21 May 2012

Wide open spaces - A first bouldering trip to Northumberland - Day One

Scandalous really but until Saturday  I had never bouldered in Northumberland. Its just that I had been meaning to go for 25 years and never got round to it. To put this travesty to bed and I'm sure for reasons of their own, a big team were meeting up in what turned out to be the wonderful Tillmouth Cottages near Coldstream. Myself and Matt had taken the stupidly early Saturday morning start option and we were rolling by 7. Weather conditions as we left Harrogate could be easily described as minging. Driving rain all the way to Newcastle left us with a sombre mood as we stopped again to get Matt another coffee. I think he single handedly keeps Costa in profit.

We arrived at the cottages to meet the rest of the loose collective of misfits and cynics that make up our happy band. I as ever was worried they would all  be up and on the crag by the time we got there at half ten. Many were still breakfasting and a few still sleeping after celebrating the joys of living, the night before until the birds had started singing the dawn.

We stumbled into a forward gear applying tea to hangovers, tape to finger ends, gathering pasties and trying to work out where the crag was, you  know the form. We headed out into the now merely grey but thankfully drying morning.

Five up in my MPV the keen team committed predictable navigational suicide in our haste and got a better view of Bamburgh Castle than Bowden Doors. By the time we got to the crag the laid back no stress team were walking smugly in.

Bowden Doors is quite a thing, sat up on a ridge with fields of yellow rapeseed running down to a distant view of the  sprawling mass of the Cheviots. It reminded me more of northern Montana than Britain. This was Northumberland's Premier crag and we had it to ourselves. The hordes that descend onto Stanage and the Cliff were not insight, maybe, whisper it, maybe they weren't even coming.
The main crag was still pretty wet, the massive breaking wave of Tube Wall looking even more like a statue of a Tsunami than it does in the pictures. It was eerie and magnificent, as the water dripped down and we looked up open-mouthed with awe. Moving away we walked on with hope in our hearts and got to the more human scaled boulders over the wall they were much dryer. Warm ups, on Warm Up Wall, warmed us up. They also pointed out a few things:

Thing One Its called Sandstone because its made of sand and this makes the experience a little less secure for the feet than when climbing on Gods own Grit. Clean your boots, towel the holds, clean your boots again, then have a go.

Thing Two Its quite rounded and there isn't nearly as much friction as Grit. You have to try and pull with your whole hand not just your tips if you want to get anywhere. Lots of open handed pulls and palming seemed to be in order.

Thing Three Compared to Cliff and Caley the grading seemed friendly, a few of us soon had a 6a sitter in the bag. This is good as Things One and Thing Two were giving us something to think about.

We found a boulder with great flakes on it the wonderfully named Left and Right Flakes. They were both good and responded to a dynamic approach Louis going for a double handed dyno for the hell of it. He caught it well, good job as it would have been a face scrapper if he hadn't.

I had come for Scooped Wall 12 foot of scalloped sandstone with a few faint breaks for the hands and a few smears for the feet. It starts overhanging and just makes it into slab territory at the top. It looked hard but the landing was good. I had a look, piled up the mats, cleaned my boots and had a go. I started working my feet up the smears, hands not pulling, just letting me get my feet in a wide but stable bridge, then smeary foothold by smeary foothold  I moved myself slowly up, until I could get the top and belly flop over. Wow flashed it, didn't see that coming, deep joy it had only gone on my list last week and there it was done. Rob had a few goes, he had more work to do than me, I out reach him by the best part of a foot,  but he persevered and nailed it, topped it out better too. Many others had a go but they will need to come back again.

We found the Sheep Pen next, a little walled garden of bouldering brilliance that was the perfect spot for a pic-a-nic on the well trimmed lawn at the bottom. There have not been lawns at the bottom of the Cliff whilst I have been going, I may buy some turf. Then we got into the high quality lower grade problems on offer. My pick was Dreaming of Hueco a well named bucket pulling fest with a hard top out, until you found the monster hold.

Round the corner was the oddly shaped and aptly named Lightbulb. A slightly overhanging prow with a vey slabby top and not many holds. You could slap your way up the sides and get to a point where you were almost rocking over, but the crucial move was a high step onto a small and damp edge for the right foot. I got up to this fine first go but couldn't commit and headed down, it was quite a way down from here and I upset my ankle bottoming out on the mat so  we stacked a few more on the pile. A few of us were having a go and all getting to the same point. I shinned up a gully to the side and managed to lean out at full stretch and dry the crucial foot hold.

I had another go, a spotting team this big doesn't come along very often and it might be another twenty five year before I'm back I reasoned. This time I rocked onto the hold and as I let go of the side pulls holding me on I expected the foot to peel and be heading backwards to the mats but it held, I palmed down and its was job done. I think I liked this more than Scooped Wall maybe as I had to work for it. Rob got it next go he had to use some smaller holds, again for reach reasons so good effort.

We played a round on Y-Front a crimpy 6A+ back down the other end of the crag but even though the sun was now out I was out of crimp and feeling pretty tired. Rob and Louis got the closest but its one to try as you walk past on the way in rather than the way out, I think.

We headed back to the cottage. Nominally to have an early tea and hit another crag but by 6 the beers  were open the wine was flowing and the course of the evening like the day, was set in stone. Great day, thanks team, I had a ball. To be continued...
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