Saturday, 15 November 2014

Its whats inbetween that counts.

Unexplored coasts full of potential.
I went to Mid Wales during my Easter break, visiting friends amongst the vivid green Cambrian corrugations that make this part of the world so special. The seaside town of Aberystwyth stands as a halfway point on my own personal timeline - looking South to my past and North to my present; as such it occupies a unique place in my personal geography.  Usually a trip to this part of the world would lead to a coastal adventure at Clarach and Borth (read about previous trips here, herehere and here) or alternatively in Barmouth or Cae Du, however on this occasion time and tide were against me.  The alternative was clear and I looked South and to the past for adventure, focussing on the county that I called home for the first 19 years of my life.  I headed back to Newport in North Pembrokeshire, to Mynidd Dinas and             the developed dolerite crags that crown the northern flanks of the Preseli hills.

The A487 coastal road draws you south from Aberystwyth to Newport; a tarmac trail that hugs the edge of civilised cultivation before it drops into the wild surf below.  Vistas of sea and cliff rob you of your conscious self, testing your powers as the mind drifts and the smell of brine hangs heavy in the air.  Villages which have fed the Welsh diaspora, depopulated by the Pied Piper of progress and urban dreams, tick by; acting as a yardstick on a journey so stunning that you lament its end.  Every mile reveals another ripple in the rocky coastline: beaches, coves and cliffs tempt you to stop to see what potential might lie there.  However time is a cruel mistress, When it is short you will always drive on to established venues, developed, described by a book leading to you to an experience that deftly fits into the few hours you have; leading you to ignore what lies in between.
Some of the unclimbed Rhyolite that exists above Newport 
Newport features highly as one of the main bouldering areas of Pembrokeshire in the new Pembrokeshire Climbers club guide (Volume 1 Pembroke North).  Above the town there are rhyolite crags such as Carn Foi and Carn Cwn, developed to an extent but with lots of potential for further lines.  Although looking at the guide, I found myself climbing the lines that existed in-between those reported, in-between the brush marks, in-between the established. And my thoughts returned to the drive: to the coast, to what may exist undiscovered and untouched in-between the pages; existing in the unwritten, in-between land and sea.  To the South of Newport the Dolerite crags of Mynidd Dinas can be seen clearly from the road.  Carn Enoch, Carn Sefill and Garn Fawr are well-known to the attentive boulderer.  Not only do they grace the pages of the Pembrokeshire Guide, they also play a cameo in Boulder Britain.  In this corner of Pembrokeshire chalk adorns rock, decorating the paths of previous ascentionists and giving a clue to the sequence that may unlock a problem.  These crags are by no means fully climbed out, but strong lines draw the eye and the question of what may lay in-between is lost in the industry of the send and intricacies of the line.  The view from these high crags on a sunny day can distract even during the focus of a send.  The coastline ripples and reticulates lazily and seemingly infinitely both North and South. A glance at the guide suggests there is nothing there, no sport, no fun; and yet you must question what lies in-between.

A strong line at Garn Fawr

Over the early summer I spent a lot of time on the LLyn, following my namesake Mr Heyward as he developed his way around the peninsula.  Porth Ysgo and Trwyn Talfarach are established locations on the British Boulderer's map nowadays giving all the rasping experience that only seaside gabbro can provide.  However Owen delved a bit deeper and unearthed unanticipated quality. Porth Nefoedd had been reworked the previous winter and new blocks had materialised further along the beach; where climbers had assumed there were none.  The Hell’s Mouth block drips with quality, wave-washed dolerite that begs to be climbed.  The walk in and the location gives you a real feel that you are 'there' -  bouldering at the edge of the map, immersed in nature, unhindered by the complications of the human world.  Individuals like Owen don’t wonder about what lies in-between, they seek out the gaps in the map: they find what's there and they fill in the gaps, increasing the size of our shared bouldering world in a time when technology seems to be making the actual world smaller as every day passes.

Late July and the commencement of high summer saw me travel back down the A487, back to Newport but on this occasion with time to explore.  I passed Aberystwyth, the centreline of my life, with its developed wave-washed shale and drove on to the in-between; where the bouldering map is incomplete and gaps exist.  As I passed Llanrhysud, Abeaeron, New Quey, Llangranog and Cardigan I thought of the way the Llyn has been developed recently and looked at this coast and the coast of North Pembrokshire with a new zeal. The bouldering map down here isn’t even a pencil line on the back of an envelope, the areas in-between undiscovered: stretches along the coastal fringe from Clarach to Newgale and then on round to the industrial bays of the Cleddau all waiting for someone to explore them, to tame them and bring them into the fold. So I explored when I was down there.  Not too far from an established bouldering venue I found a little bit of class amongst the sandstones and shales: a wall fifty feet in length, twenty feet high at its highest point, overhanging by twenty degrees and covered by enough holds to make this find a challenge (there will be more about this venue another time).  Another piece of the map had fallen into place, pushing the bouldering horizon that little bit further out for others to discover.

Doug Kerr on the boulder problem Chop which exists in the space at the edge of the bouldering map

A guide is being written at the moment that will take in some of the areas that, at present, exist in-between the known and unknown.  A dedicated group of locals are out there scouring the bays for potential, but why leave the immense task of rewriting the bouldering map to the few? We are the many and the task is large. Instead of spending yet another bank holiday weekend abseiling into an overly used coastal limestone crag in South Pembrokeshire, why not quest north with a brush and a pad? It’s amazing what you can find on that wild, deserted North Pembrokeshire / Ceridigion coastline. Be a map-maker - be creative and anchor your own personal geography to a little piece of coastline that will inspire others.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

New from old.

New guide and a new attitude - could be a game changer!
It's always exciting when a new guide materialises marshalling the resources of a particular area; be it virtual or print copy, a buzz will always ripple through a community of climbers when a new tome arrives.  I was particularly excited as I leafed through a copy of the Lancashire Bouldering guide. I must admit I was searching for something as I flicked through the pages of the book for the first time; something that added a certain nervous energy to my rabid page-turning. There was a good chance that a picture I had taken was in this shiny new book and, after a feverish couple of minutes, there it was: a photo of Fatneck dancing across a low roof in the dappled light of an early summer evening.  I texted him instantly and announced that he was now 'Mr Parbold', an accolade that could sit proudly on his metaphorical mantelpiece next to the picture of him in the Merseyside Sandstone Guide that places the honour of being 'Mr Breck Quarry, Wallasey' on his powerful shoulders. Now, it would be hard for most to handle the responsibility of visually representing these quarries to the climbing masses, however Fatneck, in his usual modest fashion, took it all in his stride summing up the enormity of his feat with the following well-chosen words, "Fatneck- the face of choss''. I feel a career in politics or diplomatic relations awaits the great man.

I've been to some of the Lancashire quarries in the past.  I visited the Wiltons at the start of my climbing career in a previous trad incarnation. A trip to Brownstones resulted in me running back to Merseyside with my tail well and truly between my legs muttering inanely about no holds and hard grades.  These two experiences led me to dismiss most of Lancashire as a potential playground in favour of the well publicised areas surrounding Leeds, Bradford and Silverdale.  I fell into a mindset that the Lancashire quarries were technical, made mostly of flat walls dripping with old school boulder problems inaccessible to a climber like me who simply drags his feet behind him as his arms windmill wildly and ineffectively through steep terrain.  I simply closed my mind to the potential on my doorstep in the Pennines.

When I heard that a guide was coming it piqued my interest; I sought out videos and investigated what had been going on.  I must admit, as good as the media was, it didn't really change my mind.  Age can be a terrible thing: it can rob you of the innate optimism that drives the desire to give things a go, you can become blinkered, caught on a path of projects and progression, devoid of excitement and adventure.  So rather than investigating the quarries and moors of Lancashire I sought adventure in the familiar and found my climbing horizons edging closer to me rather than stretching out indefinitely.

The guide arrived and on first flick I hung on to the belief that this publication would do little to change my default direction of travel. But I didn't put it down; I kept flicking - going over and over the pictures, topos and descriptions.  The longer I looked the greater my sense of awakening and the deeper the realisation that I had been wrong all these years. There is a massive playground out there in the boulder fields and quarries of Lancashire and I'm not too old to go out and play in them, I just need to regress back to my childhood self and reach that state where climbing is done for enjoyment rather than through some feeling of necessity .  The acid test for the guide however would always be visiting venues and I'm glad to say a visit to a wet Stony Edge and Sladen Roof didn't do anything to curb my new-found enthusiasm. I didn't really climb anything but the potential of these venues was clear to see; the final wisp of the mists that have clouded my opinion of Lancashire evaporated, never to return again!

Now I don't want this post to seem like one long advert for a new guide, to draw that conclusion would miss the point.  This guide acts simply as a vehicle, a porthole to a new attitude and as such a whole new area to explore.  For all of those operating in the North West and Merseyside this new book opens up so much potential less than an hour from the front door.  Venues full of slopers, crimps, roofs, walls and mantles await your inspection and effort.  Yes there will be some chossy lines, but choss exists everywhere-  the secret is not to let the choss fill your perceptive filters. Don't cut yourself off from hours of fun because of a few minutes spent on a poor line.  I for one will be spending my winter in Lancashire, guide in hand, captain of my own ship, setting forth on a tide of new lines and the spirit of adventure.

If you want to find out more about the Lancs Bouldering guide you will find all you need to know here.

Big thanks to R Man for letting me use his vids in this post.