top.
It was almost lunchtime when I parked up on The Long Causeway, an ancient route from Pendle through to the Calder Valley, now dominated by wind turbines. A fell runner was just returning from his morning circuit, there was still a chill in the air. (we’d had a ground frost)
Some of the early tracks I remembered from The Burnley Way done back in 2017. Leaving the wind turbines the way drops down Shedden Clough into an old limestone mining area where they used ‘hushes’, dammed watercourses to uncover the limestone. There was evidence of industrial activity wherever you looked.
A man from Salford was exercising his two dogs down by the bridge. He escapes up here for fresh air and tranquillity. The young dogs were having a great time, I think they were pleased to be out of Salford too. A couple of mountain bikers came through and after that I met no one until almost finished.
I was on the Pennine Bridleway heading towards Cant Clough Reservoir set deep in the hills. Normally one can go across the dam, but there was maintenance work in progress which meant a tiresome diversion down the valley and back up again. They were ‘repuddling’ the clay lining, probably the first time since the construction at the end of the C19th. You may remember the 2019 panic when the reservoir dam above Whaley Bridge was put under strain and threatened the area with flooding.
In another extensive quarried area I soon left the PBW, for a while anyway, and headed on a smaller path bordering the wild Rams Clough up into the hills towards an unnamed 468 m summit. All was quiet except for the joyous skylarks. I was soon looking back at Cant Clough Reservoir. The path became steeper and rougher – a sign of things to come?
I reached a bridge in the middle of nowhere carrying the BBW where I managed a photo of a Wheatear which flew from post to post, I remember several of them in this very same place on my Burnley Way outing.
Passing into Yorkshire, Gorple Upper Reservoir now came into sight below and there above me the Gorple Stones, which looked as though there would be bouldering possibilities. But how often do you get a day like this up there?
Ahead now was the prominent Gorple Buttress. I recall the excitement in the climbing magazines back in 1995 – “John Dunne has climbed an E7 on the jutting prow of Gorple” Walking below it today it looked as impossible as ever, overhanging and slopy, I wondered if anybody has repeated it. Dunne went on to produce an even harder more direct line at E9 three years later. A good spot for lunch gazing down at the remote reservoir and across to Black Hambleton.
John Dunne on Eternal E7, cooler day. David Simmonite.
Stirring myself I was soon down to the dam. Mark’s route goes a little down the valley, towards the lower reservoir, before climbing again, but I spotted a level path getting to the same point by crossing, possibly illegally, the dam and using the estate’s shooters’ track. Not advised in the killing season. There were some very attractive little gritstone buttresses above that valley, I may need to return.
Gorple Lower Reservoir.
Across the way were the hauntingly fascinating ruins of C16-17th Raistrick Greave, presumably abandoned when the reservoirs were constructed, around 1930. It had been a large farm and buildings, one suggestion is that it may have been also a stop-over on the local packhorse trails. Reaps Cross is nearby and of course The Packhorse Inn over at Widdop.
To be honest I never really picked up the path again. The ground is very rough and tussocky, when I thought I was back on track I usually ended up on a sheep trod going nowhere. I just battled up the hillside keeping to a southerly direction avoiding Clegg Clough for more than one reason. All around was that dry straw-coloured moorland grass so attractive from afar in the winter months.
Boggy paths started to appear on Hoar Side Moor and I followed one until I hit the fence which I could follow westwards up Black Hambleton at last. All very bleak and isolated.
The trig point eventually appeared. I found a rock to sit on straddling the Lancashire /Yorkshire boundary. All around were the familiar Pennine Hills. Bowland, Pendle, Ingleborough, Boulsworth, StoodleyPike and many unnamed ones to the south.Way down below I could see a Barn Owl quartering the rough pastures.
Pendle in the distance.
Bench marked rocky seat.
I wish the walk could have ended up here as I never found the proper path off to the southwest, the rough ground making it hard going, and the mile alonside the busy road was scattered with litter. But ignoring that last hour this had been a stunning walk of variety and remoteness, sorry I was distracted by all those boulders. I was tired by the end.
It was alarming that my car radio suddenly switched from Radio Lancashire to BBC Cymru as I turned off the A6 towards Dolphinhome in deepest Lancashire. Had I taken the wrong turning somewhere down the road? it turns out their frequencies are very similar, still a bit strange. I was on route to the heart of Bowland not Bangor. Tarnbrook’s few houses lie at the end of the road alongside the northern branch of the River Wyre. They are part of the Duke of Westmorland’s vast Abbeystead estate. I’ve covered this area many times before, most recently here in my Cicerone series. Parking along this narrow lane has always been an issue and the estate are discouraging us going past a suitable lay-by at the entry to the valley. I go along with this even though I know of a large grassy verge higher up the lane. These parkings are both mentioned in Mark Sutcliffe’s walk number 10 onto Ward’s Stone in the Cicerone Lancashire Walks guide book, my objective for today. It looked far off on the horizon.
What a day, clear blue skies and sunshine. Rare enough in these northern hills. But there is a cool easterly wind blowing even down here as I start my walk along the lane to Tarnbrook. I add a few extra warm garments to my rucksack. The quiet lane runs alongside the Tarnbrook Branch of the River Wyre and its joyful passage keeps my attention on the mile or so morning walk up the valley, and of course the lambs. I pass Ouzel Bridge leading to a farm. The Ring Ouzel, or mountain Blackbird, is found in the tree lined cloughs in the Forest of Bowland. Will I see any today, I have previously?
Once into the hamlet I take the concessionary path straight up the fell into open access land, roughly following Tarnsyke Clough. Unfortunately not a Ring Ouzel in sight but there are plenty of lapwings and curlews flying around. This is essentially a Land Rover track to take shooters up to the butts on the fell. In the past, before the CRoW act, it was jealously guarded by the keeper living in the hamlet. Us climbers wanting to go up to the forbidden Thorn Crag, seen up on the right, often resorted to devious tactics, walking up a longer, but permitted, way to the plateau and then dropping down to the crag. We came unstuck one day when my climbing partner uncoiled his new rope, a fluorescent yellow. We could be seen from Blackpool never mind from the keeper’s cottage in Tarnbrook. Session over we would walk boldly down the estate track knowing we would be rudely accosted but also knowing they would have to let us out at the hamlet, stalemate. Things changed with the implication of the access agreement, the same gamekeeper who had sworn at us the last year now wished us a good day. The worm turns. There are no confrontations today and I just plod on upwards at my steady pace. I can’t believe I used to carry a bouldering pad up here.
Thorn Crag and boulders.
Looking back down to Tarnbrook with Hawthornthwaite Fell behind.
I reach the ‘Luncheon Hut’, park your Range Rover here sir.
Onwards, I ignore the track off to the right and continue on to a division of tracks not specifically stated in the guide. It mentions contouring to the left, I somehow ignore this and follow the tempting main track upwards to its terminus, SD593578, and then pick up a fainter path linking a series of shooting butts rising up the fell. All very pleasant although the modern butts resemble WW1 fortifications. I am obviously wrong but take a compass bearing on the trig point and climb onwards. With relief the conspicuous weather station up here comes into view, I was then only a few hundred metres from the summit. It would all be far more difficult in mist. Probably would have been better to stick more closely to Mark’s directions.
End of the road.
Old pony track.
The Fylde plain and Morecambe Bay lie down below, all a little hazy, as I reach the trig point, 560 m. The Lakes and northern Pennines were imaginary. By now the wind was almost gale force making any movement awkward. Fortunately there is a gritstone boulder, the Ward’s Stone itself, nearby behind which I cowered and added more layers of clothing. I used my spare balaclava to keep my cap from blowing away. Even with two pairs of gloves my hands were frozen. I was the only person out on the fell which was probably good considering my appearance.
560 m trig with nearby Ward’s Stone.
Grit Fell to the west and Morecambe Bay.
Over to Caton wind farm with the Lakes hiding behind.
Ready for battle at Ward’s Stone.
Half a mile across the sea of peat was another trig point one metre higher, so at 561 m the highest in Bowland. Why there are two so close together I can find no reason. All is Bowland emptiness to the east, except for Ingleborough’s distinctive summit across the Craven Fault. The book says head for Ingleborough, but I found a vague path going to its right and meeting up with a fence line that comes from nowhere. It’s all too easy in clear weather like today.
Heading just right of Ingleborough.
The going was good to firm on what after rain can be a quagmire of peat. The fence gave way to a wall, which gave me a bit of shelter from the wind. Another fence lead me down the fell. The Three Peaks remained unclear but ahead the remote Wolfstones and White Hill were obvious. These latter two are rarely visited trig points in deepest Bowland. Having said that not a lot of people come this way, the path along Ward’s Stone ridge is not heavily used.
The wall with Distant Pendle. I was having difficulty holding the camera steady.
This part of the fell was being used as a seagull roost, and I was dive bombed a couple of times. Judging from the number of gulls this won’t bide well for vulnerable eggs and chicks of Lapwings or Curlews.
Suddenly I was onto one of his lordship’s roads coming over the hill from the north. This took me all the way down alongside the upper Tarnbrook Wyre in Gables Clough to the valley bottom. Farmers were busy with their sheep and lambs.
In the hamlet the estate houses were being done up for a new lease of life. I remember a few years ago talking to a lovely old gentleman outside his house. He had lived there all his life and was the last resident still there. it will be interesting to see how gentrified the place becomes with new residents moving in.
It seemed a long trudge back along the lane to my car. The extra road walking brings the mileage up to 10, more than the 7 1/4 stated in the guide. With hindsight, given the strength of the wind, it would have been an easier day in reverse.
This is what you may find on shooting estates. A snare cage trap on a log which is meant to kill predators such as the stoat or weasel. The problem is that other small mammals can easily enter and if the dimensions of the entrance are not correct so can larger animals. All very nasty to my mind. You wouldn’t want to put your hand in one! They make a resounding loud snap if touched with a ski pole.
I have a few ideas for some hilly walks now the weather has improved, but they would involve travelling on the busy Easter roads, so I manage to procrastinate the morning away. Let’s just stay local and have a wander up Longridge Fell checking out a few bird habitats at the same time. I’m keen to see the Great Crested Grebes performing their mating dance on the little reservoir at the top of the village. This is where I park my car. Craig Y Longridge is busy with climbers.
As I’m putting my boots on along come JD and his friend Danny. In a couple of weeks they are off to do a pilgrimage walk through Portugal to Santiago de Compostella and are out for a brisk training walk. May I join you I ask? Yes as long as you can keep up with us. All very friendly. They set off at speed up the road, my ‘un’fitness showing. I let them do the talking whilst I try to get my breath back. Fortunately there is soon a rest break whilst they remove clothing layers, the day is hotting up along with their pace. They stuff their clothes onto rucksacks which they are carrying for training purposes.
Now into rhythm I begin to enjoy the walk as we climb up onto Longridge Fell, my original destination. There are daffodils and primroses along the verge and bird song in the air. Young lambs play in the fields. Aren’t we lucky to have this on our doorstep?
Instead of following their intended route up the lane to the kennels I take them off on a track through the fields, past the little reservoir, on by the long abandoned quarries and just below the expensive farm conversion to meet up with the lane leading to the plantations. They claim they had never been that way before, but I doubt their memories. They stop on the ridge for a drink, I suck on an orange. Then along the balcony path above Chipping Vale to the crowded parking on Jeffrey. The first people we had met all afternoon.
We have a quick look into Cardwell Quarry where JD and I used to climb years ago as I had seen a barn owl there the other day. We see a couple of small falcons fly out – ?merlins. In the corner I spot the barn owl, get a hurried long shot (photographically I hasten to add) before it sees us and flies out – what a wonderful bird. Now I know where it roosts I creep in another day and try and get some better images. JD is surprised to see the amount of significant rock fall that has occurred over the years. Quarries are inherently unstable, one just hopes that you are not hanging on when the rock decides to part company. Anyway climbing is banned here ever since some unruly and aggressive behaviour towards the farmer from some youths partying in there. I only hope they weren’t climbers, not that it makes any difference to the ban.
It’s all downhill on the road back to Longridge past the golf course. As part of their training they feel obliged to call in for a drink. We sit on the sunny balcony enjoying a beer whilst the golfers go over their good and bad shots of the day. All very pleasant. Resisting the temptation to stay longer we are soon back into town. I had had my walk up the fell in slightly different circumstances to those envisaged and thoroughly enjoyed the banter. It has turned out averyGood Friday after all. I’m envious of their upcoming peregrination.
Trying to spread my diminishing physical ‘talents’ around – walking, cycling and climbing. today after a miserable week of wheeziness and coughing I made the effort to drive up to Craig Y Longridge not that it is very far. Would it be a step too far? Possibly.
I’ve been coming here for years, far too many. I’m probably four times the age of the young dudes who come from afar to test their strength and skills on one of England’s premier bouldering venues. This strenuous training crag (more correctly a quarry) is fortunately on my doorstep. Every spring I am determined to get strong again.
I’m surprised by the number of people here today, but it is dry with a glimpse of the sun and temperatures nudging above 6 degrees. We all climb in hope. The colourful crowd is mainly one group from Lancaster. All a friendly lot. Whilst they hurl themselves at desperate overhanging problems I slouch off to the easier far end where I can play around on some familiar traverses. I’m only feeling my way back to fitness but as I climb that old buzz kicks in, and I start to enjoy myself and pull off some smart moves. But not for long – the strength soon runs out. Still, there is time to chat with the others, passing the time of day and reflecting on past days and crags. They tolerate my reminisces, I only hope time will be memorable for them too.
When we arrived back at the house we relaxed with tea and biscuits contemplating the day. We had enjoyed a wonderful few hours at Crag X. M and I having been bolstered by his charming wife. I’ll spill the beans regarding my car but not the crag.
The farmer was moving his herd of cows out of the fields opposite and down the road to his yard for milking. We saw them passing the window with him on his quad bike at the rear. They looked a lively bunch and M was pleased his garden gate was closed. After the friendly hospitality and conversation I bade my goodbyes and with the usual frantic searching for my car keys prepared to back out of their drive. But something wasn’t quite right – my driver’s wing mirror was bent forwards. I pulled it back and there was fortunately no damage. But there were signs of bovine hooves alongside. And there on the front wing was a dent, oh is that another one on the rear panel? My car is looking as wrinkly as the crag above.
Back into the house to phone the farmer. He was adamant that his cows could roam at will, and it was my fault for parking there. No apology. A suggestion that he should have assistance when taking his cattle down a public highway wasn’t received well. Not wanting to antagonise him further we agreed to putting in a claim. One hopes he is insured for this sort of thing. My car drove back up the motorway as smoothly as usual. I kept telling myself it’s only a couple of dents. I’ve owned this car for 15 years without a scratch.
Fast-forward to today and I call into my local garage for an assessment of the damage before contacting my insurers. The boss thinks they may be able to ‘Suck’ out the dents without too much cosmetic harm. But they can’t find the sucker. Come back tomorrow and don’t phone the insurers as the repair could be costly leading to scrappage of the car. I couldn’t possibly let that happen and was dismayed at modern day attitudes to sustainability.
As I said we had enjoyed the day at Crag X. The weather had been once again kind, sunny with little wind, what more can you ask at this time of year. We moved along the rocks looking for more possibilities, and we hadn’t gone far when a small compact quality buttress appeared. M was fired up and soon led on sight three new easy routes, I followed in my trainers.
Toping out on For Nancy.
Our attention turned to a narrow buttress we had previously noted as being too difficult. M unlocked the hard lower sequences but wisely chickened out of the higher slopers by escaping, with relief, left into a gully. Now at the top of the buttress a top rope was set up. Despite several sketchy tries he gave up, but at least the essential runner placements have been located for an attempt at another time.
. An early attempt on Narrow Buttress.
Despite the cow damage I ask are you having so much fun?
More sunshine and more rock, they just keep coming. We are back down at Crag X.
It’s difficult photographing climbers when there are just the two of you. All bum and feet,with the head often disappearing, too much backlight from the sky and in any case one should be paying attention to belaying not taking a hand off the rope to click the shutter. Here is our latest offering, some lovely slab climbing.
The day had started cool and bright but as time went by warm sunshine was blessing our efforts. A buttress promised some steep climbing. From our perch below we envisaged two possible lines, they looked feasible from this angle but a bit of toproping to test them out was thought advisable. It is always more satisfying to climb a route ‘on sight’ ground up, discovering the sequences anew as you proceed, but on unclimbed harder lines an exploratory attempt in safety is accepted. That was our strategy anyway and as it happened both lines turned out to be beyond our capabilities, steeper and more strenuous than expected. Someone else more talented will come along and climb them.
My drive home was accompanied by a luminous full moon, a perfect end to the day.
This started out as a short post about bouldering up at Craig Y Longridge, which would have been of little interest to many of you. The autumn sunshine made for a lovely afternoon with several climbers up from Manchester to try the outdoors. Many ‘youngsters’ spend most of their time on indoor climbing walls moving from one blue or red hold to the next. Excellent exercise but not at all like the real thing where you learn to position your body to make maximum efficient use of the available holds, feet and hands. They were enjoying themselves but using up an awful lot of unnecessary energy and skin with their climbing gym moves. You have seen them perform in the Olympics. My son sent me a video the other day of my youngest grandchild climbing at The Depot in Manchester. All very impressive on a ‘route’ I wouldn’t get off the ground on. All heel hooks and dynamic jumps to rounded blobs. I congratulated him on his skill, he is my grandson after all, but also mentioned I had never had to resort to jumping in 50 years of traditional crag climbing.
I go along to the mere vertical part of the crag where I have a trio of traverses. At one time I could link them all together, but now I struggle to climb each one. I don’t mind I’m just happy to be moving on the rock. Back to basics.
On the way home I call into my local supermarket and manage to pick up reduced bags of vegetables. Winter greens, mixed vegetables and stir-fry selections. All for a fraction of their original price, the use by dates approaching fast. Back home with the addition of an onion or two and some potatoes I soon have a heart-warming soup mixture. In fact eight generous portions of soup for less than £2 go into the freezer. Back to basics, that’s how to deal with the cost of living crisis.
Our new government is struggling to come to terms with that cost of living crisis. In fact, they have made it worse by the tax cutting measures that have sent a shock wave through the financial markets. Let’s not hurt the rich and make the poor pay for it in the years to come. Oh! But is that a U turn I see? Disarray within weeks of their new premier. Having Rees-Mogg involved in climate change measures is obviously a joke. Fracking in our back gardens is looming its head here in Lancashire. Time to get back to basics., but I for one have no confidence in the unelectable Tories.
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg,
It is the day of the Autumn Equinox, from now on for 6 months there is more darkness than daylight. The temperatures have also dropped to low single figures at night meaning dewy mornings. The car needs a minute or two to demist before setting off.
Damn it the A6 is closed due to a serious accident, I have to divert and am 30 minutes late. It doesn’t matter the scenery is superb in the early light as mists rise from the fields. I’m meeting up with M again for a trip to Crag X. He is letting another friend, Richard, into the secret, so I message for them to go on, and I’ll catch up. What did we do before mobile phones?
I stroll up with a light sac, passing the halfway stone and arriving just as M and R are setting off to climb Ammonite a steep crack line. They follow it up with a new route traversing right at mid-height , Trilobite.
I wander off to start ‘cleaning’ another buttress. Those of you with no knowledge or interest in climbing will wonder at my sanity. The rock here is of good quality but the cracks and ledges attract vegetation, hopefully not in ecological danger, which detracts from clean climbing. A poke and a brush clean up the essential holds.
I’m bathed in warm sunshine and absorbed with the task hoping a quality climb will emerge. We climb it later, and it is only average, as is the name.
But no matter as the event of the day is about to unfold.
Richard has been cleaning a new line of flakes in the center of the main face. Abseiling down with an ice axe to clean the cracks, another question of sanity. He is revelling in the atmosphere of this lovely crag. The line looks most difficult.
A spot of cleaning – note the ice axe.
I thought we would leave now to return refreshed another day. But no, Richard was keen to try to lead it. Sitting on a belvedere I was witness to it all. I was just setting up my phone camera when he reached a low flake and pulling up on it the rock detached itself along with him down the hillside. They came to rest with the flake lying on top of his arm. M was needed to free him. Thankfully no harm was done – if it had landed on his chest or head things could have been far worse. The pleasures of climbing. I am sure I would have gone home after that happening to me, bad omens and all that.
Richard is obviously made of sterner stuff and within minutes was setting off again on now more minimal holds. A strenuous thin layback got him onto a ledge and some decent protection. More laybacking and he was faced with the impossibly steep head wall – no way on at a sensible grade. He traversed right for a few heart stopping moves to go round the corner into a previously climbed groove and up to the top. A very impressive lead on sight, considering the frightening start. Flakey by name and flakey by nature.
The hard start, notice the ‘recent’ black scar.
Moving up the flakes.
Starting the traverse.
The final groove, one happy climber.
The walk down in the low evening sunshine was a delight – Summer still trying to push back Autumn. We never saw another person.
As I start to write this the rain has finally arrived, but not the thundery downpours forecast, which we badly need. Or at least my garden does, although ‘up north’ we are not as dessicated as ‘down south’.
Trying to make the best of the possibly last good weather I’ve had two contrasting outings at the beginning of September.
The day after my trip around the Guild Wheel the first didn’t go to plan. The plan being to park up at my usual spot by the old Halton station on the Lune; cycle via Lancaster to Morecambe, on to Carnforth, up to visit friends in Over Kellet and follow the lanes back to the bridge at Halton which has just reopened after some refurbishments. The lovely lady at the mobile tea van was telling me about children stealing her drinks and probably terrifying her. She had photos which she handed to the police, but it is doubtful that any resolution has been achieved. How often do we here that the police have their hands tied when dealing with juvenile crimes. Which is the party of law and order? Years of Tory austerity has decimated the police force. I digress.
I unload my cycle whilst drinking my coffee, checked I had everything, give her a cheery wave, and I’m off along the old railway. There are not so many people about, so I make good progress into Lancaster, over the Millennium Bridge and on to Morecambe. I stop at a seat on the promenade to take in those expansive views across the Bay to the Lakes, the tide is well out exposing endless stretches of sand. Why not go down the Stone Jetty and have a drink at the café there, which I have not previously visited. (I’ve still not visited the upmarket art deco Midland.)
But where is my phone with my credit card. I frantically search my bike bag, tipping it out on a table. My version of panic sets in , more disbelief than anything – it’s not life or death after all. I summon up some logic. Did I leave it at that first bench on the prom? Did I leave it in the car park? Could it be still be in the car? Thoughts of continuing my planned jaunt are quickly squashed as I imagine someone happily spending money on my credit card and accessing information on the phone, we are very vulnerable these days.
So back to the bench where a family are now seated. No they didn’t see anything, would I like them to phone my number? On balance, I thought not as it could alert some undesirable to find it. Time for that later in the search. Let’s get back to Halton and hope for the best, it may have been handed into the tea van lady. I cycle the seven miles much faster than usual, OK there is some panic, and soon arrive at the car park. No it’s not anywhere inside the car. Moving to the other side I spot it sitting quite proudly on the roof! What luck? Wow, what a relief.
Time for another coffee and a relaxing sit down. The tea van lady is surprised to see me back so soon. I call it a day and drive home where I am hopefully safe from my stupidity. Not what I had planned.
The next day I arrange to meet up with M at our secret new crag which we are slowly exploring and developing. It could not have gone better, M leading two classy new routes and me cleaning a soaring crack line for next time. I would like to tell you more, but I’m sworn to secrecy.
There are no photos of the Morecambe trip because I’d lost my phone and I can only give you a shady glimpse of the climbing.
I’ve just seen the updated forecast and next week is mainly dry, giving a little more of Summer. Time to conclude my aborted cycle ride and maybe later get out with M on the rock.
There are few photographs and no maps in this post, I’m sworn to secrecy.
Any climber will admit to you that if he comes across a cliff face that apparently hasn’t been climbed on he keeps it very much to himself until he has climbed all the routes or at least the ones he is capable. Climbing lore is full of Crag X’s. I’ve known climbers spend hours on Google Earth trying to spot unknown crags. The protagonists will go to all lengths to ensure their apparent rivals don’t come across the location. Leaking the wrong grid reference or the wrong county if they think they could be robbed of the new route’s kudos. Talk of going to Wales this weekend when in fact they are sneaking into the Lake District. There are tales of car chases to try and follow the new routers to their new crag. Many a secret has however unfortunately slipped out over a few, too many, beers on a Friday night.
New routes on an already well climbed out crag are more difficult to hide before completion and there are many tales of rivals stepping in and ‘pinching’ the route from under the noses of the originator. A nonclimber will say isn’t the rock available to all, there are no property rights. But if a team have spent hours if not days cleaning, and in these times on certain crags placing expensive protection bolts, then they feel they have an unwritten right to first go. There was always a certain climber’s ethic and code protecting this ethos.
The first ascentionist’s list in climbing guide books is always of interest, if not heated debate in some circumstances. There is a wealth of tradition and history contained within. The top climbers satisfied with a select list of quality climbs to their name. Others have produced a plethora of named routes of dubious quality that rarely see anyone else climbing.
To be honest most of, if not all, the decent climbable rock on our small island has been identified. You just need to take a look at UK Climbing’s map to see that even the smallest and most esoteric pieces of rock have been climbed on. However, in recent years the popularity of bouldering, smaller rocks without ropes, has broadened the perception of what is possible away from the traditional areas.
I’ve modestly developed a few rather grotty quarries on Longridge Fell, non are popular but occasionally someone comments on a good route which is satisfying.
I remember a walk, 45 ago, up the Croasdale Valley one winter’s day looking at some craglets, Bull Stones, marked on the OS map. (Aren’t we lucky to have this fantastic mapping source, the envy of the world.) There was lots of rock but little of it high enough for roped climbing as was the norm then. I dismissed it. Step forward 20 years and the sport of bouldering has mushroomed. Every boulder, no matter how small, can be climbed by a variety of ways with just your rock boots and chalk bag, no rope required, Bouldering mats, a safety pad to soften your falls appeared later. That blurred vision of Bull Stones resurfaced, and I mentioned to my climbing partner Batesyman the possibilities up there.
The next weekend we were hiking up there, dodging the gamekeepers, and like kids in a sweetshop climbing everything we could. Bouldering mats were purchased and our boldness multiplied. Over several months we systematically climbed and charted over 300 problems on the extensive edges. M (see below) himself joined in on some new routing. Thankfully the 2004 CRoW act gave access to many previously forbidden upland areas, particularly in the Bowland Hills, a bastion of grouse shooting. ( by the way they will be at it this week – the glorious 12th has passed) I produced a PDF guide to the edge, and it has been incorporated into Robin Mueller’s exhaustive Lancashire Bouldering Guide. If you are interested there is a delightful video http://vimeo.com/183222521
So when I receive an email from M. “How do you fancy helping me develop a crag that I have found? Between 10 and 20 m high?”
I’m hooked and despite my unfitness I was only too keen to join in the fun. I obviously had reservations of what could be new? A drive south on long forgotten roads. M and his wife have bought an isolated property in a secluded valley to start a new life. A lovely C17th farm house with flagged floors and low ceilings.
A walk on what is one of the hottest days of the year brings us to the crags where thankfully there is a pleasant breeze. M shows me the first buttress – I’m blown away. Perfect rock, up to 20 metres high with cracks and breaks. I struggle to follow him up the first new route which he climbed on sight. There was a heart stopping traverse move at half height where you leave a crack and blindly grope for a rounded layaway flake.
His next offering, again previously unclimbed though cleaned this week, involved some very steep moves which I found impossible with my injured left knee, lots of undignified shuffling to get my right leg onto the nose and up to more interesting climbing on immaculate rock. A good lead from M, I couldn’t have done it.
Refreshed by sandwiches and fluid, and it was time for his ‘triple buttress’ route. He had done this before but wanted my opinion of the grade – to be honest I found each of its three sections hard and thought-provoking, probably at least 4c/5a, harder than the other routes had been. But I’m not fit, so maybe I’m overestimating them. M is climbing well, and I’m impressed with the quality of the routes.
We were both exhausted from the climbing and the heat and agreed we had had enough. Back at M’s cottage we went down to the river where there is a secluded swimming pool. The cool water was so refreshing. Wouldn’t you all love this on your door step this weather? The day was topped off with tea and scones.
The secret pool.
M will be busy prospecting new lines and I can’t wait to join him again.
We are at the start of another heat wave, being out in the sun for long is energy sapping. But it is Tuesday when Rod and Dave go climbing, they have sensibly decided upon the shady Witches Quarry. I tag along.
My blog has been here before. I have been many times over the years, it is our nearest limestone climbing. The narrowest of lanes lead out of Downham for a few twisty miles with Pendle looming above. Today tractors going about their business slow me down – but there is no rush with the top down. Following an agreement with the farmer one is allowed to drive into the quarry, close the gate!
When I arrive a few other climbers are already doing routes. It’s a small world and I know most of them, so we chat whilst I wait for my mates to arrive. Then we sneak off to the lower and easier left-hand buttresses.
In times gone by we always wanted to lead a climb, ie roped up from the bottom, placing protection as you went. That felt like the only way to climb – testing one’s physical and mental capabilities. Of course there was always the risk that if you fell you may be injured or worse, with good judgement and luck I have survived 50 years of climbing.
Times moves on, we are not as fit as before, we have lost that ‘edge’ to push ourselves, accidents at our age could have serious consequences. OK I’ll admit it we have lost our nerve and humbly resort to top roping routes. Having a rope above is so very reassuring.
We busy ourselves on some short crack climbs which seem more strenuous and tricky than their grades would suggest. All very enjoyable. We are in the shade, good company and the rural surroundings of the quarry are a joy. What better way to spend an afternoon.
Meanwhile, the other teams are leading much harder routes which I remember from the day. We are well and truly put in the shade.
Rod and Dave safely top roping.
Steve leading something much harder.
For the record – Hemlock, Coven Crack, Cauldron Crack, Sixth Finger and The Shrew.
By the time I arrived they were setting up the ropes – yes we have succumbed to top roping with the excuse of our too many birthdays. I was roped in, literally, when Dave phoned at 9am to say he and Rod were heading for a short day’s climbing at Cadshaw in the hills south of Darwen. I always enjoyed climbing there. By the time I had breakfasted, boiled an egg for a sandwich, cut my toenails, found my rock boots, filled my flask and put petrol in the car I was behind schedule, but no matter I was not expecting to climb for very long.
Motorways are becoming busier and busier and Darwen town centre was a nightmare. I eventually parked up alongside their cars. The OS map shows the ?natural crag as the Fairy Battery. Fairy Buttery or Fairy Buttress the origin is unknown. I decided to walk in a slightly longer way than usual to cross the sometimes tricky Cadshaw Brook by a footbridge downstream. This was a mistake as the path on the north side of Yarnsdale was overgrown and little used. Colourful bluebells diverted my attention. A cuckoo was calling in the woods above. I eventually made it through to below the rocks, there wasn’t a fairy in sight.
Not to be repeated.
I tied on and made my way up the first easy route – West Buttress, this was first climbed back in the 1930s certainly in big boots. The rock has become much more polished over the years. The route further to the right was a classic hand jamming crack – I noticed a few scars on the back of my hands as I relaxed in the post climb bath. I had to be lowered off the next climb, unable to hold on long enough to get my legs up without straining my left knee ligaments. I’m climbing basically with one leg!
Time for lunch.
The next two climbs on the higher east face were enjoyable on more positive rock where one could move around finding the best hand and footholds.
I used to solo all these routes before turning to harder things – how times change. Looking at an old guide book I see that I have led all the climbs here but one – Druids Direct E3 6a. How times change indeed.
Those harder routes, Druids Face.
I didn’t retrace my difficult inward route but joined Dave and Rod crossing the stream dry footed, walking out well satisfied with the day.
When I started writing this blog nearly 10 years ago I called myself ‘bowlandclimber’. My first post incidentally was information on the climbing at Kemple End Quarry on Longridge Fell. I was out climbing most days, either in the mountains of Wales or the Lake District, the edges of the Peak District or Yorkshire, the Lancashire quarries or the bouldering in Bowland. What great friendships shared. As somebody said – “we had it all”
Time moves on, life evolves I’ve lost a great many friends in those years, that is the worst thing. My climbing unfortunately has taken a back seat for all sorts of reasons – OK I’m getting old and the joints aren’t what they used to be. But I’m not giving up that easily.
Today I find myself hanging from an abseil rope doing a spot of ‘cleaning’ in Kemple End. I love it up here. Those views over the Ribble Valley, the deer hiding in the quarry floor, the fresh green growth of bracken, the barn owl roosting across the other side, the thrill if anybody else is climbing here, the first chalked up handhold and the familiar movement across the rough rock, brushing off any loose dust.
Someone has reported, on a climbing forum, concerns about a hanging flake on one of the climbs – Birdy Brow for those familiar. I’ve soloed up and down this route, perhaps recklessly, for many years enjoying the positive layback moves on the flake’s edge. It has never moved.
I went back up there a few days ago and all seemed well but when you examined the flake carefully it was only balanced there by a bit of soil. There was no direct attachment to the quarry face. I felt a pang of conscience – what if someone was injured or worse, killed on this route. I was responsible for finding the route and publishing it to the climbing network. There it was in print in the Lancashire guide book, it even has a star.
Here’s a great photo of Phil Gillespie soloing it – (?copyright UK Climbing)
I’m back today intending to remove the flake which must weigh a ton. Hence, the abseil rope. I’ve brought a crow bar, but it only moves the flake a little, Maybe it is more secure than I thought, but once started I may have made the situation worse. Huffing and puffing I realise I don’t have the strength to prise it from its resting place. My car is only 50 m away and in the boot is the jack – never used in earnest before. Is this a job for the AA?
I return and carefully place the carjack between rock and flake, a few turns of the screw and I can see results. Slowly the gap is widening, and I have time to ensure my safety and recover the jack intact as all that rock crashes to the ground. With a touch of sadness I realise the flake is no more. But there is one hell of a mess of broken rock on the quarry floor and some revision due to the climbs here.
All looks well on Birdy Brow.
Well maybe not.
That’s a lot of rock to fall down on you.
Jack in place. Does this photo make you feel dizzy?
A new scar to climb.
As I said my first post ever was about climbing at Kemple End, so it was fitting that this, my 1000th post, was on the same locality. Unfortunately I managed to delete a past post into the ether yesterday, so technically this post no 999, but I’m not having that.
This is my 1000th post – maybe it is time to stop?
I’m resting up with my latest injury – a medial ligament tear of my knee suffered in a cycle accident on the promenade at Blackpool. For the boring details read here.
Dave phones to say he and Rod are going climbing at Noggarth this sunny afternoon. I can’t resist even if only to meet up with my mates.
Dave should be in France at The Fell and Rock Club’s Easter climbing meet. As he and his wife left the hotel at 6am to board the ferry in Portsmouth she fell onto her right elbow, they made light of it and drove onto the boat. On reaching their cabin the elbow was hurting more and stiffening. A visit to the ship’s nurse confirmed that it was more serious than first thought and a recommendation that rather than travel to France a visit to the local A and E would be sensible. They disembarked to take a taxi ride to hospital, their car by now deep in the hold, irretrievable and shortly on the way to France. I’ll pass over the gory details of her surgical treatment involving plates and screws only to say they are safely back in Lancashire – hence the unexpected phone call today. The car had travelled back by itself.
We arrive at the cemetery parking simultaneously. There is no church in the vicinity, but we surmise, rightly or wrongly, that a cemetery must be attached to a religious seat. The short walk up to the extensive quarried area is a time to catch up with our various happenings. There are a couple of climbers already at work on the main slab.
I’m only here for the beer if there was any and take a back seat as they decide on our first route. Dave takes longer than usual working his way up the smooth often holdless slab. We don’t know the grade or name as it is a newcomer to our guide which has been rapidly put out of date by new developments here. I have a feeling, that I try to suppress, that this is going to be awkward.
It’s my turn, I struggle to bend my knee sufficiently to slip on my rock shoes. Not a good start. The first 10 feet are easy, but then most holds disappear, One has to put faith in one’s feet and bravely stand on minutiae to make progress. OK, in other situations, I’ve done all this before but my rustiness today is evident. Bloody hell I’ve got a rope above me guaranteeing my safety – just stand up. Slow progress is made as I protect my left knee and it’s ligaments from excessive strain. There comes a point halfway up when the only illusionary foothold, I’ve nothing for my hands, is high up on the left. I ask for a tight rope and slowly weight my left leg, the pain starts to impinge and is only relieved by standing on a handy nearby bolt. That is what is called cheating, and I’m not proud of it. No Go truthfully. The top is gained without further ado.
Dave high on the lead of route X.
We decide to move across to the main slab and the classic route, Garth, we’ve done before. I even soloed it in the past. Things have changed and where there was previously little protection bolts drilled into the rock have magically appeared. What was once a soul-searching lead has now been reduced to simple gymnastics with no real fear of harming oneself. The jury is out on the ethics of this ‘levelling up – or down’ All I know is that the experience is not the same but as we are becoming creeping gates it is good to reach the top.
Our hero on Garth VS 4b.
I leave the others to more climbs whilst I slink off to ‘rest my knee’ and have a stroll across the quarry base to find more slabs uncovered in recent months. They become smaller as I traverse right but even steeper and holdless. The other pair of climbers are trying a hard route. One for another time, I’m satisfied with my efforts today, even if I didn’t climb either route cleanly.
Something a little harder.
We wander back down the path past a magnificent apple blossom that I hadn’t noticed on the way up. It is good to be out on a beautiful spring day.
To mark the Easter visit of my family from Manchester a Chinese noodle lunch was enjoyed; and then whilst the physiotherapist was diagnosing my knee problem, resulting from that cycling incident last month, they exercised the dogs up on Longridge Fell. Back at home after coffee my three grandchildren were keen to do a little outside bouldering at the local unique Craig y Longridge. Where they live in Stretford is a bouldering gym, The Depot, which they regularly visit so a chance to get outside was eagerly anticipated. Despite the recent damp weather I was able to find dry rock to climb on and in my senior and injured role was happy to point them at the problems. Great to see them enjoying themselves.
By the time we got back the washing up had all been done. Perfect.
Walk no. 33 in Mark Sutcliffe’s guide explores the foothills of Pendle from Downham. I was just able to park in the picture postcard village at 10am. The sunshine had brought everyone out to explore the surrounding limestone countryside. A large walking party was manning up for perhaps an ascent of Pendle brooding above. Time to be on my way. This 5 mile stroll should be within my ever decreasing limits, the bad heel and bad back were still niggling me. On top of that my recent cycling tumble has left me with a painful ligament on the inside of my left knee. Anyhow, I’ve strapped up my knee, so I can enjoy the best of the Spring sunshine.
Familiar paths alongside Downham Beck get me ahead of the crowds. Soon I was climbing up to Clay House the first of several attractive farmhouses on today’s walk. There was no letup as I continued upwards, past a barn at Lane Head and then over the access lane to Hollins Farm. Up to Hecklin Farm where a diversion around to the right and then fields towards Ravens Holme. The wall stiles are solid, none of those namby-pamby metal gates with yellow catches, and marker posts have guided me through the fields. That’s how it should be.
Leaving by Downham Beck
C19th Clay House.
C18th Hollin’s Farm.
How much in a garden centre?
C17th Hecklin Farm.
C17th Raven’s Holme.
Spring is definitely in the air with lambs, blackthorn blossom, primroses and celandines all around.