Friday, 24 April 2015

Alternative Slate





Photo:MaryMary

Geography mutates inhabitants: the quarrymen, generation upon generation, dug in, taking hits and diminishing the mountain for the demanded slate; day after day, lung after lung, producing a lethal strain in the indigenous population. A package deal of volatile deliverance and bought pleasure from Ebenezer's Kingdom. Time left those dusty appendages and tale full jars to eke out in some other field. They left a huge dead quarry, into which the micro-quarrymen came; reluctantly at first, to work and play and exert their recreational rules, and again, to become prey to a different sort of mutation — a more intellectual, dare I say, "artistic" Manic Strain!

The rock-climbers, tier upon tier of them, are the micro-quarrymen, milling about their business on the faces and slabs, like termites — feeling and probing. The demand to cap roofs around the world, has left this place a climbers' paradise, or perhaps a climbers' dungeon?  A dungeon of climbers, some touching, some hacking this friable substance — some tentative, some robustly forging lines — exerting their own character on the structure left behind. "Love Sculpture" as someone put it! Creative sculpture does exist here — it's also matched by blatant thuggery.


There are no rules for production here. There are no lines drawn between the poet exercising his urge and a team of navvies next door, hell bent on ascent! Each justifies their Strain. The difference between a wall where there was nothing, carefully chipped to produce a series of moves that give the discerning "dancer" unsurpassed climbing pleasure.....Manic Strain, E7 6b/c and a climbable line, cleaned and chipped to produce an easier route for the first ascentionist, lies in the former being a series of subtle, aesthetic changes, that neither looks, nor feels, chipped, as opposed to blatantly produced jugs.

Both are bolt protected, and both valid. This is the essence of the quarry activity. The movement is constant and without constraint. It is both honest and deceiving; both aesthetic and ugly. Just like the light on wet, varnished slate clearly defines shape upon shape and changing depths of reflected colour from strange sources. It cannot stand still — it is with the stroke of movement. As for the mentality, it is obvious. A tiny flake is levered off whilst cleaning, producing a better hold or nothing at all. On the former you make it secure, and give it the wire; but on the latter, you could have a choice? You want the line to go, it's yours, a lot of effort, the expense of bolts — you say, "it will go", and depending on the `strain' acting on you, a hold is chipped, or you can leave it for someone better? This choice, brought about by Slate's limited, but intense history, just isn't applicable.


This isn't Clogwyn du Arddu. We are here on what's left of the destruction of a hillside- a mountain — you don't even consider the environment. This is "all the throes of climbing pleasure", unrestricted amidst a moraine of slate debris, of oil drums and iron bars, skeletal machinery and stacks of discarded nude books. There cannot be any respect for the rock, giving unlimited lines from the Lake Padarn to the clouds. Will it hell be left for someone better — the better are too busy doing their own thing, and anyway, you, already have a name for it! Do you not find this sinister in its possible encroachment down the Pass? There is room here for conjecture. Like the lad who's just started climbing — straight into slate, on an abseil rope, with tools and excavating equipment, producing minor routes, with no experience, or "apprenticeship", no feel of what's gone before, and elsewhere. Caught by colour and proximity, dug the style, and hitched straight in.

Could there be a strange, twisted analogy here of a quarryman's son, destined to spend his days with the dust, with like-minded disinterested in the Welsh mountain surroundings. A slate breed- a mutant. Differing circumstances, differing strains-same quarry: Right here on the ravaged hillside, in a throw from Pete's Eats are ten-fold “Cloggy's", from Dinorwig's Big Hole and of above, down through Australia, and Dali's dip to California — to Serengetti, tier upon tier down to the Rainbow Slab Area, and in across, and down inclines to the more accessible Vivian Quarry. Yawn! Don't relax there’s a Steerpike around every corner.


A lot of unstable characters play out their visions and anarchy here; one indeed seems to forget the 'link' with climbing. Tests indeed. Offset and lethal waves fusing out of the surroundings — characters can be changed and possessed as easily as winding up a Power Station official. Perhaps from a fictitious "Arfonwy Roberts", bent double in 1806, for the pleasure of some unknown "Dust Queen", high up in a tunnel near the Big Hole. Lines were lost, goitres were brown — a strain embedded into the rock — their character and lives permeated into every fought for vein; its greyness exuding their dangerous misery.


John Redhead on 'Menstrual Gossip-E7

The pounding of ancient powdery hard-ons in remote cutting sheds (listen) — cut-throats and camaraderie, of manhood, the depraved and the proud. All etched indelibly for your young prancing limbs on smooth slabs. And the climbers, so young with the dust they haven't learned to cry yet. But each one that steps up the tiers or inclines, and jokes along the levels, as before, is tracing a destiny; is being absorbed by the oozing spirit of this place — in dark cave, or hanging flake, the clanging of real men about their work, with their problems and perversions, is stilled before them — ever-present and affecting. Varnished by rain, or dulled by dust — You can skip out — a mutant at every level. May the Manic Strain be with you. 

John Redhead : First published in Climber-Nov86. Photos JR collection unless stated.

Photos available from JohnRedhead Org

Friday, 17 April 2015

Long Views in the Hills





Cross Fell: Delmar Harmood Banner. "Perhaps the worst viewpoint in England' HG. Image Lakeland Arts Trust.

Ever since a sparkling August dawn in 1930 when two of us, after a night on the summit, saw- unmistakably, on the far northern, western and southern horizons- the mountains of Scotland, Ireland and Wales from the top of Scafell, I have been interested in long mountain views. Many of us have caught glimpses of extremely distant peaks from alpine summits or seen the far Himalayas- almost unbelievably high in the sky- from Indian hill stations, but it is more the inter-visibility of British hills that fascinates me nowadays. How far can we see in the hills on the very clearest days? What are the maximum visual contacts from our highest mountains? Can you see right across England, from sea to sea, from any mountain top?

Towards the end of our appallingly wet Lake District summer I had a letter from a friend reporting "an unbelievable view, from sea to sea" from the scarcely-obvious viewpoint of Nine Standards Rigg above Kirkby Stephen. Perched on this modest two-thousander, close to its line of Dalek-like stone cairns, he was sure he could pick out both the Solway Firth to the north-west and Hartlepool power station on the east coast and, since there are long valleys down which to peer on either side, I'm sure this is perfectly feasible. Indeed, Kipling has a character in Puck of Pook's Hill claiming to have seen both seas from some Pennine height and, if you work it out, you will find that the theoretical maximum distance for inter-visibility between the Rigg and sea-level is something like 65 miles —quite far enough to reach the coast on either side.

Further, it should be possible to see the top of any other two-thousander up to 120 miles away from Nine Standards Rigg under perfect conditions — provided there was no obstruction in between, which would be most unlikely. All this is based on purely mathematical calculations — not mine, but more of this later. About one hundred years ago the Ordnance Survey claimed that the summit of Black Combe (1,969 feet) commanded "the most extensive prospect in the kingdom" — a claim probably based on the revelation years earlier by Wordsworth, that from the top might be seen "the amplest range of unobstructed prospect that British ground commands". It has nearly always been raining when I've been on Black Combe but, in perfect weather, the Galloway hills, the mountains of Mourne and Snowdon are said to be visible from the summit. A very old Ward Locke guide of mine quotes "several of the older authorities" for the claim that the southerly view from Black Combe extended to Jack Hill near Hanley in Staffordshire, but when I mentioned this in one of my early books I was told by a reader in those parts that he did not know of any such hill around there?

Elsewhere I have read that the view south from Black Combe is the longest overland view in England and that 14 counties could be seen from the summit — before they lost many of them. Whether or not this is true I Can't say, but I do know that you can see Black Combe from ships leaving the Mersey; from the North Pier at Blackpool; from the tower of Liverpool Cathedral and from a score of places along the Lancashire coast — a great shoulder of fell standing on its own on the very edge of the sea. Scottish mountains, being the highest in the British Isles, might be expected to provide the most distant sightings and, according to the summit indicator on Ben Macdhui, the second highest mountain in Britain, both Ben Hope and the Lammermuirs which are 191 miles apart may sometimes be seen from the cairn in exceptionally clear weather.

 It is also stated in Abercrombie and Goldie's "Weather" that the Paps of Jura (2,400 feet approx.) have been seen from the summit of Hecla (1,988 feet) on South Uist — a distance of well over 100 miles. These long sightings tend to confirm the claim made to me by several people that Ben Lomond has been fairly positively identified, on a remarkably clear day, from the top of Red Pike in the Buttermere fells - a distance of something like 120 miles. 

According to the following table all these sightings are possible and, indeed, even far greater examples of extreme visibility are theoretically feasible. This table was prepared by Patrick Satow, an expert on weather phenomena
A few years ago, after I had been writing about long sightings in the hills, wondering how far we could see under perfect conditions, Mr. Satow kindly worked out the necessary calculations and produced the table. It gives the theoretical distance in English statute miles at which an object of known height should be visible for a given height of eye — "under standard conditions of atmosphere, not including exceptional refraction". 


Using the table it will be seen that the top part of Scafell Pike could be visible from 76 miles away if the height of eye was ten feet above sea-level but observed from a height of 3,000 feet — say on one of the southern Scottish Munros —the distance could become 145 miles. It should be emphasised, of course, that all these theoretical sightings depend on there being nothing in the way to obstruct the view. It will be seen from the table that the sighting distances naturally increase as the observer climbs up his mountainside but this distance increases by ever smaller amounts for each additional 1,000 feet of height — due to the steadily greater effect of the curvature of the Earth. Patrick Satow suggests the table can be used in another way. "If you stand on the beach at Seascale, gazing across at Snaefell, in the Isle of Man, 41 miles away," he wrote to me, "look along the line for height of eye 10 feet. By interpolation, it will be seen that your horizon 'cuts off' Snaefell at about 850 feet, and the island below that contour is out of sight. Conversely, if you stand at 850 feet on Snaefell the beach at Seascale will be in line with your sea horizon.

Finally, reverse your position again and ascent to 850 feet at Seascale and your sea horizon to the west will be in line with the I.O.M. beach. But you cannot do that so you go up Eskdale and start up the slopes of Scafell. You are now about 50 miles from the Isle of Man and on reaching 1300 feet above the sea the coastline of the island should just be in sight. This is found in the table by putting Height of Eye at 10 feet (on the beach. I.O.M.) and looking at Scafell. The fifty miles comes between the vertical columns headed 1000 and 1500 feet". The table shows that, in theory, maximum sightings of up to 145 miles are conceivable, under perfect conditions, between three-thousanders — say, Scafell and Ben Lomond or the Carnedds, in North Wales.

So that my dawn sighting from he top of Scafell more than 55 years ago of the mountains of Scotland, Ireland and Wales— but from two points about 100 Yards apart — was nothing remarkable. It has often been claimed that it is possible to see both the Irish Sea and the North sea from the summit of Cross Fell but, in fact, because of the hill's flattened dome shape, you can see nothing from the cairn except about a quarter of a mile of dull foreground and then the limitless sky. Indeed, the actual summit of Cross Fell is perhaps the worst viewpoint in England, not the best, although from rather lower elevations on either side of the fell very long distances, including one or other of the two seas, might well be visible on a very clear day.

Harry Griffin: First published in Climber- April 1986.
 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Statement: The Ben Moon story......reviewed





Photo:Vertebrate
Having recently read and reviewed Steve McClure’s Vertebrate published autobiography which I felt somewhat suffered in that it became rather repetitive due to the fact that the author himself was operating in a rather narrow field of activity, I was interested to see how an old hand like Ed Douglas would take on someone who like Steve, operates within those same tight parameters which define the top end sports climber. In this case, Ben Moon, a climber synonymous with state of the art routes like Hubble, Statement of Youth and Agincourt but who, at the end of the day, is not exactly a Fowler, MacLeod or Boysen when it comes to being a climbing all rounder.

With a limited palette to draw from, it requires some creativity to fill an autobiography of 200+ pages; particularly when the subject is still in their 40’s and presumably with a lot of goals and achievements ahead of them. To the author’s credit, he makes a fine fist of the material available and doesn’t get bogged down in the technical minutiae which rock jocks are prone to use when writing about their climbs and projects . Instead, fleshing out his subject and presenting him as someone of interest and integrity rather than a one dimensional climbing machine. 

Ben Moon like his friend Johnny Dawes is certainly no scion of a horny handed son of toil. Born into a comfortable Home Countries, middle class family, his father Jeremy Moon was a talented artist of some renown and the young Ben was brought up within that comfortable, slightly bohemian suburban setting which for a youngster, is never less than stimulating as fascinating friends of the family pass through. Having a grandfather in Jack Moon who was a keen climber in his day, it was no surprise that the young Ben Moon should take an interest in the activity. An interest which took root early in life through family holidays in the mountain areas. However, it wasn’t before the young Ben Moon had suffered tragedy through the loss of his father who was killed in a motor biking accident when Ben was only six.

Ben was brought up by his mother Elizabeth and eventually found himself as a boarder at the somewhat archaic Christ’s Hospital Public School; renowned for the rather wacky  school uniform and eminent alumni . It was at Christ’s Hospital that perhaps not surprisingly, he developed an anti authoritarian streak and began to evolve into the proto punk. An image which defined the young climber when he first came to public attention as a pale, skinny, dread-locked rebel with a cause.

Like just about every climber whose lives have been dissected in biographies like this, it is remarkable how consistent they are in what you might call ‘the experience trajectory’. Time and again the same venues and the same climbs feature as these future stars climb the ladder of success. The local outcrops; the first trip to Snowdonia. A journey- usually in an old van- to Fontainbleau. Then its Verdon, Buoux, Yosemite and the Yorkshire limestone cathedrals of endeavour etc etc. 

The author charts his subjects’ rise to prominence through diary notes, interviews with Ben Moon himself and contemporaneous material drawn from articles and journals of the time. It paints a picture of a young man who, whilst not sharing the same capacity for self promotion and playing the sponsors game in the way his friend Jerry Moffatt did, was equally single minded in his desire to push the envelope and become one of that elite band of sports climbers operating at the limits of technical achievement. Like so many of his contemporaries within this select band, Ben did the competition circuit with mixed results. It did at least establish his name within the game and as routes like Agincourt began to fall, the previously dismissive UK climbing press, began to recognize and acknowledge his place amongst the cream of the crop.

Apart from charting his subjects climbing achievements, the author touches on areas where Ben Moon has experienced conflicting fortunes in his relationships, business ventures and answers that old question as to just what exactly Ben Moon did at the 1990’s Newbury By-Pass protests? Like a lot of people, I was given to understand that he had gone down there as a highly paid security goon. Employed with others for his climbing skills, to essentially remove environmentalists from the trees to allow their felling.

However, popular myth has it that gamekeeper turned poacher and he cast aside his Hi-Vis jacket and joined the Crusties!. As it turns out, neither story is strictly true. In the book, Ben Moon and Jerry Moffatt turned up to lend their support- although it has to be said, short of actually taking to the trees. (If anyone wants to learn more about this read Jim Perrin’s brilliant ‘The Judas Tree’ which, written from an environmentalists’ perspective quite rightly lambasts those climbers who took their twenty pieces of state silver). However, what Swampy & Co made of two tanned climbers turning up in a sporty silver BMW Evo is anyone’s guess!

As an aside to his income from sponsorship, Ben Moon launched his S7 range of climbing wear and bouldering mats although without the necessary business nous to bring the business on it eventually foundered, although later,, and with more business savvy, he launched his to date, successful ‘Moon’ climbing label.

The book winds to a close with Ben Moon- now married and with a daughter- joining that army of former rock stars who now prefer to get their fix through bouldering. No surprises here as a young Ben Moon once went on record in a radio programme to utter those immortal words...’I’m not climbing to be in nice places...I’m climbing for the moves man!’.

Certainly, not many UK climbers in the last thirty years have been in the same ball park when it comes to bending the body and torturing those tendons like Ben Moon. Yes- ‘Statement’ reflects the life and times of someone corralled within that small world inhabited by the technical elite, but it nevertheless throws light on an individual who has never been that interested in self promotion or being a climbing Charlie Big Potatoes. Ed Douglas- who of course won a BT award for his Ron Fawcett book- has penned another fascinating portrait of a UK rock master.

John Appleby:2015
 

Krabometer rating



 

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Pillarite Patriarch

Demar Harmood Banner: Lakeland Arts Trust


The Pillarite Patriarch, or to refer to him correctly - Rev. James Jackson, is known among Lakeland climbing historians, as the elderly gentleman who took up fell walking among the Lake District hills at a very late age, and who in 1874, derided a written newspaper account of an unroped ascent of Pillar Rock, in Ennerdale, by a local Penrith family one of whom was a lady.

Subsequently, he was made to retract his derisory retort after it was established that the family (and young lady) in question, did in fact reach the summit of Pillar, making her the second female to do so.

James Jackson was thought to have been born in Kendal where his father ran a grocery shop, although other sources say he was born in Millom. Whilst he was not a climber or walker, either in his youth, adolescence or even in his younger adulthood years, this is however, what he is best remembered for within the realms of Lakeland climbing history, despite having an interesting life before making the headlines with his anonymous rhetoric that brought him into the public limelight.

If we go back to the start of his life, we note, that at the same time that his mother was giving birth in 1796, Europe was embroiled in the French Revolutionary Wars. Indeed, as the French army under Napoleon, were fighting the Battle of Montenotte in southern Italy, against an Austrian Army led by Count Eugène-Guillaume Argenteau, which Napoleon won, James Jackson came into the world. What both he and Napoleon would not be aware of, was their paths were set to cross some nineteen years later on a field in a small town in what is now Belgium, but back then, was part of France.

Jackson’s father Robert, made a reasonable living as a grocer in Kendal, and whilst they were not of property or social standing, James had a reasonable upbringing. At the age of thirteen, they managed to pay for him to attend a local (private) Grammar School, where he received his education which was to keep him in good stead for the rest of his life.   

 In February 1815, Napoleon escaped from exile on Elba and marched north across France once again. At the time, the Duke of Wellington, was in command of the 33rd Regiment of Foot, and given that they were seen as his “chosen Regiment” due to their battle honours under his command, when he was just plain Arthur Wesley, recruitment was rife across the country. And so in aged nineteen, Jackson travelled to Manchester and enlisted in the regiment.

Within weeks of enlisting, he sailed to Holland to join the regiment before they marched south to a village called Waterloo, where the decisive battle of the French Revolutionary Wars was to take place.  Once there, the battle started with the 33rd Regiment forming up in the centre of the ridge between Hougomont and La Haye Sainte.  Here they withstood the French attacks all day, finally repulsing Napoleon’s elite Imperial Guard.  Between the 16th and 18th June, the 33rd suffered a total of 277 casualties from a strength of 561, almost half their men. Clearly, James Jackson was not among the casualties, otherwise his story would end here.

After the battle was won, Wellington sent a dispatch back to London, in which he said of the 33rd Regiment:

“The elite Imperial French Guard had been thrown into the battle at the last minute to salvage a victory for Napoleon, but despite their bravery they could not break the British centre and were forced to retreat. The setback broke French morale”.

 History is testament to the fact, that Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by the stern resistance of the British lines which ended his rule as French Emperor, this despite the Duke of Wellington referring to his soldiers as the scum of the earth after the British troops broke ranks to loot the abandoned French wagons, instead of pursuing the beaten foe. This gross abandonment of discipline caused an enraged Wellington to write in another dispatch to Earl Bathurst, "We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers". Although later, when his temper had cooled, he extended his comment to praise the men under his command saying that though many of the men were, "….the scum of the earth; it is really wonderful that we should have made them to the fine fellows they are".

If such a statement included James Jackson, we shall never know. After returning to English soil, Jackson travelled to his home town of Kendal, where he was honourably discharged, clearly having decided that a military life was not a career he wished to pursue.

Again, we will never know whether the carnage he witnessed at Waterloo, was instrumental in leading him down the ecclesiastical road or not, but this is the road he took. And so in 1817, along with nineteen other young men, he enrolled at St. Bees Theological College which had just opened its doors as a private theological teaching establishment, offering young men of means, a two year course over four terms each year, at £10 a term.

                        
James matriculated from the College in February 1819, and spent the next two years consolidating his career before taking up a new post as Vicar of Rivington, on 9th May 1823, where he served until he retired in 1856. Note: Rivington is a small village and civil parish of the Borough of Chorley, Lancashire, sited six miles southeast of Chorley and 8.5 miles northwest of Bolton. It was here that he met and married Susanne Thorpe, and his two children were born. Agnes in 1837, named after James’s mother, and a year later in 1838, a son Franklin Rawdon, but who sadly died the following year.

The family took up residence at Parsonage House beside the church from where James would preach to his flock. It was whilst he was vicar at Rivington, that he became widely known for repairing a weathervane cock on the church steeple when no one else would attempt the feat. This was a time when steeple-jacks were generally ‘jack of all trade’s’ rather than professional expert scaffolders and on this occasion, they all refused to climb the steeple to fix the weathervane. James disrobed, rolled up his sleeves and duly climbed up the steeple and set the matter right. On descending he was met with a mixed reception. On the one hand there were those parishioners who thought he was putting his life and limb at risk and that such work was below that of a clergyman whilst others applauded his efforts which fed into his ego, resulting in him writing a short four lined poem about his deed after writing of the "terror which made the workmen recoil from the task, and gazing rustics turn sick with horror at the sight":

           
James could not take the criticism quietly, and so published his small poem in the local newspaper, in an attempt to make light of the negative remarks being made in his direction about the weathervane incident.

 
"Who has not heard of Steeple Jack,

That lion-hearted Saxon,
Though I am not he, he was my sire,

For I am Steeple Jackson"

This was the beginning of Jackson’s witty yet dry retorts about his deeds and behaviour, which clearly did not always receive a positive response from the public, this being how later, his fame spread around Cumberland and within climbing circles of that time.

It is not known the exact year that he started to go on long walks in the rural countryside, but he started to visit the Lake District regularly, often walking for up to ten hours a day. He rarely stayed at home when he was not preaching or on business, given that he was serving on several local committees and boards at the time, as the fells always had a greater pull, including spending time with his wife and child.

On a visit to Wasdale, he stayed for an ale and lunch at the local hostelry where he heard talk of a piece of rock called Pillar, which many said, had a summit that was impossible to reach. Old Will Ritson, landlord of the Wasdale Head Inn, the famous haunt of Victorian climbers, told him of a competition that had earlier developed among the local Dales men, to see who would be the first to stand on its summit. On July 9th in 1826, the ‘competition’ was won by a cooper and shepherd by the name of John Atkinson who hailed from the nearby hamlet of Ennerdale Bridge.

   


Pillar [photo taken by W.P.Haskett Smith, July 1884]
 
The Pillar got around fifty more ascents thereafter up until it was first ascended by a women 9th July 1870, a remarkable achievement in itself, let alone that she would have been dressed in a heavy tweed long ankle length skirt which would have prevented her from seeing where she was placing her feet as she ascended the rock face.

Three years later (1873), Pillar Rock got its second female (unroped) ascent, when Miss Mary Westmorland (Penrith) stood on its summit after climbing it with her brothers, Thomas and Edward Westmorland. They were accompanied by their other sister Annie, but she declined on this occasion, to join them in the climb, preferring to wait at the bottom of the Pillar until their safe return.
                                    


Annie, Edward, Mary and Thomas Westmorland, after their unroped ascent of Pillar in 1873
A year later, Thomas Westmorland wrote an article for the Whitehaven News, relating the tale of their earlier unroped ascent, and that his sister was now the second female to stand on the summit of Pillar. When Jackson read this, he anonymously wrote a brief article which was also published in the Whitehaven News a week after the Westmorland’s article, decrying the alleged ascent of Pillar:

“With incredulous amazement, the rhythmical account of an alleged ascent of the Pillar by two gentlemen and a lady, that in all probability what the Westmorland party climbed was not the Pillar Rock but Pillar Mountain a route which did not involve rock climbing to the summit”.

The article went on to say that the writer had walked every fell, hill and dale in the area, and that he had walked past Pillar Rock on many occasions in all weathers, and knew that those who had summited the rock, had indeed been stalwart climbers with nerves of steel. However, he was not so assured of himself, as he signed the article with an XYZ.

The Westmorland family were far from pleased at the anonymous writer’s inference, that they had lied about their ascent, and so Thomas Westmorland responded with a follow up article, promptly and forcefully resenting the “accusation of falsehood”, saying that they could distinguish the mountain from the rock face and it was without any doubt, Pillar Rock that they had climbed. They went on to list the names they found in the bottle on the summit, and ended by saying, that if the gentleman who wrote the article signing his name XYZ who as stated in his article, had walked past the Pillar many occasions but never felt confident to be able to climb it to the summit, that if he was to send them his card, they would be happy to put his name in the bottle on their next ascent.

Before XYZ could respond, the matter was cleared up the following weekend when a local Penrith climber George Seatree (with Stanley Martin), climbed to the top of Pillar Rock on Monday 14th September 1874 and in doing so, defended their fellow Countryman’s (and young lady’s) honour, by corroborating that their names were in the bottle with the date (although Mary for whatever reason, signed her name Pollie!). On his return, he wrote an article for the Whitehaven News saying:

“Eagerly we sought the ' bottle,' and to our surprise found three. Two of them contained the names of persons who had been there; the third seemed to have been used by someone who thought they might require a little stimulant on the top. We found the names of twenty-five gentlemen and two ladies recorded, some of them on address cards, some on a paper collar, and others on a piece of slate.

In two bottles in the Cairn on the Pillar Rock were: William M. Pendlebury, Charles Pendlebury, M. Pendlebury, Liverpool; C. Comyn Tucker, Beachcroft, Melville; E. J. Nanson, Trinity College; Henry B. Priest, Birkenhead; Henry Lancaster, Lamplugh; Tom Westmorland, Ned Westmorland, Pollie Westmorland, Penrith; William Gilbanks, Borrowdale; J. G. Whitehead, H. R. Wyndham, Cockermouth; and Mr Charles Pilkington."

And inscribed on a piece of slate were the following: G. Scoular, Falkirk; M. and A. Barnes, Portinscale; W. Grave; H. Wooley; R. Whitwell and W. G. Holland."

On a fresh sheet of note-paper there was the following: "Ascended this rock with a lady in 1869, Charles Arundel Parker, Parknook, Gosforth; Henry A Barker, Ellerslie, Gosforth.”

Once Seatree’s article appeared in the Whitehaven News, XYZ owned up by saying that it was he who had written the initial article, and that on reading Seatree’s account, he graciously withdrew his earlier charges and statement with the following comment:

“Though I am now in my 79th year there is life in the old dog yet for I have not abandoned the hope that on some future day, with some instruction from your two correspondents who have lately performed the feat, I may be able to put my name in the bottle”.

Note: Here the ‘two correspondents’ he was referring to, were Thomas Westmorland and George Seatree. However, as the Westmorland family were respected business philanthropists within Penrith, and having a long local family tradition of being established within the Wesleyan Methodist movement, they never forgave Jackson for besmirching their name by inferring that they had lied about their ascent in 1873, which of course, they all repeated in 1875, including Annie who stayed at the bottom of the rock face on their first ascent.

Not to be outdone however, Jackson was of the opinion that if a women could climb Pillar Rock, then so could he and in the process, leave his own name in the bottle, and so he wrote to George Seatree on 25th September (1874), asking for advice about whether or not he used a rope or any other means to gain the summit, and, if he would at some point in the future, be so kind as to lead him to the summit. He told Seatree of his “prowess and fitness”, in that on Oct. 1st 1864, he walked 46 miles in 14.5 hours; 3 days later walked 56 miles in 18 hours; and 3 days after that, he walked 60 miles in 19 hours and 50 minutes ending by saying: “I have accomplished within one week, three walks, any one of which might well knock up many a man of half my age”.

 He also went on to say:

 “I have been twelve months afloat on the wide, wide sea. I have been beneath the falls of Niagara. I have sung "God save the King" in the hall of St. Peter's; I have ascended Vesuvius in the eruption of 1828; I have  capped Snowdon in Wales and Slieve Donard in Ireland, and nearly all the hills in this district....  It only remains for me to mount the Pillar Rock, and then I may sigh for something else to conquer and if under your guidance I should succeed in the attempt, you could crown me with a parsley fern or heather as ‘The Pedestrian Patriarch of the Pillarites’ because I would be 80 years old”.

Seatree did not agree to lead him up the Pillar, he being a very good friend of the Westmorland family, and in particular Mary Westmorland, as they together along with T. Vipond, also from Penrith, skated the entire length of Ullswater in the harsh winter of February 1879 from Pooley Bridge to Patterdale and back, which has never been repeated before or since.

However, Jackson did not have the patience to wait, so sought out another young climber in the name of John Hodgson who agreed to lead him to the summit. They set off in fine weather and with high hopes of success, on 31st May 1875, when Jackson was aged 79. They ascended the summit via the Slab and Notch route although it should be said that on this occasion, this was the first recorded climb that used artificial aids* in order to make the ascent successful.

*As Hodgson led the way across the slab he hammered in four metal nails into a crack from which he hung four strands of rope which Jackson used as handholds on his way across.

Not only did Jackson manage to put his name in the bottle, he left two more bottles, one with some travel tit bits relating to Rome, Vesuvius, Loretto and Niagara and the other with a reminder that he had been the very first student to register at St. Bee’s Theologian College.

Never a one to let the moment go past, in honour of his accomplishment, he gave himself the title “The Patriarch of the Pillarites”, and wrote and published the following poem:

"If this in your mind you will fix,When I make the Pillar my toy,I was born in 1, 7, 9, 6, And you'll think me a nimble old boy".

Jackson wrote to Seatree to inform him of his successful ascent of Pillar, and despite the fact, that Seatree did not agree to lead him up the Pillar Rock, or ever climb or walk with him, they maintained a regular correspondence over a period of years. Such correspondence was eventually published in 1906, in a booklet with the typical lengthy title of:

“A series of letters written by the Rev.James Jackson of Sandwith, Whitehaven, to Mr George Seatree and others describing his wonderful octogenarian mountaineering and climbing exploits in Cumberland, 1874-1878”.

After his ascent of Pillar, Jackson continued to be a prolific walker, and with his trusty fell-pole for company, wandered far and wide across the fells and mountains, building a local reputation for covering long distances alone and in all weathers.

Such feats of endurance were often related to anyone who happened to lend him an ear, always adding: “I have knocked about among the mountains ever since I retired, till I may almost say I knaw iv'ry crag” which he no doubt did. It was also said of him, that he was “tall and lean, a relentless fell-walker and scrambler, determined to follow the skyline . . . no rocks, however rough, no precipices, unless perfectly inaccessible, ever daunted him." 

Not content with just doing the walking and talking to people he met on his journeys, he felt he had to let others know of his exploits, and so took great delight in writing short articles for local newspapers as well as holding court to anyone who would listen. One of his favourite tales was of the time he found two brethren of his own cloth, struggling feebly to surmount the difficulties of Rossett Gill. He enjoyed telling people that: “On taking pity upon their tender years, I transferred their knapsacks to my own venerable shoulders, and, striding on before, encouraged them to complete their weary task”.

Jackson made a repeat solo ascent of the Pillar in 1876 aged 80. Setting off at 4.20am up Mosedale, he stood on the summit of Pillar Rock at 7.3am and was back down having a celebratory lunch around midday at Wasdale Hotel.

He continued his prolific walking across un trodden fells and mountains in the Lake District, but he just could not leave Pillar Rock alone and so two weeks after his 82nd birthday, on 30th April 1878, he set off alone from Ritson's Inn in Wasdale to tackle Pillar Rock by the Slab and Notch route again for a third time. As ever, he went off that morning with another four-line tribute to his own prowess ready in his pocket:

"Two elephantine properties were mine

For I can bend to pick up pin or pack;

And when this year the Pillar Rock I climb

Four score and two's the howdah on my back".

However, he did not return to the Inn at Wasdale where he was staying, and three days later, his body was found several hundred yards from Pillar and it was assumed he slipped making his way to the start of the route, falling several hundred feet. His watch had stopped at three o’clock and he still carried items he had proposed to leave on the summit — a sure indication that he had fallen on his way up.

Without any shadow of a doubt, he was eccentric, and what he lacked in common sense, he more than made up for by his energetic initiative and enterprising purpose i.e. walking and scrambling. In essence, he was an adventurer at heart - one of a dying breed of men who did what they did for the sheer pleasure of doing it and no other reward.

Despite ruffling the feathers of many climbers of that time, by his extrovert personality and insistence that he was a ‘rare breed’ given his age and prowess among the hills, fells and mountains, he had his admirers. Among them were the well-known climbers, Frederick Hermann Bowring and John Maitland, who Jackson had playfully appointed "presumptive patriarchs". It was they who placed a cairn and iron cross on the spot, where his body was eventually found. However, the cairn and cross came to grief during subsequent winter storms, and so on August 16th, 1906, a more lasting memorial was undertaken by the Swiss born climber Charles Astry Octavius Baumgartner, the legendary John W. Robinson and of course, George Seatree, who had Jackson’s initials J.J. and the date 1878, chiselled on the face of the nearest suitable rock by a Mr. Benson Walker, a local marble mason from Cockermouth.

It is fitting, to give the father of English rock climbing, W. P. Haskett Smith, the last word. He ends an account of Jackson’s exploits with:

“We may well believe that, had the old man foreseen his fate, he would have gladly welcomed it, and have found for it no fitter place among all his beloved mountains than this quiet cove, almost within the shadow of the majestic rock.”



Frank Grant©2015