Saturday, 20 September 2008

Farewell Jones, and other stories.

Well, it’s been a funny old week. I’ve been down in Stafford and Somerset, spending time at home and with Jones before shipping her off to the far side of the world. I tell thee, that were an emotional morning – she almost got a tear out of my stony heart. How dare she. She's spending a year in Madagascar working for Azafady, a charity based in Fort Dauphin in the South East of the island. They're involved with all sorts of community projects, rural development and the incredably biologically rich environment. Jones is chronicling her year in Madagascar at Eka Be, so tune in for regular postings from paradise (not that Fort William isn’t paradise, of course). I’ve added a link to the blog list on the right of this here page too.

So, before that fateful morning in Terminal 2 at Birmingham airport (the starting point for all international adventures, no doubt) when Jones disappeared into the departure lounge, we had been out and about on the rock. Following on from redpointing my first 7a in Cheddar last time I was home, I redpointed another on Sunday, this time in Somerset’s dingy, dark and dismal North Quarry. To the rational mind it’s a proper shit-hole, and not worth the effort of finding, especially with the hallowed walls of Cheddar, Brean and Uphill nearby, however the place has sentimental value for me.

North Quarry is a big hole in the side of Crook Peak, the extension of the Mendip Hills just above my parent’s cottage, the hill that I spent my entire childhood exploring, walking, running, cycling, shooting bunnies, drinking and bivi-ing on, and instilling a deep love for nature and the outdoors in me. In fact, North Quarry is where the idea of going rock-climbing came from in the first place. My good buddy Luke and I were scrambling about on the easy angled limestone one day when some ‘proper’ climbers turned up with ropes and all and started to crank up the steep and scary western walls. Inspired, we bought some kit, went to the indoor wall, learnt the ropes and before long were driving hither and thither across the Mendips in search of rock, grubby mits firmly clenched on Martin Crocker’s Avon and Cheddar guidebook. Happy days.

Crook Peak, my childhood playground (Photo: Jon Marshall)

Times Past: Me on a route on The Glacis, Fairy Cave Quarry, Summer 2006

Anyway, the bizarrely named Motorway Sheepdog is actually a pretty good route, despite it’s fairly grotty appearance. A lot of these Mendip limestone quarries are very slate-like, as the limestone sheers to leave smooth, slabby walls with nay gear and nay grips, all in the familiar rotting post-industrial waste land. It took me a few goes on the top-rope to suss out all the moves, but after a bit of foot-work here, some re-balancing there, some good old-fashioned faith in friction and the acceptance that sometimes it is just plain hard, I felt like a redpoint attempt was on the cards. Surprisingly I did it on the first go. Woop woop. Top-marks to Jones for the belay.

Setting off on Motorway Sheepdog (F7a), we only had a thin half rope so had to double up.
(Photo: Sarah Jones)

A very pleased me after the successful redpoint.
(Photo: Sarah Jones)

Next day we were in Staffordshire, so made a bee-line for the Roaches, where limestone crimps were exchanged for grit-stone slopers. It took a while to get used to, initially on Prow Cracks (Diff*), then the very good, if technically imbalanced, Jeffcoat’s Buttress (HS 4c, 4a***), and then the very, very good Safety Net (E1 5b***). As the drizzle started to appear we strolled along to the Hard Very Far Skyline and I tried in vain to get established on Wild Thing (E1 5c**), before giving up and running away.

Grit-stone detail: I think this is Chris belaying me on Nosepicker (E1 5a) at the Roaches in April 2007.
(Photo: Sarah Jones)

Jones safely packed up and shipped off, I made my way back to Somerset and have managed a bit of bolt-clipping at Cheddar with my good friend Johnsey, of Nova Scotian wedding fame. We did 7 routes between F5 and F6b (mainly F5, of course!) in two and a bit hours on Overshoot Wall, Arch Rock and Horseshoe Bend Buttress. Not bad mileage.

So, my week off is almost at an end and I’d better get packing. Next stop, Forsinard, the ends of the known world, and two more weeks of bog-trotting, sphagnum counting and plant measuring. Bring it on.

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