22 May 2012

Top of the known world - Bouldering on Simonside Northumberland


Day two of the Northumberland odyssey started predictably with a few sore heads. For me one of the effects of having young children is that what little recreational drinking you do happens between the last child's bedtime, lets say 8 O'clock and your bedtime more like 10.30 if you want to be up and with the programme when the little darlings declare the day to have begun. About 7'ish in our house.

This is fine but if you then get a rare opportunity to drink all evening you have lost any of your former ability to pace yourself. You then drink at great speed, with real determination and in the case of Saturday night for about seven hours. I knew I was in trouble when I woke up with one of those motion sensitive headaches were the slightest movement induces waves of nausea.

I shambled into the kitchen and Bryn offered coffee. Others stumbled in. Turns out I was one of the first to bed at about half one. A few souls made of sterner stuff than I, had been going until the dawn chorus started once more. Suddenly I felt better about the state of the inside of my head as I looked at the outside of theirs. Tea, toast and bacon left me feeling more human. By 11'ish myself and Matt were heading out for Simonside with the remainder of the party to follow on.

Simonisde sits above the charming town of Rothbury in southern Northumberland. Its the highest point in the County and it has a long craggy ridge top. You get a great view of it as you drive over the long straight road from Wooler, its sits up high on the horizon and looks regal.

We parked in the forest and walked in, Matt was keeping up a quick fire tempo and we soon hit the final steep 100m climb to the summit crag. My head was clearing further as the toxins sweated out. A cuckoo providing a melody to the baseline of the thumping of my heart. Ten minutes slogging up an indistinct track and we were at the base of a buttress. This first area was disappointing, scrittly and with a scary looking bilberry crust on top. We had a go but our hearts weren't in it.

We walked on round past a lovely jet black pool with a rock leaning wall rising out of it, to the sheltered amphitheatre of Potts Buttress. Here were wonderful wind-eroded sandstone pinnacles covered in chicken's heads demanding to be climbed. A few problems were sorted out after the initial shock of the first one where yesterday's exercise and the nights over indulgences ganged up to make an epic out of a steady warm up, memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

The obvious flaky wall was a lovely problem, highball but friendly with the surprise of an Adam and Eve style jump off its pinnacle top.

That leap -  Photo Louis Bortoli

We ticked a few more easier problems off and then got into seige mode on the bulge, where the clue was in the name. It had us both scratching our heads for a the best part of half an hour. It sucumbed in the end to an undercut and press approach. With an unlikely wide bridge thrown in, strange moves indeed. Matt's weekend was improved no end by him getting this, he had been horrified by his performance on Saturday. I think he was a little hard on himself, he hadn't climbed for four months and it takes a while to get your eye in again.

Just after this the others arrived after their epic approach. Some half complaining about the walk, some loving the challenge and the all-round endless views from the summit. Lunch was taken, shoes were changed, more tape was applied,  the bouldering circus was in town. They threw thmeselves into the problems with equal relish and had just as much fun as we did. I glanced down at my watch and it was 3 o'clock how did that happen?

We packed up to leave and I found I was missing an approach shoe, search as I might I couldn't find it anywhere. I resigned myself to walking out in one shoe and one painfully tight performance 5.10 rock shoe. We headed down, me walking like I had just had ankle surgery, the others hanging on for a bit to finish the last few problems and try another area.

As we wandred back to to the steep descent my rock shoe clad foot went in a puddle up to the knee. There I was now looking at a one footed descent with a very wet lower leg. I cursed the gods and my own stupidity. As we passed the first buttress we had started on, I had a good look round and the shoe was found hidden under a bilberry bush, which improved my mood no end.

We were back at the car in half an hour I was feeling pretty shattered but I don't think I have had a better two days bouldering in as a long as I can remember.
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