Scrambling and Bouldering @ Dartmoor

Tackling the boulders of Hay Tor on a Saturday morning

The good thing about spending around 6 or 7 hours driving down to Dartmoor on a Friday night is that you don’t struggle for sleep when you arrive at your destination.

We’d booked lodgings in the Plume of Feathers in Princetown, a grand old pub that has sat on the edge of the moor since 1785. Although this building has been renovated and rebuilt extensively, a large part of the place still retains features from the 18th Century. Whilst this might sound all very authentic and historical, there was a small part of me worrying at the stability of roofing timber that had been weathered by nearly 300 years of Dartmoor’s intense micro-climate.

Still, we managed to survive the night in a room that was both and affordable, considering the location.

For those not in the know, Princetown is one of the few points of civilisation that you’ll find within the first expanse of the moor. The village’s main point of interest, besides the excellent pub of course, is it’s prison. Although the operation of the prison itself has been hugely scaled down since it’s heyday, around 600 or so low-risk prisoners are still kept there. As interested as I knew Jacob was to take a closer peek at this rural oddity, the real reason we’d driven all this way was to tackle some of the excellent bouldering problems that we’d heard tell of down the grape vine.

When we left ‘the Plume’, as the locals are apt to call it, it was early in the morning and we were a little surprised at how nippy it was out.

The good news was that it had stayed dry all night, so any rock that we’d tackle was almost guaranteed to be dry. Leaving the pub, we pulled our waterproofs close to us as a brisk wind came rushing in from, what felt like, the heart of the moor. I was glad I’d packed some fur bobble hats for all of us, even if Adam found his hat’s shade of purple a touch too feminine. It always pays to be prepared if you’re heading out into the unknown and there’s very much that feeling when you stride out into Dartmoor for the first time.

We had ambitiously planned to hike to our bouldering site, but when we glanced at our map we realised that the distance would probably take us nearly 6 hours to walk.

Thankfully the car was still an option, so we hopped on the smooth rural roads out to Hay Tor, one of the richest sites of bouldering in the country. It took us around 45 minutes to reach our destination, Adam was a little worried that the best boulders would already be taken by the time that we arrived there – but he was worrying in vain. When we arrived at half nine, to Adam’s relief, there wasn’t a soul in sight. We had the pick of the problems and continued to spend the day racing each other up challenging problems and building up quite the hunger.

By the time we’d returned to the Plume of Feathers, at around 7pm, we were starving and more than ready to take a spot at the fire with a pint of ale. Another weekend well-spent climbing!

Road Trip Down South @ Dartmoor

Bouldering has seen a huge increase in popularity over the last few years.

Although some ultra-trad climbers may look down on this casual form of the sport, there are good reasons why more and more climbers are opting out of intensive climbing in favour of weekend bouldering excursions.

When you look at the facts it’s not hard to see why. Bouldering is, by it’s nature, climbing on a smaller scale. Instead of scaling tall edges and faces, problems are created out of rocks that are no more than 20ft tall, meaning that climbers can simply rely on a crash mat as their only form of safety, as opposed to the reams of ropes and other gear that usually accompany a full blown climbing expedition.

We thought we’d see what all the fuss was about and also take another sneaky road trip, this time to deepest darkest Devon or more specifically, Dartmoor.

Other than being heavily featured in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dartmoor isn’t as well known to the rest of the country as it is to the climbing community. Buried away in the very heart of Devon, the moorland covers an astonishing 954,000 square kilometres of barren marsh, green valleys and a big variety of climbing problems.

The drive was by no means an easy one. Point to point, the distance from our home in Consett down to our first bouldering spot at the iconic Haytor area was around 400 miles.

In order to get the most out of the weekend, Jacob, Adam and I decided to drive down on Friday evening after work – a Herculean task that we probably should have just sacked off until the next day.

It probably seems a bit mad, leaving the veritable climbing utopia of the North East, to drive for nearly 7 hours to get to another climbing wonderland.

But we’d heard great things about the accessible bouldering routes in the area and had high hopes for what would promised to be an action packed weekend of clamber in a part of the country that none of us had ever had the chance of exploring before.

The long drive down, made only slightly longer by Jacob wanting to take a scenic route, had taken us through some of the most picturesque parts of the country.

The Yorkshire Dales, Peak District and The Cotswolds had all been laid in front of us on the drive down South. We spent the majority of the drive bathed in the golden rays of the sun, excitedly talking about the gradient of climbs we hoped to execute this weekend.

After just about making it down the last stretch of the M5 at half past midnight, we were knackered but excited and ready for a good night’s sleep before our long day of climbing.

Road Trip To Wales, Climbing @ Cloggy

Legendary British Climber Leo Houlding called Clogwyn Du’rArddu (Cloggy for short) “the best crag in the world” – and for good reason.

Although I know April was itching to take us all out on another exhausting cycle ride, it was my turn to pick the next destination and Cloggy has been a destination on my mind for some time. 

asleep-adamWe all knew that we’d want to spend as much time exploring as many of the 200 or so climbs the region had to offer, so we all elected to make a long weekend of it. A gruelling 5 hours drive from our home in Consett, Adam hadn’t quite finished complaining about the effort he went through with the crash mat last week – so I elected to share the driving with April and keep him quiet in the back seat.

It was a good thing I volunteered myself, because Adam was a little worse for wear on Friday morning.

We’d all booked the Friday off work, to maximise the time we could spend on the crags and Adam had decided to further capitalise on this boon by having a few pints at The Company Row, the night before. April and I had to physically shake him awake when we stopped by his house to pick him up. Refusing to let him in my car smelling like the worst kind of brewery, we threw him in the shower and gave him an hour to sort himself out.

In the mean time, the sober pair in the group put on a pot of coffee and started planning out the day’s travel and where we’d climb when we (eventually) arrived at Cloggy.

By the time we’d eaten a second breakfast and drowned Adam in coffee, it was past 11 and our dream of getting a full long weekend of climbing had fast disappeared – the journey would take too long, and we’d almost certainly hit rush hour traffic around the dreaded M6. So, instead of completely giving up on doing something we hit the internet and found a decent North Wales tourism site to give us some ideas on what to get up to in the evening.

Although our climbing plans had been scuppered, we were lucky enough to find a table at a highly recommended restaurant as well as a decent hotel to stay at.

sosbanSo, as a freshly cleaned and fed Adam slumbered peacefully, April and I drove the 200 odd miles to Menai Bridge to dine at Sosban & The Old Butcher, a restaurant that has recently been awarded it’s first Michelin Star. Although our sleeping pal was a little confused when we woke him up, in the dark, in the quiet town of Menai Bridge – he was more than happy to hear about where we were about to eat.

The food was divine, as was the wine. In fact, the wine was so good that April and I might have drunk a little too much.

Saturday morning was another late start for all of us. This time it was Adam who was wielding the coffee and throwing us into the showers – still, at least we made it Cloggy before midday.

cloggy-climb

There’s something wonderful about being surrounded my so many other climbers at one time. The feeling is akin to dancing in a mosh pit or entering a music festival. There are over 200 different routes to tackle so, even with the area being well populated with climbers, there was always something new to tackle throughout the day. On top of the great variety of routes, there was also the benefit of seeking advice from other enthusiasts and passers by.

Although we were a little groggy at first, the proximity with so many of our fellow scramblers soon woke us up and we’d made a heap of valuable connections by the end of the day.

We called it an early night, the wine and rich food of the night before inevitable catching up with all of us.

Thankfully we had the first part of Sunday to finish exploring this wonderful landscape, something that I’d highly recommend to any climber of any ability.

Clean Climbing With The Boys @ Ash Head

As regular rock climbers, we are constantly making use of the gifts that mother nature has to offer us – so, shouldn’t we try and protect it once in a while?

The rocks that we’ve inherited from our climbing predecessors are a precious commodity that have been used thousands of times before – if we hope to continue to use these, and ensure that others can also make use of them, we need to utilise the skills and techniques available to us, so we can best preserve them for future generations
cycling-north-yorkshireOne of the things that most climbers since the 70s have started making use of is new rock-friendly tech, instead of the old.

Gone are the use of bolts, pitons and copperheads – metal items that only the serve the purpose of permanently damaging the rocks and in are the spring-loaded camming devices, nuts and chocks; that are much kinder to the rock faces that we ascend.

However, in order to fully commit to a clean climb you need to consider a few things beyond basic rock preservation.

It’s imperative that we help maintain and sustain our crags and peaks – but should we be approaching the environmental aspect more holistically?

After all, what good is preserving the rocks if the rest of the environment that we are endeavouring to protect is suffering as well?

This weekend; Jacob, Adam and I headed out to Ash Head, some 50 miles or so away from our base of operations in Consett. Instead of taking the easier (less environmentally friendly method) of driving the car with all our gear – we decided to experiment with something greener – but infinitely more tiring.

cycling-tired
Cycling is a method of transportation that is effectively carbon neutral (once you negate the environmental effects of the production and shipping of the vehicle), of course the biggest challenge for us was transporting all our gear the whole way.

Luckily, after doing some research on UKClimbing, we managed to infer the amount of equipment that we’d need to take with us. So we loaded up our panniers and rucksacks (poor Adam had to wobble his way down the 6 hour cycle with the crash mat on his back) and set off on our way to Ash Head.

We had to set off early – with the winter daylight hours slowly encroaching – we woke up much earlier than we usually would on a Saturday (and I know Jacob regretted that extra pint at The Company Row the night before).

Factoring in a 6 hour cycle, we woke at half 5, with our bags already packed, and left at 6 after a quick breakfast. Once we got to the crag we simply locked our bikes together, against a tree in big metallic mess and headed up to the crag with our gear.

climbing9Ash Head is a gorgeous place to climb; over 170 climbs (according to UKClimbing, we only had time for 4 that day) we were spoilt for choice. Although we were all a little knackered from the cycle down, we were determined to make the most of our time in this wonderful place and (after a spot of lunch) cracked on with reckless abandon. Adam topped out quickly on a couple of occasions, but carrying the crash mat had clearly exhausted his usually strong back – so a couple of times he made good use of it.

Although I’d felt the strain a little too – I had a fine time on a few of the bouldering problems, whilst Jacob spotted me. The landings are relatively flat here, but I was still definitely glad for the reassurance of the mat, so I could push myself that extra bit further – even if it had proven to be the end of poor Adam.

The cycle back, which we set off on after a good 5 hours of climbing, was pretty gruelling – the day was long, we’d left Consett at 6 that morning and didn’t return until 11pm.

I was shattered, but satisfied that we’d had an action-packed day out, with zero impact on our environment.