Thursday, 27 March 2014

Anston Wood

Someone liked a video on my Vimeo account the other day. It took me a fair while to work out which video it was. The video in question was one I had actually made.  It had remained hidden in a post in the now (mostly) redundant Raw Edge Days blog site that I used to contribute to. I watched it and realised that this video was worth posting again as the venue it captured has certainly been a major feature of my bouldering for a long time.

I had forgotten about Anston Wood, forgotten about the magnesium carbonate crags that populate the edges of this green slash through Rotherham's post industrial hinterland. I'd forgotten about the diversity of angles, hold types and problems that call this wood home; most importantly I'd forgotten how much I enjoy climbing here! Pound for pound Anston is probably the best limestone bouldering crag in the UK.  Big claim I know, but not many venues can boast this number of pure lines and link ups. It even has difficultly and suits those climbing in the high 7's and 8 rather than those looking for a big circuit day. The only thing that spoils this tranquil spot is the railway track that bisects it but, to be honest, the coal trains that use it are very rarely seen on a weekend.

I hadn't been to Anston Wood in a long time. My last visit pre-dated the publication of the area guide book and thus I hadn't been led around Anston's various buttresses by the written word.  I was there with Showtime; refugees from a typical wet Sunday over in the North West.  A quick look at the glossy guide reminded me that I had been visiting this spot for fourteen years (according to a photo in the history section anyway).  Even though it rained we climbed, even though I had been here a lot we discovered buttresses we had never climbed on, even though Anston Wood has a reputation for hard problems we climbed lots of quality below 7a.  The rediscovery of my Anston video reminded me how good this place is.  My visit with Showtime illustrated quite clearly that forgetting about a venue this good is more than just careless.

Watch the video below and judge Anston's quality with your own eyes. The climber featured in this short is the author of all that is good on magnesium carbonate limestone - M'adams himself. Enjoy!

Magnesium Bouldering Action from Owen McShane on Vimeo.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Bet my session was worse than yours!

The alarm I had set on my phone played its usual crass yet rousing tune, ushering in yet another day at the coal face.  My eye lids struggled to understand the concept of opening on both a physical and theoretical level; with a little encouragement, revision and close tutoring they eventually peeled back and my pupils surveyed the day. The scene framed by my bedroom window was close to perfect, egg shell blue sky, a slight breeze lazily playing with the trees and evidence of frost at the edges of the glazing. It was on. The hours of pouring over Google maps, pictures and online topos the previous night would be worth it. I was heading for the first fully sunlit after work session of the year and my heart was filled with joy.

I headed to work buoyed by an unfamiliar feeling, instead of the usual dread; I was excited at what to come after the final throws of the working day. I felt untouchable, the master of my world. The usual stream of work related negativity shot at me simply rolled off the Teflon coat I know wore, woven from the slippery strands of hope and expectation created from pure psyche. Tasks were completed, wrongs were righted and the day passed in a blur.

This was not going to be the usual relaxed climbing session, the sun was due to set at 18.05, this meant that I would have to get to the crag of choice no later than 16.00 to make sure a worthwhile session  would be had.  This session could not be left to evolve; it needed to be structured, military in its execution.  If all of these elements fell into place then it would be a fine two hours of climbing in the early spring evening.  Passions were running high.

I flew out of work at 15.00, my destination on the western edge of the Penines less than an hour away.  Liverpool, St Helens, Windes, Warrington gone in the wink of an eye.  These industrial towns marooned in Merseyside, land locked by the un interesting flatness of the Cheshire plains held no interest for me now, I was headed to loftier places.  I started the climb up to the moors.  The light, like the landscape softened; glowed almost.  Grasses ravaged by a wet winter swayed in the gentle breeze.  Time seemed to elongate as the expectations of perfect conditions and dry rock created its own reality and serenity in the car.  Yes this was a mad mission, yes the climbing would need to be frenetic, but the soft evening light that flowed through the deep Pennine valleys, skipped across it rounded hills and caressed the water of its reservoirs made it all worth it.  As I drove along ever uphill it almost felt like I was ascending from the work based nightmare of public service into my own mini Nirvana of movement and freedom……Perfection if you will.

It was at this precise moment of serenity that I hit the jam.  Not any jam, no.  This was the mother of all traffic jams, a jam so intense it tested every fiber of my being.  I was less than ten miles from my destination, caught between motorway junctions with no means of escape.  I could see my chosen crag between the hills, dry and accommodating, it was so near I could almost touch it.  There was hope.  It was 15.45; I started to watch the clock.  There was no movement amongst the sea of steel, rubber and chrome that spread before me.  I no longer measured my journey in terms of landscapes, rather the perpetual passing of seconds; seconds that would force me into a decision.  16.00 my expected time of arrival came and went, but I still felt I could salvage something from the evening, I was so close. 16.30 approached and disappeared into that bottomless immeasurable pit that we call the past, I started to worry. 17.00 arrived and I had to make a decision.  For an hour and a quarter hope and fate had battled over my future, for an hour and a quarter I had nailed my colours to the flag held aloft by hope.  For an hour and a quarter hope had blinded me, allowing me to believe that a future moving across rock bathed in sunlight could be a possibility. Fate won out. I would not climb on rock tonight.

I was forced to make a decision, I would, at the first opportunity, turn round and head home; back to Liverpool, back to the wall.  I was consumed by rage, a rage that was shared by the thousands of souls around me cast adrift on a motorway of misery.  At that moment of realisation, the moment that my dream evaporated in the beautiful evening light, I could have killed; I could have run from the car, ripped out the hearts of innocent woodland creatures and used their blood to paint profanities in the sky. I wanted to strip to the waist, douse myself with petrol and set myself alight, ready to run between the cars; a physical manifestation of my frustration that might restore some natural balance to the world which had suddenly gone very wrong. It took me another half an hour to reach a junction and turn around, half an hour of fading light and impending natural darkness; a darkness eclipsed by the darkness of my mood.

It took for ever to get back to Liverpool. I had to battle more busy motorways, rush hour and my own wounded self.  I eventually arrived at The Hanger at 19.00 - four hours after I had set out on my adventure after work. Four hours to complete what is normally a twenty minute journey from work to the wall.  I arrived in poor humour, but coffee, camaraderie and a little perspective helped me to get over myself.  Lets face it no animals were hurt (but it felt close). One thing I can say though is, that night, my session was definitely worse than yours.

Monday, 3 March 2014


The word scar is ugly, hard, unyielding; It conjures images of damage and pain in the mind.  There are many crags in this green and pleasant land that have the misfortune of having this word in their name.  It casts a dark shadow over them, giving the impression than calamitous events lead to their creation, as if the rock faces were ripped mercilessly from nature, resting uneasily, raw in their landscapes.  The word scar can feed into our filters, pre-load our perceptions of place and keep us away from adventures and experiences we can only judge first hand.

Halifax is home to such a scar.  It lurks amongst the trees below the Albert Promenade.  If you listen to the whispers, this scar lives up to the negative connotations that spring from its name.  Dark, dank, green, slow to dry, decorated with glass, low ball, eliminate…….. the list goes on.  You may wonder why I would ever wish to walk into Woodhouse Scar. Well I never really listen to whispers, I like to find out for myself!  Whilst often disappointed the occasional success justifies such an approach.
Woodhouse Scar sits at the eastern end of the Calder Valley in Yorkshire.  The crag's reputation for dampness originates from its geographical position.  The Calder Valley funnels and channels air from the damp west coast, eastwards and upwards, to the heart of the Pennines where it falls as precipitation of various types.  Don’t let this put you off, don’t let the green hue of the grit here turn you away.  Woodhouse has some tricks up its sleeve when it comes to Britain’s rain-blighted climate; ever dry walls that rarely feel the soft caress of rain.

 There was a fleeting weather window in a wild winter of storms.  We had a plan.  We left the wet of the west, we disregarded the advice of others and set out for Woodhouse, if it was poor there the ever dry magnesium carbonate of Rotherham beckoned; not bad for a backup plan.  We ascended the slopes of Saddleworth and approached Yorkshire.  Our decision seemed foolhardy as the windscreen wipers went about their work.  We crested the hill and made for Halifax.

The descent of the A629 took us into a twilight world outside the physical constraints of reality.  A world which was both wet and dry, light and dark.  We journeyed into a temporal space of indecision which mirrored our mood.  Our lives were held in stasis, not knowing whether we would grate our hands on grit. The future morphed and changed as moisture appeared and disappeared from the windscreen at random intervals, stuck in a world simultaneously filled and devoid of ambition, emotions in flux flipping from expectation to despair in  a fraction of a second. Suddenly the car broke through the Mist Event Horizon.  We were no longer stuck in Schrodinger’s Paradox simultaneously embarked on a successful and unsuccessful bouldering trip.  The quantum superposition of the journey collapsed around us, reality invaded the car; we would climb today……… in glorious sunshine.

 A scar is only ugly if you think it is.  We are conditioned to believe in a particular aesthetic when it comes to beauty, it is the same with climbing.  The fashion of the time leads us to see things through a particular lens; today's scruffy eliminate venues were once highly prized places where fingers would be strengthened and moves rehearsed.   Climbing walls have rid these venues of their raison-detre, changed our minds about their utility and led us to dismiss them as ugly and urban.  However Woodhouse is not particularly eliminate; proud crags, situated in a wood, look out over fells and moors.  Weatherproof problems bisect overhanging walls with no end of lines to try.  Woodhouse scar is in town - that is undeniable, there is no walk in, dog walkers will bid you a good day as you huff and puff on a project, and yet the landings are not carpeted with the expected faeces and glass.  The landscape is clean and quiet.  Woodhouse is only ugly if you believe it to be.  This is not a fashionable venue and it is all the better for it.  Woodhouse is a scar in name only; give it a chance you may find beauty in the green and the grey.

One day at Woodhouse Scar from Climbing Beta on Vimeo.