Friday, 10 August 2007

Nothumberland Jungle

Continuing our exploration of various corners of Northumberland, today Diff and I went to Raven's Crag. It was one of those that I hadn't even noticed in the guidebook until very recently, but on closer reading looked very promising. It's only a stone's throw from Bowden Doors, an ideal place to sneak away to if Bowden is busy or if you just fancy a bit of space to yourself.

Raven's Crag

We went armed with my new bouldering mat (which looked very shiny and a bit out of place at the crag) and a stash of food, intending to check out some new problems, test the mat's suitability for use as a comfortable chill out mat, and do a taste-test comparison of Sainsbury's Jaffa Cakes with McVities originals. As far as those goals are concerned, our day was very successful.

Gav in the office with my new mat. Amazing how much hilarity it caused.

Raven's Crag is so close to Bowden and yet appears to be little known, and little climbed judging by the vast quantities of small, slow-growing flora attached to the rock. There is oodles of rock there. It's as long as Bowden, and with (very almost) as much to climb. The only thing to add is that the grades are slightly easier than Bowden; there appear to be fewer very hard problems, but lots of challenging things in low to mid grades.

Our first problem, on the Pinnacle, freaked us a bit because it was so green. But we managed it...somehow! The relief in Diff's voice when the words "Ah, jugs!" floated down was heartfelt! We then moved further up and along to discover possibly the sandiest wall in the whole of Northumberland. It looked as though it might have been climbed too much, but it would have taken a highly systematic, military operation by an army of climbers to wear the skin of the sandstone away in such an even fashion to expose the sandy beach-ness underneath. We reasoned this wasn't the work of over-zealous climbers but rather of an over-zealous wind.

We continued our jungle adventure to an overhanging traverse with some very sharp holds on it, and a scary-monster-hidey-hole pocket at the finish. I think that went at about 5c. First time all through, I fell off the last move because the monster in the pocket bit me. That's my excuse, anyway.

Moving from here to the Meadow Wall area was a battle. Ray Mears would have been impressed (or not!) with our bushwhacking techniques. Given that we were lacking an essential piece of kit (a machete) I think we managed very well to get there, climb and get out alive. Goodness only know what was hiding under all that bracken. We could easily have been eaten by monsters or rabbits. (For those who don't know, the monsters hide in the little pockety holes in the rock, and come out to eat you when you put your little pixie fingers in there to climb a problem. Lank versus Pixie? On balance I think the Pixie has a greater number of hazards to negotiate...but then, being a Pixie, I would say that!)

Exporing the Northumberland Jungle

Eventually we found an area which was mercifully bracken free (relatively speaking) so having climbed some pretty highball problems with exciting slopey topouts, we opted to do the Jaffa Cake taste test here. We have concluded that in the overall rankings, Spar Jaffa Cakes are superior to both Sainsbury's (which came second) and McVities (which took last place).

Tasting jaffa cakes is a serious business...

This was a lovely spot, very secluded and with lots to climb.

My camera is very slow to react, which is why I missed the really good picture of Diff on this highball problem with a slopey topout. He moved. But I guess that's what climbers do!

The guidebook was a bit confusing, so we muddled through some of the problems next to each other, and did them Our Way. It was much easier to not worry about what the book said. Why do things by the book, anyway? There were lots of tenuous and sketchy moves off slopers very high up, and some pretty good dismounts (well, we needed to test the mat out properly. We can confirm it does the job very nicely.) There was a lovely slab, and an easy problem with some fantastic jugs at the top right where we wanted them. I also almost got my come-uppance when cockily I decided I could climbg a jamming crack graded "5a more difficult than it looks" (Dead Tree Crack, maybe?). Yeah, that looks ok, I thought. Uh-uhhh.... having reached the big ledge half way up and jammed half my body into the upper half of the crack, I thought I might stay there for a while since it was more comfortable than trying to move out of the crack. I felt pretty stupid for being so cocky. Pride comes before a fall.... fortunately, I didn't fall. I escaped left and did the topout to the 5c problem next to it!

Sketchy slab, but lots of fun

Scary topout photo...after the slab

Raven's Crag is definitely a good place to return to. It's a superb venue for a fun day's climbing; although the grades aren't high, the problems aren't all as straightforward as the grades might suggest. It is evidently an under-visited crag, but I can't see why. It's lovely. A Friday Crag maybe.

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