A trawl of the usual weather apps suggested that our plans for a trip to Pembroke and The Gower were likely to involve a lot of time in the pub staring out at rain-filled skies. Casting round for alternatives, we ended up with Yorkshire more by exception than by intent – the White Rose county was pretty much the only “white clouds with the occasional hint of sun” county! Even our usual stomping ground of the bolted limestone around Settle was looking wet – if we wanted dry rock we were in for a dose of Yorkshire Grit!
Gritstone climbing is very much subject to a virtuous spiral effect: the more you do, the more comfortable you get with the smears, jamming and general udging required; the more you enjoy it; and the more you do… The reverse also applies, and I’m about as out-of-sorts on grit as I’ve ever been. Stir in the reputation of the Yorkshire variety, for sandbaggy grades and extra greenness, and you can start to understand why the last time I made a pilgrimage to “God’s own rock” was about 20 years ago!
And so it was that we rocked up at Almscliff at about 3pm on a sullen Sunday afternoon, as the day-trippers were starting to leave. We headed around on to the North West Face and did Central Climb, VS, (a classic exercise in the art of jamming) followed by Overhanging Groove, HVS (even more classic lay-backery to a lo-o-ong reach for ‘magnificent finishing jugs’.
I have to admit I was staring to enjoy myself, so it’s probably just as well that the rain arrived… We were soon cosy and dry in the Queen’s Head, 15 mins down the road in Kettlesing (what a great name!), enjoying the ‘Father’s Day set menu’ before settling down for a peaceful night parked up outside.
Perkier the next day, but quite blustery – nonetheless we persevered with a visit to Brimham. What a pocket-sized geological wonderland – knobbly gritstone towers and crazy perched boulders scattered around a grassy hilltop, with views over rolling countryside for miles around. Despite its status as one of Yorkshire’s most hallowed climbing venues we didn’t see another climber all day, and only a few of the uber-classics had any evidence of chalk. There were, however, plenty of tourists enjoying a gentle amble amongst the rock formations, so we had plenty of spectators.
Steve joined us for the day (in what could be regarded as a slightly delayed and significantly shifted Pembroke meet!) and Zo drove down from the Lakes for a catch up. Having never been to Brimham before (hard to justify, I know!) Helen and I made a lap of the hill to try to orient ourselves and stumbled on a fab-looking arete which was crying out to be climbed. A bit of head-scratching with the not entirely intuitive YMC guide established it as Birch Tree Wall, VS and a 3* classic (we’ve still got an eye for a line!) Excellent, technical climbing, though a little unnerving with the occasional strong gust of wind on some of the more teetery spots. Moving generally anticlockwise around the hill, the next route to grab our fancy was Right–Hand Crack (another 3* VS – we’d clearly got out eyes in) – also very good, but a complete contrast on thrutchy baggy jams erring towards off-width. Not much room for elegance.
A few hundred yards further, the next compelling line we happened on turned out to be Frensis Direct on Cannon Rock – also 3* but upping the ante to E1. I handed Steve the rack and he made short work of the twin cracks
and exciting rounded top out.
Having got lucky with 3×3* guesses we decided to deploy the guide for our next route choice, and set down a marker that nothing less than three stars would do for the rest of the day. Just as well, as Rough Wall on Cubic Block looked a bit green and mossy for a 3* route. It didn’t quite live up to the quality of the first couple, but finished with a memorable ‘sting in the tail’ long reach for the top. The next 3* route was just around the corner, and we’d kind of committed to doing it before actually reading the description… Minion’s Way, VS 5c, “A Brimham Classic! The horrific crack in the centre of the wall has a nasty habit of making a mess of unsuspecting hands” Great, my lead! I actually felt pretty smug having survived the crux crack with hands intact, but almost came to grief in the “easier” upper crack which was green and soaking, but survived that too.
A quick riffle through the pages, pondering whether to do another route or not, revealed that there were only in fact two further routes below E2 that got 3*. Decision made – we simply had to tick the set. Hatters Groove “much better than it looks” according to the guide, which about summed it up! Good lead Steve.
That left Allan’s Crack, justifiably described as “A climb of the highest calibre” as a fitting finale.
Grand day out: 7 routes and 21 stars.
… And even a rainbow to enhance the onset of the evening drizzle