Friday, 22 March 2013

Never Forget Frodsham.

Views to the Mersey from Woodhouse Hill.
The southern side of the Mersey Estuary is dominated by a series of high bluffs that bound the river from Runcorn to Helsby. These steep banks have in previous epochs repelled the spread of the river, hemmed it in, corralled its waters and directed them to their destination. In recent times they have stood watch over the march of human progress. On the plain below, mans industrial ambitions have ebbed and flowed with the estuarys' tides. Salt, chemicals and fuel have shaped the shadows cast by these hills and towns; trade and transport have also played their part in this evolution. As the landscape shifted and shaped, the hills looked on impassively, crowned by sandstone crags that burnt red, orange and umber in the fading light of a future that was to be built in smoke, sweat and progress.
Alec climbing through the steepness.
Cheshire's estuarine hills have served as an antidote to its industrial ills for centuries. The crags that populate this ridge have fascinated and frustrated many generations of Merseysiders, providing a welcome distraction from the man-made and mundane. Helsby's crag towers above the valley; its ramparts and flutings mimic those found in the land of castles to the west. This was once a forcing ground for climbing standards, however things are quiet now. Frogsmouth Quarry on Runcorn Heath is the place for Merseysiders to be seen now that its walls have been decorated with shiny bolts and pigtails but, despite being in vogue with its new look, Frogsmouth still doesn't pull in climbing's top models. One other venue far more suited to the tastes of the boulderer sits on the ridge;  yet, overshadowed by the reputation and accessibility of its neighbours, it has become a quiet place. However if you live near the heartlands of North West Sandstone Bouldering you would be crazy to forget Frodsham.

Frodsham's crags sit on the crest of Woodhouse Hill to the west of town. A steep, wooded path leads you up to a series of buttresses that stretch the length of the bluff. In terms of height these red and ochre sandstone outcrops range from three to eight metres, or in other terms, from bouldering to highballing to suicidal stupidity. The common thread that binds all of Frodshams' buttresses is that they are steep- they overhang, majestically shading those who play here from the worst of the Mersey's weather.

Ochre rock and hard eliminates up on the hill.
 Frodsham is a peaceful place, a tapestry of trees, rock and traditions, developed by Banner, Boysen, and Crew. Frodsham sits proud in both its natural and historical landscapes. Climbing a pure line here is like breathing life back into greatness, playing on lines that heroes forged back in the sixties. Each line has a character of its own, super steep and juggy, technical and thin; all personality types are represented. Super hard, pure lines may be hard to find (the majority of the climbs found here are in the sub V5 category) however you'll be glad that the holds are big when you're stretched out, fully horizontal, ten feet above the ground with a heel toe engaged. Those who want their grades big and their fingers tested to destruction should not turn away from the rock on Woodhouse hill; there are plenty of hard eliminates up there on the brow- however I'll talk about them another time.

Frodsham's heyday is far behind it now and, like shipping on the Mersey, the volume of human traffic on the hill has wained. The watery tributary that washes the hills feet once attracted the heavyweights of the shipping world: Blue Funnel, White Star, and Cunard - but these great vessels are long gone, forgotten. The present titans of climbing no longer follow that wooded path up to the buttresses on Woodhouse Hill; however the heroes who developed it can still be seen on a summer's evening swinging through the steepness. Tom Leppert and Martin Boyson are rarely wrong! Frodsham has been good enough for these legends for fifty years now, believe me its good enough for you.


  1. I just realised I need to go back and try the flange after 6 years of avoiding Fred Nicole buttress!

  2. We need a big day out up there soon. Need to show the new scouse recruits the joys of Frodsham.