20 March 2012

If you go down to the woods today...

When I got a free hour this morning on my way to York I grabbed the chance to head off into Hetchell Woods and see for myself. I decided to go with the easy walk in as described in Yorkshire Gritstone, rather than the longer one on ukclimbing.com. This meant a scoot round some pleasant country lanes, and parking up in an ample car park on Milner Lane. Obviously a popular destination for local dog walkers, I also noted that the Wildlife Trust had been busy looking after the place as there was a handy map by the path, and coppicing going on by the bridlepath. A pleasant walk down the path led me past several impressive looking rope swings, ancient trees, and lots of exposed roots. Mental note: next time allow at least another 30 minutes to play on the swings! There was lots of wild garlic coming up, and I reckon in a week or two the place will be humming with its pungent aroma. Very soon I came round a bend and headed up to the obvious crag at the top of the hill.
As part of my ongoing exploration of local rocks, Hetchell Crag had been on my list for a while after reading about it in Yorkshire Gritstone. Up until then I hadn't heard of it, probably as most of my introduction to climbing had come through bouldering and Hetchell seemed to be routes. Upon asking a learned colleague about Hetchell he replied "Oh yeah, that was an 80's crag" and didn't seem to know any more about it. I asked around and it seemed Hetchell was pretty much off everyone's radar. But if Almscliffe is a stones throw from Ilkley for the Devil (see folklore), then Hetchell was not much further for him (or her) to lob another rock, being situated just south of Wetherby off the A58. Intrigued I determined to find out more.

My first impression with Hetchell was that it's deceptively long. Although the first face you come to looks quite short it does carry on and there is plenty to be keeping you busy. In fact ukclimbing logs 83 climbs there, and I reckon you could easily make up a few more. The other big impression was how interesting the rock is. I'm no geologist but this is clearly not Wharfedale gritstone I'm used to.There are all sorts of weird pockets, jugs, cracks, chimneys, and undercuts going on, and mostly in pretty good condition (though a bit green given the time of year). There's even a tree trunk growing out of the left hand end! Lastly, the height of the crag varies from bouldering height at either end, to scary height in the middle. That gives scope for a lot of playing around if you don't have a rope or the confidence to head too high. Although the path under the crag gives mostly good landings, if you miss the path you're heading off downhill into the trees. And that leads to the last important thing for me- the woods, no surprise given that you're in a nature reserve. The woodland setting lends a tranquil air to the crag, giving shelter from the wind and sun-dappled leaves creating a delightful canopy. If you ever got tired of the rock, the trees would no doubt add an alternative climbing option.

As to the climbing, well I got enough done to get a good pump. Nothing of note, bar Zig Zag (a safe VD) and some traversing, but I was on my own and lacking confidence and
encouragement. However, next time I'm sure I won't be alone as I reckon this place could be magical with good friends on a summer's eve.

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