10 July 2013

Northumberland Crag Pie - A recipe for good climbing times

A weekend away, a trip for around 12 climbers to Northumberland, a recipe for good times consisting essentially of the following ingredients:

Away from home, to the beach. From the beach, to the cottages. Through the night. Cottages to crag, to cottages, to crag, to cottages. Night-time again. Leave the cottages behind, to one last crag, and then home.

Rumbling Kern - Sandy beach, just enough climbing to warm up for a dip in the sea.
Hepburn - Challenging edges high above the rolling Northumberland landscape.
Doveholes - A hazy evening nestled in the woods, with sandy slaps the order of the session.
Rothley - Grittiest of the crags, with problems that emptied our tanks, and a bizarre pants-based photo-shoot.

Baked potatoes and salads.
Scrambled eggs with salmon.
Home-made curry.
R-ice cream supper, ice cream breakfast.
Ice lollies throughout, and well earned.

The sea - From knees grazed on underwater rock shelves, to bombing into the deep end of a rocky channel.
The river - Apparently this was good fun, but I didn't partake, as I didn't feel it could follow the sea experience.
Board games - There were none, as late night banter dominated.
Gardening - Cutting down trees with a hand-axe.
The weather - Uniformly glorious sunshine, with occasional delightful breezes.

And, of course, the foundation for all of this - Tillmouth Cottages

Those are the mere facts of it all, but the recipe to that list's ingredients - the more than the sum of its parts - is the people, the moments, and what it means to be a climber.

Friday... Loading up the Land Rover with Bryn, putting a wardrobe on top and then worrying about its stability (needlessly, it turned out) all the way up. Sharing road-trip snacks and tunes with Bryn, John, Keir and Cosmo. Cosmo complaining of numb thighs, earning him a 'massage' from me, which he returned in kind. Climbing out of the sea via a shallow-water problem, then readjusting temperature in a rocky plunge-pool. Trying to coax Cosmo into said pool, and it taking him some time to become submerged. Arriving at the cottages and unloading the Landy, then watching the drive for latecomers, greeting them as they came. Kat's delightfully prepared meal, and the table based banter that it fed.

Saturday... Dean putting breakfast on, while urging us to get out there on the rock quickly. Once the last of us - Dave and Giovanni - arrived, we were on our way. Keir and I travelled with Dean, enjoying joking around over Dean's well-equipped yet somewhat rough around the edges Pajero, how high we could get the inclinometer - or the 'tiltyscope' as we labelled it - being a highlight. At Hepburn, working a face problem with Bryn and Giovanni, the difference (for me) between failure and success being which two fingers on my right hand to use in a small hold. Revelling in the scale of 'Photo Opportunity Arete', with Bryn leading the way and several others of us following, all impressed by the height at which you needed to shift your weight. A monster session on a big roof, which I barely dabbled with, but was impressed by Dean, Pete, Louis and the two Daves' efforts on. A little Matterhorn, smaller than Almscliffe's, but treacherous, as an undercut came away and sent Giovanni falling his own height or more, onto a slender tree nearby, with a hint of guidance from this spotter. Among all this, Dean - one of the most seasoned climbers among us, and certainly the most capable - elucidated on what had brought us there, the joy of the climb, the passion, the beautiful places that we experience, and the people that we share it with. Back at the cars, we said goodbye to Pete, who had proved a worthy member of the gang. Bryn joined me, Dean and Keir on the way back to the cottages, and he suggested the river swim. I didn't fancy the rocks and mud though, so I stayed at the cottage, doing a little tidying and having a read. I joined back in for the evening - first Dave's Princely curry, then a crag, Doveholes, where Bryn and I worked a variation on a problem we did three years ago, this new one having a smeary jammy sketchy move for the top out. We climbed the evening way, headed back to base, and more conflab on our return led us into the night.

Sunday... saw us finish our time at the cottages and move on. The crag of choice was far to the South, almost at Newcastle. I went in Dean's car again, and enjoyed fine banter and meaningful conversation on the way down. A decent walk-in to a tasty little spot overlooking the road. Dean once again proved superlative, cleanly ticking a high - at start and finish - arete where many of us couldn't even get it with a sidewall. As this session went on, we gradually dropped like flies out of climbing, instead just urging the remaining few on and taking in some rays - often too many rays. We topped the session and the weekend off with a bizarre, madness of crowds style, photoshoot with us, wearing only our pants, arrayed all over the group of rocks around the arete. Yeah, I know. Or I really don't. And I can't imagine what those driving by at this moment must have thought. Or I can. Anyway, we re-robed and walked out, satisfied with a job well done, technical achievements brought to life by camaraderie and bondsmanship, glad of a weekend of heightened experiences - moments to dwell on. See you next year...

And in the mean-time, today, tomorrow, next week, next month - crags closer to home beckon, the weekend's ache not being enough to put us off.

Kids in a sweet shop.

Yorkshire spotting.

The tick of the trip.
More photos here.
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