I think it rained another couple of inches last night, the forecast was average and I was prepared for a lazy day to recover from my duty as a removal man. But no, Mike phoned with an improving forecast and was keen for some exercise. Where to go – all the field paths round here are waterlogged or flooded. It’s times like this when at short notice you fall back on the memory bank, “I’ll take you up Croasdale, it will be dry” . He had not been there.
Getting there via Chipping wasn’t that easy with more flooding of the lanes and then land slips at Whitewell. We made it through but will come back a different way.
The hills were white with snow, the lane into Croasdale more like a river and painful hailstones welcomed us. I have memories of this lane being a sheet of ice on sunny winter days when Alan and I first started exploring Bullstones as a Bouldering venue, we were super keen. But even better recollections of sunny days on the heathery hillsides watching the Hen Harriers, will they return? The Roman road was dry, despite the full streams, as was most of the fellside so that part of the plan worked. The white bollard with poems we passed reminded me of The Lancashire Witches Way, a 50 mile walk planned from Barrowford to Lancaster, maybe spring would be better. There was no bouldering today, the rocks snow covered and a freezing wind keeping us well wrapped up and moving. Following the rim of rocks I found that wonderful stone trough hewn from a boulder, Mike was impressed. Not lingering we found the tracks down to the ford but were of course confronted by a dangerous raging stream and it took us some time to find a way across to safety. A wild and exhilarating few hours. The only casualty of the day being one of my [cheap] ski sticks which I managed to snap in a slip.
What a contrast in weather conditions, today was hot and sunny. Had intended climbing in The Lakes but my partner phoned in sick. Quick change of plan – a small sack with rock shoes and chalk, sandwiches were already made. I always enjoy the Roman road over to Slaidburn particularly the stretch over Marl Hill where Ingleborough and Penyghent come into view. I notice the road surfaces have deteriorated significantly over the last two winters.
Parked up at my usual little spot , sun screen applied and off up the old lane [still the same Roman one]. Almost immediately I came across a new memorial stone relating to plane crashes on these hills in the war and the airmen who lost their lives. Set me wondering whether there are any pieces of wreckage still about and are they documented. Somewhere I have a book – quick trip to the bookshelf unearths – High Ground Wrecks2 A survey of historical aircraft remains on the hills of the British Isles. David J Smith. My copy was bought in 1979 but has no publishing details, there is a more modern edition. True enough all the local crashes are listed with grid references, expeditions for another day. The RAF Mountain Rescue Service of course originates from those times.
Round the corner another new installation appeared, a white obelisk with witch references. Witch 400 turns out to be an exploration of the heritage of the Lancashire Witches, the 400th anniversary of their trial and execution , and the enduring issue of persecution today. A walk has been established from the Pendle area to Lancaster Castle which coincides with my route today. Another expedition for another day, the list grows. The statues are inscribed with extracts of a poem by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. http://lancashirewitches400.org/
The third diversion was Hen Harriers, this area was a few years ago the English stronghold for these wonderful birds of prey. Unfortunately their prey probably includes grouse – not a good idea on a commercial grouse shooting estate. Hen Harrier numbers have plummeted mi lord. So it was uplifting today to see a dedicated 24hr watch on a nesting site. Camouflaged tents, well done whoever you are, nobody will get near. I saw in the distance peregrines, ravens, buzzards and kestrels. A highlight was watching a kestrel stooping onto some poor vole or mouse – almost got a great photo. Memo,must get a better camera to carry around with me.
At last I arrived at the rocks – time for a sandwich. Sat under the slabs of Taurus Boulders [there is a definite Bull theme here] I notice that some of the pebbles have been snapped off – sign of more traffic or clumsy boulderers. I climbed up the steep tower of Bully Off, this was the first route Alan and I climbed way back when the game keepers were about and we were supposed to be keeping a low profile. Alan couldn’t wait. Onwards I soloed a few problems at the Pinnacle and Cave area but felt intimidated by the Clough End Boulder, looked far too serious. Found the spring for a much needed top up of water.
Made the arduous ascent up to the complex Bullock Stones and headed for the brilliant Ace of Diamonds slab – not a hold on it.
Traverse across to Stirk Slabs , a quick trip up the arete of Bullet Proof and then along to admire the architecture of Pipe Dream, no ascent today. A final flourish on the more friendly Calf Stones and then it was time for home. Sorry about the diversions, the bird watcher was taking a welcome sleep when I passed.
As I type this my finger ends are still sore and I have a feeling I will ache tomorrow.
Going back to the start of this century, Alan Bates and I had a great time exploring the extensive boulders above Croasdale — The Bullstones. There was no record of previous climbing here, and indeed access had been denied until the CRoW act came along in 2000. Along with other friends, who were prepared for the one-hour walk in, we documented about 300 problems. Robin Mueller’s excellent bouldering guide will have a chapter detailing a few selected areas of Bullstones, including new harder problems. I am also making available below my original 2003 guide, warts and all, for full coverage of the area, including all the easier problems.
The forecast was good for today, cold with lots of sun. Letting the ice melt from my car I set off to drive leisurely to Slaidburn with the thought of some bouldering high in Croasdale. Lovely blue skies were overhead as I left Cow Ark and motored over Marl Hill, but the usual view of Ingleborough never appeared. Always a joy to drop into the picturesque village of Newton.
There were some road blockages in Slaidburn so I was forced to start walking further from my destination than I’d intended. Strange that when one is going climbing, parking as near as possible to the crag becomes imperative. Within a few minutes of setting off the day seemed to change, the sky darkening with definite rain in the air. Didn’t see that in the forecast!
Walked up the Hornby Road [Salter Fell track] that goes over to Wray eventually. This follows the former Roman Road from Ribchester to Lancaster, so has probably been in use for 2000 years. A few years ago this route was getting heavily eroded by the 4×4 brigade but a change-in-use order closed it to such traffic. Some effective restoration work on the worst stretches has made this through route much more pleasant for walkers or mountain bikers. Trail bikes still have access and can be a noisy intrusion, but they are an infrequent incursion. In fact you hardly ever see anybody in higher Croasdale.
Hornby Road and Croasdale Quarry
Hornby Road has had several surfaces added since the Romans were here, and in it’s first mile or so was tarmacked up to Croasdale Quarry. Peregrines nest regularly in this quarry. I’m not sure when this large stone quarry was last used [? stone for the M6] The surface of the road is now showing signs of wear and weathering. The road crosses many streams coming off the fell and the culverts used are said to be from Roman times with the original capstones buried under more modern material. They all seem to be functioning well which says something about the original build quality.
As you proceed up the road there are views down to the right to Croasdale Beck, an alternative track comes this way. A shepherd’s hut, with remarkable and extensive sheep folds has been restored by United Utilities, who own the land. This can be seen in the valley bottom. A few years ago I bivied in it for a couple of nights with my young grandson. We spent an hour one evening, spellbound, watching a pair of Hen Harriers quartering in lovely gliding motions over the fellside above us. A rare sight nowadays as the species is on the verge of extinction in England. Bowland has been its stronghold but perceived conflict with Grouse breeding [or should that be shooting?] has reduced numbers. Harriers are ground nesting birds and the wet summer of this year has not been good for them.
Croasdale Bothy and sheep pens.
Carrying on up the now rocky track the boulders I was hoping to play on became visible on the far hillside — marked on the map as Great and Little Bull Stones. The weather was poor by now, with a cold wind and drizzle, so hopes of climbing diminished. As I approached the watershed at 416m there was a herd of Belted Galloway cattle grazing on the rough pasture. These rough haired cattle thrive in windswept moorlands and they are said to produce very tasty beef. Their thick hairy coats are more like a Yak’s than a cow.
Belted Galloway cattle
Soon I was taking my familiar path up to the Bullstones boulders. They are a very extensive group of gritstone boulders spread across the hillside for over a kilometre. A few years ago my friends and I had a concentrated attack on these rocks and produced about 300 bouldering problems. [see THE BULLSTONES pdf1 ] In places the rock and the routes are of the highest quality but in view of their remoteness, an hours walk, few people visit them. That ensures a wonderful wild quality to a day’s bouldering here. Today wasn’t going to be one of them — with low damp cloud and a cold wind. Still I enjoyed my walk along the vague path below the rocks of Great Bull Stones with views first west across to Wolfhole Crag and Lunesdale; and then south-east down Croasdale to Ribblesdale and Pendle.
Pinnacle and Pendle
The fell lies on the southern slope of White Hill, 544m, one of Bowland’s highest hills. The views from this wild spot include Morecambe Bay, the Lake District and a full in your face Yorkshire Three Peaks. Once this whole area was out of bounds on a private grouse moor but since the 2000 CRoW act anyone has free access to wander — few do. It wasn’t worth the trudge up today.
Traversing the hillside I soon came to another group of boulders, nearby is a unique feature on these fells. A large stone trough has been hewn out of an in-situ boulder and left abandoned on the fell. It is about 5ft square and must weigh a ton. What value in a garden centre?
I walked below the 25ft tall slabby rocks of Little Bull Stones.
Little Bull Stones.
Arriving at the last boulders — the diminutive Calf Stones. There was a little sunshine and I was by now warmed up with the exertion, so it was on with the rock shoes and a few low problems sorted.
‘Phone Barry’ 4c
Satisfied with the day I set off down the heathery track to cross the ford in Croasdale Beck [a bit more water than I’d bargained for!] and down the Roman road into Slaidburn, arriving at the car just as it was getting dark.