Dovedale Groove

Here’s a route that’s been on my tick list for 35 years, ever since it appeared in the iconic TV series: Lakeland Rock. This featured Chris Bonington charting the development of climbing in the Lake District by revisiting historically important routes along with the first ascentionist. Dovedale Groove on Dove Crag was episode 2 of 6 and Chris teamed up with Don Whillans – as unlikely a pairing as John Cleese and Ronnie Barker, and similarly hilarious.

Thanks to the magic of You Tube you can watch it again now!

With a sweltering heatwave coinciding with “the Great British Staycation”, Robb and I needed a high level, shady crag in an unpopular part of The Lakes. Patterdale is far enough from the main honey pots that there was still a parking spot left when we rolled in around 9am and, unusually for a Lakeland mountain crag, you have a great view of Dove Crag from the parking (just near the idyllic campsite at Brotherswater).

It’s only a couple of miles, and a gorgeous walk in its own right, though with 600m or so of ascent thrown in it’s a good hour of toil to get there.

Close up, it’s an imposing lump of rock.

Sadly, the original “classics” of Dovedale Groove, E1, and Extol, E2, have fallen out of favour, whilst some of the modern hard routes like Bucket City and Fear and Fascination (in the foreground on the shot above) do see some traffic. We decided to ignore dire warnings of damp, dirt and moss (and the fact that it gets E1+) and throw ourselves at Dovedale Groove.

The first move off the deck is perhaps the hardest on the route, but protected by good gear. It’s a really stiff pull off a finger-lock and a L-OOO-NG reach to a decent hold. Here’s a shot of Whillans from the video with his foot in a sling on this move (fair play to Bonington, leading the route in gym shoes on a hemp rope and waist belay, with chockstones for gear – ballsy!)

Here’s a view down to Robb just past the same spot, and you’ll see what I mean about vegetation…

The rest of the pitch is easier but very unnerving, with damp handholds and mossy footholds, leading up to a stance beneath a glowering off-width crack. I arrived to find the bail gear of a recent team who’d clearly called it a day on surveying the way onwards.

Robb fired into the lead for pitch 2, and despatched it with aplomb

… including the sketchy wide bridge to escape out leftwards from the crack. Actually, by far the scariest move was the mossy mantle onto a plinth of gradually peeling turf just before the next stance – good lead that man! P3 and 4 combined to give a finale which was no anti-climax, with wild moves through a roof, which would have been great fun but for the trickle of moisture. It felt more like E1+++ on the day, but I was really pleased to have finally got the tick.

The other objective for the day was Extol, which features in Hard Rock, but the upper groove was very obviously minging wet and most likely E2+++. One to come back for (and although we had a very warm day, it had apparently lashed down for much of the previous two days, so maybe it’d be a bit more appealing after a longer dry spell…)

The afternoon was still young, and the sun still shining, so we steeled ourselves to walk straight past The Brotherswater Inn and instead drove round the other side of the hill to Castle Rock. A fortuitous encounter with George and Paul in the car park delayed us with some casual banter, but we were soon wandering up to the South crag (the one that hasn’t fallen down!)

What a contrast with Dove – south west facing, 10 minutes from the road, dry as a bone and immaculate featured rock. It’s an absolute joy to climb these quality 45m routes as you watch the sun set over Thirlmere.

We just did the two uber-classics: Gazebo Direct, HVS, and Romantically Challenged, E1 – not much between them in quality or difficulty, both excellent and both about 2 grades easier than Dovedale Groove.

A fabulous and contrasting two-crag day. I know which was the more enjoyable, but I wonder which will linger longer in the memory? You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth!

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