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.
Ups and downs in these folded foothills took me up to Throstle Hall Cottage. All the while Pendle gazed down on my slow progress. Whilst Mark’s directions have been spot on he has become confused with the names of the farms along here. A simple mistake for which there is no excuse. I was now on paths new to me as I descended towards Hill Foot farm. Now out onto open limestone pastures with little quarries all around. I emerged onto the lane by the defunct mill pond to Twiston Mill. TWISTON_MILL.pdf (downhamvillage.org.uk)
I couldn’t resist the short walk up the hill past the Lime Kiln to have a look into Witches Quarry, a favourite limestone venue of mine for years. The sun doesn’t get round to the face until late. Climbers were on one of the sustained HVS’s in the centre of the wall, The Spell. The routes here tend to have ‘witch’ themed names, this is Lancashire Witch country after all. I chatted for a while and then left as they were starting up the VS Thrutch. I was feeling a little envious as I walked down the lane and in fact the quarry could be seen from a fair bit of my ongoing track which surprised me as one tends to think of it being hidden from close up.
Zoom back to the quarry half a mile away.
The paths I used were well trodden heading down the beck, but then I crossed on a footbridge and climbed past a cottage, Springs, onto a higher ridge, possibly a Roman way, for a grand finale back to Downham, now even busier with families enjoying the sunshine and ice creams from the little shop. I came in by the pretty cottages, pub and church. All the while Pendle was proudly overlooking its gentle foothills. For more of Downham read here.
An ideal walk for a perfect Spring day, though I don’t think I’ll be out for a while as my knee has played up.
The weather this weekend has been dry and sunny, just the ticket to bring Craig Y Longridge into condition. I made a tentative step with my bouldering mat for the first time this year. A few others were doing the same, a good family venue, so there was the chance for some chat between the attempts to test our fitness. Mine is sadly lacking, not having climbed for 6 months, the others had been enjoying the delights of indoor walls over winter which makes a big difference. I played about for an hour or so, more putting some chalk on the holds rather than climbing them.
I made my retreat across the road for some bird watching on the small reservoir. Tufted Ducks and a Great Crested Grebe.
I’ve not been far from base recently. There is a cousin, ‘thepieman’, living in Skipton whom I’ve not met up with for two years. Admittedly, he has phoned me on several occasions with a suggestion for a walk, but I have always declined with the excuse of injury. This can’t go on. It turns out he is suffering also, so when I suggest a short walk, on his home territory, the die is cast.
Yorkshire Limestone has been a favourite climbing venue for me over the years. Malham, Gordale, Attermire, Twistleton, Crumack Dale, Oxenber – the list goes on. The last time I visited the imposing Pot Scar the polish on the holds was unnerving, so in recent years, we retreated to the safer bolted climbs of Giggleswick. Why not revisit some of these venues on today’s walk.
There used to be a garage or was it a café on Buckhaw Brow above Settle, but now all is bypassed, and my mind is clouded. In the past, buses came this way, struggling up the hill from Settle. We are parked on the Craven Fault. Limestone high on the left and gritstone down below on the right where the land has slipped. My knowledge of geology is rudimentary.
‘The pieman’ is proud to display his vintage wool Dachstein Mitts, once an essential item of all climbers, famed for their warmth and water resistance. They had the added advantage that when winter climbing, they could virtually glue you to the ice. Are they still available?
The little roadside crag is examined, yes there would be routes on it, and then we are off along the airy escarpment. A path is followed, linking stiles in the substantial stone walls, with views down the fault to Settle. Up to our left are limestone cliffs with hidden caves, we are heading for Schoolboys Tower, a cairn associated with Giggleswick School down below. Stones were added to the cairn by pupils on their last, or was it their first, day. A smaller nearby cairn has been named Schoolgirls once the school had admitted the other sex.
Having reached the ‘tower’, looking a little dilapidated, we went in search of Schoolboys Cave down below on the steeper escarpment. A bit of scrambling, and we found the entrance to what was only a short cavern, curiosity satisfied we then peered into the more cavernous quarry nearby, now redundant.
What followed was a mistake. I wanted to link up with The Dales High Way coming out of Stainforth. The obvious way would have been to follow the River Ribble or even the quiet road up the valley from Stackhouse. No, I eschewed both for some cross-country escapade involving some inelegant and illicit wall climbing. I hope the farmer is not reading this, although despite risking damage to his walls, our clothing and appendages, not a stone was dislodged. As a diversion, we were treated to excellent views of the stately Pen-y-ghent.
Things improved once we were on a signed path. Over the rise, the long escarpment of Smearsett Scar led us on. We started to meet more (sensible) walkers. The last time we were here, we climbed to the trig point on the Scar for its views, today we were less enthusiastic and settled into a wall for lunch. I regret not recording for historical evidence the size of ‘the pieman’s‘ sandwiches.
My eyes were scanning the cliffs of Pot Scar for routes often climbed. Will I ever return to those steep walls?
The farm at the head of Feizor was busy with cattle being let out onto the higher fields. We stood aside as the stockmen herded the cows, calves and a moody bull. Feizor was always a sleepy hamlet, but now there is a café and several holiday lets. Despite this, I think It will always be at the back of beyond.
As we gained height, looking back to Feizor the distinctive top of Ingleborough could be made out. New finger pointers show us the way back across clipped limestone grasslands to Buckhaw. We were both feeling the effects of a short but unintentionally fairly strenuous day.
Most of what I have to say today is irrelevant. Putin is focused on invading Ukraine on false premises, and a peaceful nation is being annihilated.
The object of the day was to reach the trig point on Crookrise at 415m. Sir Hugh has had an ongoing mission to visit all the 76 trig points on OS map 103, mainly in the NW part of Lancashire, although today we are in Yorkshire. This would be the final summit, and he duly touched the shining white pillar early in the afternoon, congratulations on another challenge completed.
Fortunately, we had chosen a blue sky day and the views were sparkling. In the background, on the picture above, is the lovely little ridge of Sharp Haw on the edge of the busy Dales town of Skipton. Down the Aire valley was all floods. In a northerly direction, the monument on Rylstone was prominent and the rift of Deer Gallows showed up clearly, reminding me of a long day when we climbed on all six crags on this edge of Barden Moor with a lot of rough walking between them.
Our rendezvous on this occasion was the free car park in Embsay village to make a hopefully interesting circuit, it turned out to be a full day in the hills. Above the historic village, once busy with mills, is the shapely Embsay Crag, and this was our first objective, although at the time we hadn’t realised it. In my mind, the path traversed below it en route to the reservoir, but no, we were slowly guided onto the summit. And what a summit, surrounded by gritstone craglets with a 360 degree view. The vast interior of Barden Moor with Deer Gallows, distant Beamsley Beacon, Embsay and its reservoir directly below, even more distant Pendle and the fell wall leading up to the Crookrise summit. Along the valley below, a steam excursion was puffing on the short stretch of restored railway.
C18th Embsay Kirk.
C19th Embsay Church of St. Mary the Virgin.
Looking back to Beamsley Beacon and Eastby Crag.
Embsay Reservoir and sailing club.
A problem was how to reach the route up onto Crookrise without loosing too much height, we failed and followed a decent path down to the reservoir. This took us past a secluded ghyll complete with a lively stream, magic.
Rough ground to Crookrise (top right)
Back up to Embsay Crag.
I was glad of not carrying a full climbing rack and rope up the steep track, past the perfect little boulders where we used to stop off for some warm up entertainment before the main event. Sir Hugh had promised a nostalgic visit to Crookrise Crag after the celebratory trig visit
Heading up newly flagged path.
First view of the crag over the wall.
That trig point.
Floods in the Aire Valley.
My regular climbing partner years ago lived in Skipton, still does, so Crookrise, on his back door, was a frequent venue for our early struggles on gritstone, I knew it well. From the trig point I thought I saw a way down to the base of the rocks – but our first attempt, and second, and third, ever more precarious, only landed us into a world of moss and conifers, many of those precariously toppled by recent storms. Obviously too far west. Back up to the top, we retreated several times and yet tried again without success. This was jungle warfare that stretched Sir Hugh, and I felt embarrassed and responsible. Let’s sit down and have lunch was my best solution. I didn’t know it as well as I remembered. I tried to distract him with views across to the splendid crag at Deer Gallows.
A tight squeeze.
Pulling on heather.
Temporary escape, time for lunch.
Deer Gallows and Embsay Crag.
Zoom to Deer Gallows.
Composure restored, we climbed the wall onto the access track and headed down the fell, our tails between our legs. More stiles were passed and investigated without any obvious ways down, but the last seemed to ring a bell in my memory. I was over and looking down on the End Slab of the main crag. Sir Hugh was ‘keen’ to follow, and soon we were stood below the slabs. The rock was in perfect condition, and I was regretting not throwing my rock shoes into my sack. But maybe my memories deceived me, the slab was steeper and relatively holdless, drawing one on to even more difficulties higher up, which I may not be able to succumb. I was content therefore to admire smugly from terra firma. The rest of the crag stretching west into the trees will have to wait for another time, even I was loosing my enthusiasm.
There must be a way down.
Can we go now?
Back on the descending track, we met up with a pleasant couple, ‘birders’ by the look of them, who were out for the day with their binoculars. In typical Yorkshire banter, they commented on farmers, walkers and most emphatically irresponsible dog owners. On the whole, we had to agree with their sentiments, though we debated the finer points as we progressed down past the reservoir. Our contributions to bird watching were Greylag Geese on the water and Oyster Catchers swooping above.
The industrial heritage of Embsay was in evidence, with mill chimneys and mill races as we entered the village past the Manor House. It was difficult to believe it was 4 o’clock back at the car, I’ve no idea where the time went. Sir Hugh hasn’t divulged his next project as yet.
I could hear rustling in the ferns behind me all evening and when I looked some movement in the vegetation and the occasional squeak, but no clue as to what was in there. I was bouldering on the north facing wall of Sweden Quarry, which gave shade from the hot sun, even so I was sweating profusely, we are just not accustomed to temperatures in the high 20s. The quarry hosts quite a bit of bird life – blackbird, wren, robin, chiffchaff, blackcap, mallard and no doubt many more. Barn owls nested earlier in the season. It is a great place to sit and take in the ambience such as it is with old tyres, fencing and rotting trees cut down in the plantation a few years ago. The pool at the bottom has shrunk greatly in this recent drought.
I was about to leave when I spotted something yellow out of the corner of my eye, in fact, there were two yellow blobs in the grass. The squeaking became louder as Mother Duck led her brood out of hiding down to the drying up pool at the base of the quarry. The other four chicks were brown and well camouflaged, it was the two yellow ones that gave the game away. I grabbed my phone for a quick shot, but then realised they were out to play for a while, so I was able to retrieve my camera and sit down to enjoy their display. Mother floated quietly whilst the chicks darted about exploring, exercising their legs and no doubt eating the odd green morsel. After some time, Mother decided they had had enough and marched them back into the undergrowth to hide away for the night. I hope the ducklings survive but fear for the yellow ones who are all too obvious to any predator. I will report back on further sightings over the next week. (Still six there two days later) So how unusual are yellow ducklings? Mallards, Muscovy and domestic ducks have occasional yellow ducklings, many of these develop into white ducks – so we will see.
The joys of living in the Ribble Valley on an evening like this.
I first looked into this large hole in the ground, hidden in the forest on Longridge Fell, many years ago and climbed a few routes as well as some boulder problems. I called it Sweden because of the fir trees. Time passes and one’s attention goes elsewhere, but I never forgot. With travel restricted, the popular bouldering venue Craig Y Longridge became even more crowded at times, so I stayed away. I remembered this place though, the trees have been felled and the plantation has become popular with dog walkers. I mentioned it in a post a while back. Well since then on sunny evenings I’ve been visiting this place, cuckoos are calling across the way, mallard ducks are paddling in the pool below and barn owls have successfully nested in the higher parts of the quarry. The Ribble Valley is a distant view away. Magic and memories.
Looking back through my photos from 25years ago, I have found pictures of the walls up here with dotted lines drawn to show the problems I had succeeded on. The clean wall I’m now revisiting used to have JOKER in large red letters painted right across it, that has faded completely. And now the joke is on me, as I’m finding all the problems far harder than I remember. Tempus fugit!
I used to climb here with Tony, Pete and dear old Dor. Everything was fun and everything was possible. They are all dead now, and I miss them so.
There were quite a few cars in the car park this morning when we arrived – early birds or dog walkers. Sir Hugh was just recovering from his head dive last week and I noticed a slight reluctance to turn his neck, however today was only going to be about six miles, well it turned out nearly eight, but there was no problem.
We climbed up onto Clougha Pike using the Rowton Brook path which passes evidence of past cottage industries most notably the C17 cotton mill. The present owner was happy to chat about its history and life in general.
There was no let up in the ascent but the ground was mercifully dry. The trig point, 413 m, was adorned with the most un-Goldsworthy stones. The views over the bay were murky but Morecambe Power station was ever present. In the other direction that other old favourite, Ingleborough, was in the background.
The easy way.
Clougha Pike summit. 415m.
The obvious continuation track went to Grit Fell, we followed it as the rest is trackless heather. The peat was bone dry and a joy to stride out on with skylarks somewhere overhead. A few grouse were calling gobackgoback. Not recalling that Goldsworthy’s installation was named ‘The Three Chairs’ we spent some time trying to identify three large gritstones fitting that description and marked approximately on the map.
Grit Fell 467 m. Can you spot Ingleborough in the gloom?
I did recall this isolated Xmas Tree farther along the ridge.
Once on the shooters’ highway we made good progress back in the direction we had just come from. I was beginning to doubt my ability as a guide when the moors stretched out ahead of us with no sign of quarries or chairs. Sir Hugh thought the day was a failure when suddenly we were there and the installations appeared much larger than I remembered. [marked G on the map] He was impressed – with the statues not my navigation. Do you call them statues, sculptures, installations or piles of stones? That’s where art has its personal interpretations. Piles of stones they certainly are not, these are carefully crafted structures with intricate stone work. Apparently Goldsworthy constructed one each year from 1999 to celebrate the millennium. We speculated whether he constructs them himself or employs a stonemason to help. After the obligatory photos we continued on our way off the fell.
An estate worker’s massive 4X4 passed us – or was it the Duke.
Three cairns appeared on the left which we declined to visit but on the next photo look quite interesting.
I was chatting to Sir Hugh about the Thirlmere Aqueduct which comes this way and an old quarry [marked Q on the map] near Ottergear viaduct ‘discovered’ and climbed in by my friend Pete. We reached the impressive viaduct and almost missed the quarry which I’d expressed a desire to revisit. A chance glance behind and we noticed a couple of blokes in the quarry. They were doing a bit of climbing there as it has been highlighted in a recent supplement to the boulders in this area. That led to a sociable chat about old times climbing.
A sandy path through the heather brought us back to the car park. A perfect little fell day.
The Old Man of Hoy is a famous sea stack off the coast of Hoy in the Orkney Isles. As a climb it was first ascended by Chris Bonington, Rusty Baillie and Tom Patey in 1966. Apparently it could collapse at any time.
We weren’t up there today, that would be stretching the travel limits. No we were still in deepest Lancashire returning to Troy Quarry after many years for some climbing. Apart from the rhyming name the only other resemblance to Hoy is a stack, without any sea, in the middle of the quarry.
The parking area has been severely limited because of the influx of walkers disturbing the locals in these strange times. Of course, we travelled in four separate cars, so you can see how quickly every space becomes blocked. None of us could remember the approach into the quarry, there used to be some large concrete buildings by the track, all now looked quite sylvan. There are some good walks that traverse the hillsides in this upper part of Rossendale. But today we were here for the climbing.
The quarry is large, spreading 30 – 40ft walls of gritstone around a pond. Canada Geese entertained us all afternoon with their calls and territorial chasing across the water. We made a beeline to the South Walls where there were easier climbs. Another pair of climbers were already in situ but soon moved on. They were top roping either for safety or inexperience. We had many years of experience between the four off us, too many to count but were a little rusty. I, for one, don’t want to see the inside of a casualty department, so we opted for top roping too, something I wouldn’t have contemplated in the past – where is the adventure in that. Times change.
After a bit of faffing with slings we had a top rope set up above the Siamese Twins. These are cracks in a steep slab. We climbed the right-hand variation with help of the left crack and the left route with the help of the right crack. Who’s watching?
Rod high on Left Siamese Twin.
Dave in a similar position.
The rock was clean with positive holds, a fine gritstone apparently used in the past for pavement flags in the northwest cities.
A large flake in the centre of the Siamese wall had new cracks running down it, a hollow sound and movement when pulled in certain directions. Water and frost affect the rock formations in these quarries and every so often lumps, small and large, detach themselves. You just hope you are not clutching one when that happens. This particular flake is already doomed. We squeezed in a slightly harder climb to the left but again transgressed into those cracks.
Fred has the largest lunch box.
I haven’t seen my climbing partners for many months, so we had a good catch up chat over lunch. The sun was pleasantly warm reminding us of many hours playing on the rock walls in these Lancashire holes in the ground. God’s own rock is over the border in Yorkshire, but we are fiercely defensive of our sometimes grotty venues.
We moved the rope along to above a great looking flake line, Stacked Deck, which we all enjoyed lay backing up.
Dave starting the lay back of Stacked Deck.
Alongside was the classic route, Rapunzel. Halfway up is a barred window from which Rapunzel would have let down her hair. The fable around this story is more complicated than I remember. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapunzel
Rod approaching Rapunzel’s window.
Suffice to say she didn’t let down her hair for me today, and I was lowered to the ground to lick my wounds. Ah, well it is the first time I’ve been on a rope this year. Things can only get better – or is that a fairy tale?
We, us old farts, used to climb with a fit young lad who shall remain nameless. Regular evening visits to Lancashire quarries in the summer months provided good sport. He was pushing his grade, as a young man should, but often was lowered to the ground defeated by a high crux move which one of us old timers could easily demonstrate to him. Chastened he would apply himself to the next problem with often the same result.
It was only in the pub afterwards that an analysis of the evenings climbing took place. Typically, we focused on his failings and inevitably came to the conclusion he was carrying too much weight. This lead to, and I apologise as from now, describing him as a ‘fat bastard’. We did have his interests at heart as this insulting banter resulted in him disappearing, dieting and training to re-emerge the next week to climb as good if not better than us.
Someday I will write about climbing trips with this youth in question to places far from Lancashire and the resulting adventures. I will of course need his permission first.
Anyhow, today the boot, or climbing shoe, is on the other foot. I used to climb in a quarry high on Longridge Fell hidden in the conifer plantations – I called it Sweden for no other reason than the trees. Only I and a few others knew about it, and slowly it became overgrown as these places do. But it was there at the back of my mind and when social distancing became the norm, and I was wary of climbing in crowded Craig Y Longridge …
A crowded Craig y Longridge.
… I revisited Sweden.
Basically it is a large hole in the ground. The walls tend to be damp and uninviting but on an upper level there is a clean wall getting the sun all day. A few days getting rid of the vegetation that had encroached in the intervening years, and I was ready to try the problems that I had recorded 25 years ago. Armed with my tatty guide from then I began to repeat the problems. They were much harder than I remember and also apparently much higher despite the use of a modern day crash mat.