Days 1 - 4
Sheffiled - Frogsmouth - Craig Arthur - Devils Gorge
I love road trips. I love living out of a van and the freedom it gives you. Obviously there are downsides, especially when your sharing the van with two dogs. When it rains everything and I mean EVERYTHING gets wet and stays wet, so good management is paramount. Luckily if the forecast was to be believed it was going to be blue skies and sunshine sunshine sunshine.
Road trips are always better if you do them with friends, like minded friends who are psyched to do the same as you, so for this trip I was lucky to hook up with Lucy Creamer, sponsored climber, yoga chic and my absolute best friend EVER, we've had some incredible adventures together. Next up and playing Yin to Lucy's Yang was Mark "Zippy" Pretty, a legend of British climbing and a veritable encyclopaedia of lesser known climbing areas and a friend of more than 20years.
Of course no adventure would be complete without Buis my Boxer Mastiff cross, always watching my back and little Theo, the newest edition to the family. Not quite sure what he is, most likely a staffy crossed with a whippet, I have know idea, it doesn't matter to me. A third of Buis's size he tucks into a small places which comes in handy when your living in cramped conditions.
The first esoteric port of call was going to be Frogsmouth, a bolted crag of soft sandstone in the middle of a very unlikely setting, the industrial city of Runcorn. After picking my way through the broken bottles, cans and chip trays toward the graffiti covered crag I have to admit, I had reservations, but after climbing a few routes, the quality of which was actually very good, we forgot about all the negatives and concentrated on the uniqueness of the climbing. Frogsmouth is an old quarry, divided into numerous bays of differing height and angles, slabs to overhanging and in years past has been the stomping ground of the "Aid Climber" Many of today's free lines rely on old peg scars, which are now incorporated into the climbing as finger holds, often "mono's" (see photo above of Mark Pretty on The Big Stiff One 7c) The climbing is steep and pumpy with only a smattering of holds and even though the quality of rock is at times soft, the climbs themselves are good and have to be attacked with a positivity.
After a day wearing ourselves out both physically and mentally on soft sandstone it was time to head over to Llangollen and savour the delights of Clwyd Limestone in the shape of Craig Arthur. But first we needed to find somewhere to park up for the night and decide what we were going to have for tea! Both decisions were quickly (for us) made in the shape of Fish and Chips and a wonderful little spot high on a hillside with views down the valley, which just left an easy drive the following morning to the aptly named "Worlds End" and the slog up the hill to the wonderfully positioned Craig Arthur, high up on a hillside (See photo below)
Compared to the 3 minute bimble to get to The climbing at Frogsmouth, Craig Arthur almost felt like an expedition. Gear, food and water packed and head up picturesque tree lined valley before breaking out up the hill to the crag, which sits on top of a huge ridge, looking rather like some inpeneterible fortress. The climbing here is hard, not inpeneterible, but definitely stiff for the grade! The climbing up there felt quite lonely and isolated, with just the occasional walker tramping along a small footpath hundreds of feet below the immense scree slope that protects access to the crag. We spent the day alternating between Trad and sport routes, the best of which were Relentless 7b+ an aptly named Gary Gibson route which forges its way up a blank wall, before exploding through a large and strenuous roof and Survival of the fastest E5 6a, a series of flakes and cracks. After a windswept day we headed back to our previous nights camp, cooked tea, drank wine and dissected the days climbing like only climbers can!
The following morning we found ourselves at Loggerheads, not with each other, but the place! Yes there's a place called Loggerheads. Having visited Worlds End the previous day this didn't seem as ridiculous as it sounded. We were headed to Devils Gorge (I think the locals like to use a little poetic licence around these parts) a tourist attraction which comprises of a large "Slit" in the ground. From a climbing point of view the overly warm weather we'd been having actually for once, provided the perfect conditions for climbing . The Gorge rarely dries out, but all the routes we wanted to climb we're bone dry and the cool air temperature down in the "hole" were actually ideal - result!
Zippy had been before but Lu and I were both virgins. It's very unlike most British limestone crags, in fact it's more akin to French or Spanish cliffs, steep and bolted. If there was any critism of the place, it wasn't the climbing, but the route finding. Since the guide was published more routes have been added which criss-cross those already there. We stood for ages at the base of the cliff eyes fixed upward, then downward to the topo, then up again! We think we climbed a couple of 6c+'s, a 7a+ called Bananas and coffee, well at least we think that's the route (see above photo of Lucy Creamer) a fabulous 7b called Grand Canyon, possibly and a 7c which might or might not be an Ivory Smile, phew! Great venue, thorouly recommend the place to anyone who loves a challenge (route finding) and some great lines.
Next stop North Yorkshire and the lakes - watch this space.