Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Sunshine on Scotland

The weekend before last we had a fabulous day in Glen Coe. Diff was filming and I tagged along to carry bags, with the promise of a day's climbing in Glen Nevis on the Sunday.

We were in Glen Coe by 08.30 on Saturday, and had the most perfect weather imaginable. Enough breeze to keep the midges away most of the time, as well as glorious sunshine all day. It was hot and sweaty work carrying film kit up Buachaille Etive Mor, but the views from the top were undoubtedly rewarding.

How often do you see the whole of Scotland spread out before you, tops as far as the eye can see, the sea in one direction and Rannoch Moor in the other. Even the Ben was cloud free. Incredible.

We were exhausted by the time we headed to our digs in Fort William. We had chips to keep us going, sat on the harbour wall, wondering who the hell thought it was a good idea to concrete over Fort William's greatest asset - it's sea loch frontage. Sometimes I despair at the shortsightedness of urban planners and developers. And while I'm having a whinge, why is there nowhere decent to eat in Fort William?? Curry, Chinese, a chippy and everything else looked as though it had come from a Brake Bros. refrigerated van. If we missed something, recommendations on a postcard please.

And on Sunday it rained. No climbing :-( We were so disappointed and frustrated, but it just wasn't going to happen. We went to the Oban Sealife Sanctuary instead, and tried to learn 11 things for the £11 each it cost us. Did you know, for example, that there is a 1 in 10 million chance of a baby cod making it to adulthood? And did you know that 150,000 sea turtles are killed accidentally by fishing nets and the like, each year.

It's a beautiful spot and they do some good work there rescuing seals and returning them to the wild. By the time we headed down the road to Glen Ogle to check out some of the crags there it was bright sunshine, but all the crags were running with water. We strolled along the disused railway and ate wild strawberries. Not quite the day we had hoped for, but we felt better for being out and about.

Slip Slap Slop

It seems like an age since Caroline and I hopped it down to Kyloe Out for some bouldering amidst all the busy-ness that was the end of June. Having got used to the fact that it would probably rain on us, we were a bit gobsmacked to find ourselves slapping and slipping around madly on greasy County sandstone. Were we nuts?? Touch of the sun maybe.

Having recently bought the new Northumberland bouldering guide, we realised there was a whole lot of bouldering to be had at Kyloe Out. Previously we'd always been to Kyloe In. Granted, In The Woods is better than Out but this year we seem to be using "try new stuff" rather than "try hard stuff" as our motto. Kyloe Out was a pleasant surprise. We picked the Quarry as our first (and as it transpired, only) stop. We had the place to ourselves, with only a wee yellow bird for company. He sang his little heart out delightfully from the very top of the crag, although we were too far away to be able to identify him with any certainty.

Caroline sitting next to the bird perch, having soloed her way there. I went up in bare feet which was both liberating and terrifying at the same time!

We spent a lot of time trying to remember how to mantle onto this slopey shelf. It isn't particularly high, and therefore one would think not particularly scary, but the angle of the slope one has to mantle onto is much more tricky than it looks. I don't suppose it helps that we're not well versed in the art of mantling, and given the heat maybe this wasn't the best day to try it!! Still we had a lot of fun - and nobody can say we don't challenge ourselves! I think we managed one mantle at the near end of this picture and one slightly further along. The problem seemed to be getting feet sufficiently high to be able to jump high enough to push one's centre of gravity over the lip. Neither of us are particularly tall, so it did seem that a little bit more height would have been advantageous balance-wise. A bit more gumption would have been good too!

After enough slapping around, we moved on to a 7a crimp-fest on the quarry wall. Again, not a good thing to try in the heat, but we gave it a good bash until the sun moved onto it. We managed about a half of it, failing every time to make the next move to cross a left foot through, and reaching for the next cubby hole in the very thin crack. The horizontal break was fine, but the diagonal crack (used for both hands and feet at various heights) proved pretty tiny even for our pixie fingers. More fingerboard training required. And maybe some cool dry autumn weather.

While Caroline is infinitely stronger than me, on this particular problem my balance appeared to give me one more move. No pics I'm afraid. It's a beautiful move though, one of those flowing movements that reminds me of the years of dancing, one that reminds me why I climb. Fantastic.

...until that inevitable gravity-laden moment of groundward motion!

Once the sun moved round it was about time to move on; no skin, hot sweaty and tired. We wandered along to the left to have a look at the other bits of crag, feeling inspired to come back again. In a moment of untold self-assurance, Caroline suddenly announced she was going to solo a route. Given the way she'd been eyeing up Birdlime Crack and asking questions about it, I wasn't surprised. She scooshed up it, no problem. So I went too.

High step on Birdlime Crack (MS)

For those who are interested in such things, we also saw some little bats squeaking away in a thin but deep crack above the left hand side of the roof on Overhanging Buttress. They sounded like baby birds, so we were looking for a nest, but eventually saw the wee things scrabbling around in the crack. I don't think it's part of a formal route or problem, but I guess it's worth noting that the crack seems to be a handy hiding place for them because it looks eminently climbable to me.

How to eat cheesecake

Have you really not harnessed the power of the cheesecake yet? You must. Here's how you do it.

Buy raspberry cheesecake and sit in the garden with it, and a nice glass of wine, on a pleasant summer evening.

Open the box, and slice said cheesecake into appropriately sized pieces. We found that starting small was pointless. You might as well just chop it in two and have half each.

Conveniently, friendly pussy cats have a penchant for raspberry cheesecake. Make sure you have one close at hand to assist. Frankie here plays the innocent very well, although he probably knows you're about to blame the disappearance of the cheesecake on him.

Unfortunately, he got caught red-pawed with the box right under his nose. Now if that isn't incriminating, I don't know what is!

Yes, it's as easy as that. Open box. Eat. Delicious. And who knows how hard you can climb using the power of the cheesecake? ;-)

High Peak? Wet Peak!

I forgot to post this at the time, but now I've time to write, I might as well post it now....sorry for the delay!

Do you remember that weekend a few months back, when everyone said "ah, the weather's going to be rubbish this weekend, let's go drinking" (or somesuch)? (Er.. which one? I hear you say) Well, we decided to go to the Peak District instead. To be fair, Tamsyn had booked a train ticket from London (some nonsense about it being £256 on the day or £60 booked in advance) so we couldn't leave her stranded at the station just because the forecast looked a bit rubbish.

It didn't start well, and continued in that vein for a full 48 hours, right up until we drove home in scorching sunshine. It took us 6 1/2 hours to drive down, through horrific rainstorms, flooded motorways and squeaky windscreen wipers. We were down to 20 mph on the M6 at one stage, from the rain, and then to 10mph because of the large number of vehicles inconsiderately taking up space in every lane. At one point we crossed a spaghetti junction, and every road we could see from the upper bridge was nose to tail traffic. Ah yes, this was the weekend the English school holidays started. Why oh why oh why.......

Having awoken to standard northern grey drizzle we opted for some tourism. We headed down into Blue John Cavern with our friendly guide, Brian. I don't know how long he'd been giving that tour, but I really hope he has a very high boredom threshold!

So we took lots of pictures inside the cave and marvelled and oohed and aahed at the water-worn rocks. It was pretty big, and for us climber-types the standard tour wasn't enough. We wanted to see more. But they don't let you, and I must admit to being a little claustrophobic so maybe it was fine (for once) just to stay on the tourist trail. Other tourists are funny sometimes though...

By the time we emerged above ground again the rain had (almost) stopped. So we cruised over to Stanage Plantation.....the long way, because I got muddled over which road to take. Ah well. By the time we got there the rain had stopped and the sun had come out and it was dry enough to climb! Probably a worthwhile diversion.

This was Tamsyn's very first foray into outdoor bouldering, and with hindsight, maybe the Plantation wasn't the best place to start. Some of the boulders with the easier problems on them are pretty high, and if you've been used to big squishy mats to land on indoors, the prospect of even a flat but hard landing isn't enormously encouraging.

This picture was taken on the south face of the Pebble Boulder. Tamsyn's face says it all!

Having pottered around here for a bit, we decided to try Burbage South. Caroline and I had been there in March and really enjoyed messing about on stuff when we didn't have a guidebook. After another small detour on foot (my fault again), we reached some good easy-looking boulders with lots of shot holes in them.

We pottered around here for ages, Caroline and I trying to teach Tamsyn to trust her feet and realising it isn't really something one can teach. It has to be learned. Trying to do things "hands free" seemed a good way of starting that learning process!

Needless to say, we wore our skin out pretty quickly and were mindful that maybe the weather would be better tomorrow...

It was and it wasn't better tomorrow. We took our time packing up, had a leisurely breakfast and headed for Cratcliffe and Robin Hood's Stride, on another promise of some good low-grade bouldering. We were hopeful. It was a bit showery, but the sun was strong when it appeared. We trekked up the hill with fingers crossed that the heat would dry the boulders fairly quickly, while we had some lunch and figured out the guidebook. Alas, it was not to be. No sooner had we reached the top of the hill, reminisced a bit about Font and bouldering in forests, than the hot sun was blotted out by the most torrential rain. We sheltered in a cave hoping it would pass and the hot sun would reappear. To start with it was funny - one of those downpours that doesn't quite seem real it's so heavy. We watched the rivulets washing acorns down the slope and waited. Then the rain penetrated our cave and we realised we were sitting in puddles. So we had a cherry stone spitting competition (in which Caroline and Tamsyn were neck and neck, and I was lagging way behind).

Our cave got wetter, so we moved (mistake - we'd have got less wet sitting still) to the hermit's cave lower down the hill. It continued to pour. Eventually we got bored. If it stopped raining, it wasn't going to dry in time for us to climb. Tamsyn had a train to catch and we had a 5 hour drive north.

With a degree of reluctance we opted for coffee and cake in Bakewell. It continued to rain, and we felt a bit better about bailing. We've always said that no trip is a wasted trip and now we know that Cratcliffe and Robin Hood's Stride are worth visiting.....when they're dry!