Thursday, 28 July 2011

The trespasser's guide to the Conwy Valley

Harold Drasdo

After completing a second rock-climbing guidebook something said that two was enough. Lately a realisation has come that I'd enjoy writing a walker's guide to an area I know well — the valley of the Conwy and its tributaries Machno, Lledr and Llugwy. I'm thinking of a guidebook with a difference. At the same time I'm writing my will. Other projects stand in the way and if I haven't got anything going in the next three years I'd like someone else to take on this title to which I gladly relinquish copyright.

In fact I hope for more than the single volume. I imagine a handsome uniform edition of Trespasser's Guides to cover the whole of Britain. It would speed things up to have a bold and ambitious publisher step forward to announce and organise the series right away. Or the enterprise might equally be carried through by individuals, either independently or in association. The writers would have to choose their words with care. If incitement to trespass isn't a criminal offence already it will be pretty soon. In my book it's absurd to pay fines to state or landowner unless there's a bigger payoff in return. However, a little discretion and intelligence should avoid that risk.

Now I'll particularise. I'm not thinking about guides to the mountains which are fairly well served already. I envisage guides centred oil river systems rather than on summits. I'll describe the main object shortly but each book might also include excursions and notes of general interest: local history and natural history; associations and legends; local heroes, local characters, local lunatics; hazards, enemies, crime and gossip; how the valley earns a living; local power structure and who owns what; where not to buy your ethnic gifts.

I have to pick my own words with the extremest care. As it happens I'm a landowner myself with a handful of acres of woodland and marginal pasture. There's no pathway through since I can't make any connections but the alert explorer will spot a couple of stiles. (The barbed-wire fence is simply to keep animals in and to re-establish neglected hedges.) You're welcome to enter and picnic by my stream provided, of course, you observe the common sense rules of' avoiding damage, disturbance and the infringement of privacy. Even trespass has to be judged.

I live part-way up a long hill, my nearest neighbours a quarter-mile each side. From my windows I look across at Siabod, the full sweep of the Carneddau, and a number of other hills, peeping shyly over shoulders. Of all these summits I am free to choose. But I also look down on the broad floor of the Conwy and there lies my grievance. I've lived in the valley for over 20 years but it's not intended that I walk along it without consenting to be fed back at intervals to to the road.


Here I have to declare that I rate the negotiation of the Thames Path as potentially the most constructive planning development the open-air movement in Britain has yet seen. Certainly we'd have been lost without the visionary crusade of the National Trust, even though, suicidally, it has now broken its founders' mould by letting the American Air Force have a slice of its inalienably bequested land. Certainly, in a negative sense, the holding action of National Park legislation (in its fairly successful obstruction of random development) has filled an important role. Certainly the coastal paths are a splendid amenity.. But I see the Thames Path as something special. I might walk it myself.

A rough distinction, now, between two types of experience. On the one hand, the full run that seeks satisfaction artificially through the contrivance of difficulty. This way takes us to the top of Snowdon, to the Pennine Way, to the Munros, or onwards . On the other, the serious path, born of circumstance of historical necessity, searching out the easiest possible route through an unknown land. The ancestry of the journey outreaches that of the mountain ascent. There is an archetypal journey and it doesn't include any summits. It starts from a sea, follows a river to a col, and descends another river to another sea. It is a fault of the Thames Path that it satisfies only a half of the specification. The essential purpose of the Trespasser's Guides would be to effect a comprehensive survey putting on record exactly what we want.

Surely it's reasonable to expect to be able to walk the length of every valley in Britain by public footpath, crossing roads as necessary but never having to follow them. Walking is the most innocent of occupations. (But see Steiner: walking may be conductive to thinking, which can have explosive consequences.) So that what is needed here, in North Wales, is a system of uninterrupted river and valley paths allowing numerous two to four day crossings of the area from sea to sea. Conwy-Lledr-Goedol­ Dwyryd; Glaslyn-Colwyn-Gwyrfai; Seiont-Rhythallt-Gwryd­ Llugwy-Conwy; and two or three dozen others.
Those who work in access negotiations for a long time often become crippled by a debilitating pessimism. They form a sort of priesthood, they have to instruct younger people on the parts they will have to play in the consultations, committees, studies and processes that lie ahead. 'They'd rate the chances of realisation of a countrywide footpath scheme in the next 30 years with that of world disarmament.

And yet: in this area, though nowhere fully usable, such a system almost exists already. Reaches of every river are followed by seductive rights of way and many of these are hardly used, simply because the walker is intermittently diverted to the highway. That is an unpleasant and sometimes alarming experience In the lower Conwy, like changing a wheel on the side of the motorway or strolling along the runway as the jumbos take off. These sections amount to perhaps a quarter of the required distance, the remainder being on the map already.

So what is needed to link these paths up? A similar will to that securing road re-alignments in these same valleys.

Apart from this preposterous expense another problem is that, to be realistic, the machinery seems to need a minimum of 10 to 15 years to produce a result. It may be that you can afford to choose: trespass or negotiate. But then, I think you're younger than me. Maybe in 15 years I'll still be explaining things to you. Or again ((that's life) this correspondence may have been closed. (And that's all he wrote?)
If I want to walk up my valley I have no option but trespass.

Occasionally I've argued that although unrestricted access to all wild country is desirable it might be amusing to retain in every area a single enclave of forbidden ground in order to keep alive the deep gratifications of ownership and trespass. But perhaps, ill a more civilised society, we might simply commemorate these in a game, Squires and Trespassers, to be enacted by young and old in every parish once a year as a village pageant. Trespass: nowadays usually taken to mean the simple act of crossing anothers' land, though the secondary meaning of invading his premises has lately been re-established.

Except in narrow medical and legal senses trespass against the person has been abandoned in favour of more specific terms. When you come to think about it you see that a history of human societies might be written, not from the chicken-and-egg viewpoints of law (expression of might) or ethics (assertion of right) but focused on the central and dramatic act of trespass. It's surprising that we don't have 100 titles on this theme - rich anthologies of trespass as comedy, The Art of Trespass, A Trespasser's Manual, The Trespasser as Folk Hero, A Short Walk in Buckingham Palace, and so on. Maybe I'll write a history of trespass myself, handling the subject in a bold general sense: A Grammar of Trespasses.

The boss kicked my grandfather and his wife off the tied property. Interesting and touching now, she must have been a lively girl when she was young. I wish I could have seen her as she was then. Apparently she'd been scrumping apples in a private part of the garden. They finished up in all inner city slum. But the boss is dead and a new generation wants visas for Eden. Prometheus ducked under the fence and grabbed what we needed but somebody spotted him and the establishment came down on him like a ton of bricks. (Note that in each case element of petty theft is involved, though only of renewable resources. Also possible to treat these episodes as early industrial espionage or as first shots in Class War?) They are our heroes, they made us what we are, we mustn't forget their courage, example and sufferings. New people have claimed title to the estate so it looks as though we've all got to go through the wire again.

Or pull down the fence? Sometimes nothing less will do. I recall a rally at the Cow and Calf just after the war. It was organised to muster public support for the idea of creating National Parks and Tom Stephenson was one of the speakers. Behind us stretched the wide expanse of Ilkley Moor, a War Department Firing Range, its perimeter lined with orders to keep out. It was known to have been cleared but the military had declined to release the area, apparently having plans for future use. Stephenson had another plan and — I wish I could remember how he phrased it now —said that the signs shouldn't really be there, that somebody ought to do something about them.Clusters of somebodies began to separate themselves from his audience which grew leaner by the minute. Perhaps he had to wind up more abruptly than he intended in order to participate in whatever was about to happen. I still remember the satisfaction of wrestling my first sign out while a nervous companion did an agitation dance nearby. Before night fell parties had tramped the moor from end to end. Of the millions who enjoy it now I wonder how many have heard of that sunny afternoon. Forgive us our trespasses.

I'm not going to select from the numerous justifications of trespass or of disobedience — philosophical, moral, political — already available. In fact my purpose now is to counsel you strongly against the practice of' trespass. I must say, though, that the way you live dismays me. I find the abstemiousness of your demands astonishing. That you should be content to stay inside the reservation for the rest of your life. I might count it as modesty, often an admirable virtue, if it weren't that-you like to play with your toys and say you want more. Decidedly, you'll be happier where you are. The trespasser finds himself at odds with the state and sometimes at odds with society, a more distressing position. He risks embarrassment or conflict, even the force of the law. You do well to refuse all this hassle and to negotiate the path ahead as best you may.

Now I'll introduce an incidental but very important reason for promoting the idea of a comprehensive system of valley walks. The debate on erosion and stabilisation of mountain paths has been running for quite a few years. Walking up Snowdon on Christmas Day my friends put down my silence to the penalties of Christmas Eve. Really, I was seething with anger at what was happening to the path. (Anger is an unfamiliar companion on a mountain walk.) But the Park Authority has borrowed from its cousins the engineering expertise of Highways, the crowd systems of the Police, the social sanctions of Parks and Gardens. So we get walkways built to uniform widths; also gabions, culverts, revetments, diversion fences, wardens and neat boulder kerbs to mark the true edge of the herbaceous border. An apparatus of  work gangs, Land Rovers, shelters, helicopter drops, even of trade union and professional interests is in operation and this engine won't be easy to knock off.

For myself, I happen to believe that the protection of flora, fauna and landscape depends mainly on the conservation within ourselves of' a complex of' feelings or sensibilities difficult to describe briefly with any precision. These sensibilities underpin any appropriate responses to the natural world. Actually, they can tolerate litter. They can tolerate small-scale, mindless, unorganised damage. They can tolerate collapsing screen and muddy swathes up the hillside. But they are mortally wounded by a sense of ongoing human design, telling us that even here the agencies of the state have nature and ourselves under Surveillance and protection.

Of all the traces men leave in wild country a naturally developed footpath is the most acceptable. It's tempting to see it, not for what it is (it is a tape encoding generalised information about the minds of men) but as if it were imbued with a discrimination of its own. Hill paths strike varieties of subtle accommodations between economy of effort and impatience of aim, between wayward curiosity and prudent calculation. They make aesthetic choices and they yield to risk-taking impulses. They have second thoughts. Every step is different but they talk to us non­stop, quietly, soothingly, in all idiom, a body language, as natural as our mother tongue.
But these built footpaths are bored stiff, they drag their feet, their eyes are oil the ground and their hearts are somewhere else. They are utilities. They're constructed to allow very large numbers of personnel to reach the summit as quickly, safely, easily and gormlessly as possible.

As Paul Goodman would have said, they represent the psychology of unemployment that goes with the economy of unemployment. They are a sort of treadmill. Their style is duty. Curiously, they bring to lily mind two memorable ascents, the great stairways from the monasteries of Santa Katerina and Montserrat to the summits of Mt. Sinai and S. Jeromi: magnificent excursions through their associations and the strangeness and grandeur of their surroundings but inappropriate models for the hills of North Wales.

If we had what is needed, all immediate ten-year moratorium on this work, how could we limit further erosion? The planners will tell you that they've 'identified' the problem: too many people. I've identified it differently: too few paths. True, attempts have been made to draw off pressure through Country Parks and the 13 existing long-distance footpaths. But this is pitiful, it simply causes problems, the scale is a thousand times too small, the machinery a thousand times too slow and cumbersome.

The only way to alleviate the so-called overuse (overuse: rate of use greater than when the speaker first arrived at the site) is to permit choice from a huge proliferation of river paths. It's worth noting that these would be comparatively resistant to erosion which is considerably reduced on less steep ground. They would be easier to maintain by virtue of their accessibility and their less extreme environment. Remedial work conspicuous on the mountains would not be out of place in these pastoral landscapes where the variety of terrain — riverside, woodland, drovers' lane, rock gorge, col — suggests a variety of approach and where walls, fences, hedges, stiles and bridges are essential elements in the scene. The work gangs could work for ever and even retreat to a hostelry for lunch. The paths would offer local economic benefits.

The Conwy, unlike the Thames, is already well provided with strategically placed youth hostels, guest houses, pubs, cafes and shops. The planning of' these routes to avoid interference with farming would be a worthy enterprise for the landscape architects of the Park Authority. And then, perhaps, a day might come when the climber on less crowded hills wouldn't be abused if, occasionally, he stepped on to the grass.

This is a political broadcast. Probably you recognised the tone of voice from the beginning. I haven't left myself the space to survey even briefly the enticements of my adopted valley or to select from many entertaining adventures. I could tell you some stories. However, I must say something about realisation and about impediments.

In 1992, when the Thames Path is opened, there's going to be a colossal amount of publicity and back-slapping. The path was to have finished at Westminster, where all the Dick Whittingtons might knock oil doors; but East London heard about it and felt left out so now it has to stagger on to the Thames Barrier. Suddenly, everybody will want one. For all I know the Severn, the Dee or the Trent may be on the drawing board already. Unfortunately, this may canalise public demand towards the creation of a few big river paths through the lowland counties and distract attention from any movement towards the intricate web of paths tip the mountain rivers that I'd like to see.

Here, I pass over considerations of appropriate strategies, structures and organisations. But it wouldn't cost much to connect Conwy to Porthinadog by three or four routes since the missing links aren't extensive. I wonder if I'm too pessimistic about an initiative from the Local Authority? I wonder if I could stir up a race?

(Dach chi'n gwrando arnaf i, fancw, yn Neuadd Sir? Peidiwch A gadael i'r buggers Lundain yna gael popeth yn gyntaf. Dach chi'n medru eu curo nhw. Dan ni'n gallu ffordio y I,Iwybr Conwy. Mi fydd y pobl Parc
Cenedlaethol Eryri eich helpu chi. Gwnewch o rwan, cyn y Llwybr Tafwys — i Gyrnru, i Wynedd, i'ch plant!)


So I arrive at the obstacles and ought to be naming names, indicating hard and soft targets. In fact I can't talk about the farmers in this valley. Amongst those of my acquaintance generalisation is imposible since their situations are so various (from subsistence smallholder to wealthy landlord) and their characters so diverse (from the most truly civilised people I've ever met to dangerous psychopaths). And all, without exception, fascinating to talk to. In a sense, land can't be owned, neither by Australians or Aborigines. Go back far enough and all our titles are legal fictions grounded in squatters' rights. But we call judge the ways in which men use land as we can judge whether or not there is interference with their enterprises. Nothing call be more admirable than to work in the production of food and, certainly, food producers have their problems here. It's widely accepted locally that our lamb and trout has been irradiated since long before Chernobyl. It still tastes delicious.

I have the impression that anglers would resist- the negotiation of a river path much more strongly than farmers. They have to be sorted anyway into trout and salmon. The trout species call be difficult enough at particular sites. But I notice that wherever water is bounded by a right of way they've adapted themselves to what they would assert to be a nuisance if public access were being newly threatened.
The same can't always be said of salmon fishermen. They mean big money and the explorer is bound to come up against their exclusion signs. (I puzzle myself over the tricky question of whether one bank might be reserved for anglers, the other for walkers. It would be preferable to have a path on either side so that it were possible to make day excursions with a different route to return to the starting point. Of course, a path with any taste will leave the river at intervals to switch the sound off and to award itself the pleasure of re-encounter.)

It must be understood, incidentally, that though some hotels own extensive stretches of river-bank, the activity doesn't rely on rich English visitors. In fact fishing (and poaching) are the local ethnic sports, as natural as the shooting of small birds by Mediterranean peasants. Possibly salmon fishermen constitute a sort of local mafia with its affairs ably handled by solicitors and land agents. Of course hostility is chiefly directed towards the poacher rather than the casual trespasser.
A few years ago a young poacher equipped himself as a skin-diver and armed with a spear-gun took an initially productive midnight cruise in the river at Betws-y-Coed. He found himself surprised and surrounded and in a scene reminiscent of The Graduate he stubbornly declined to surface to meet the reception party. Constables and bailiffs clambered around the pool, shining torches into the inky water and dropping rocks in to depth-charge the submariner into surrender. He stuck it out for the best part of an hour. Subsequently a local magistrate ordered that the sum realised by the confiscated salmon be paid to the local angling club. Then he ordered that the diving equipment be sold and the money paid to the anglers. Then he fined him a thousand pounds. He warned him that he would go to prison for several years if he repeated the offence. And in an extraordinary speech he berated him about the extreme cruelty of this method of procuring salmon.
I'm sorry. I just can't resist it. I'm going to Samuel Butler him.


"The prisoner will stand to receive sentence."
(Prisoner is hauled to his feet.)
"The court has listened to the evidence and has heard your plea in mitigation. But it has no recourse other than to find you guilty on the very grave charge of intolerable hypocrisy. Have you anything to say before I pass sentence?"
(Prisoner remains silent.)
"Very well. It is now my painful and solemn duty to pronounce sentence of death. However, in accordance with the liberal customs of this land I am permitted to offer you a choice of the method of your execution. You have 24 hours in which to arrive at a decision. At the close of that period you will be taken from this place to the bridge known as Pont-y-Pair and there you will be shot through the head with a spear-gun. Or, should you select, you will swallow, on the bank by that same bridge, a Cumberland sausage in which is concealed a sharp barb attached to a stout nylon rope. By that rope you will be drawn down the slope, into the water, and to the bottom of that pool, there to wriggle on the hook until you drown. And may God have mercy on your soul. Take the prisoner to his cell. The court is dismissed."
Well, that's got rid of him. Where was I?"

The territorial behaviour of farmers and fishermen is easy to understand. At least they haven't paid for their property with your money, though you pay for farming grants and you pay for the policing of fisheries. The
Forestry Commission, the Water Authorities and the CEGB have done just that and each has a presence in the valley. You might assume, as financial sponsor of these enterprises, that your ideas would be listened to with the most anxious concentration. That isn't always the case and I've formed the impression that the response depends more upon personality than upon instructions from Head Office. I'd like to immortalise one or two of my own conversations but it's advisable to keep oneself up to date. I'd just finished pinning Dr. Mayhead, the District Forest Officer,to this page when someone told me that he'd gone away and the situation needs re-appraisal.



I've tried a wide range of approaches with these people. Here I'll mention only the most direct, in the field, and the most devious, in the office. For the former it's convenient to save space with a man good at that, John Seymour (the true heir of William Cobbett), in Keep It Simple:
I remember being accosted by an 'officer' of the Forestry Commission while I was out walking in my forest one day and he ordered me out! I roared with laughter at him. My servant, whom I pay, dressed in a smart green suit paid for by my money, ordering me out of my forest! Like hell!

In the office you may be at a disadvantage since you arrive as petitioner while the administrator sits behind his desk in his more comfortable chair. If you go on about the chain of command that plunges vertiginously downward from yourself as tax-payer and voter to Parliament, to the Government, to the Authority, right down to the comfortable chair, well then, his eyes will slide around for help, he will check out the escape routes from his own office, his ears will plead for* the interruption of telephone or secretary with important business. He'll talk about policy, legal liability, or orders from above.
However, I believe you have a chance. He may, in fact, be quite happy to provide facilities for the public. He can get points for for that. Car-parks, nature trails, orienteering courses and bird-watching hides spring up before they are called for. But it has to be a project, it has to cost money. If you've climbed on a crag within his boundaries for 30 years and need nothing from him at all you may be seen as a nuisance, a puzzle and viewed with suspicion. He may want to exclude you or to sell you a permit. But if you complain angrily that there are no picnic tables underneath your crag he may be seized with enthusiasm. He can provide and he can write it up in his annual report.


It's quite possible that the two most popular excursions in the whole of the Convey Valley are the route through the Penmachno Mine (on, or under, Forestry Commission land) and the Dolgarrog Gorge (on CEGB land, the outfall from reservoirs apparently being its responsibility). The climber who's never spent an evening in either doesn't know the rocks of North Wales — though the potential hazards, in each case, may arise from water conditions rather than from the rock itself. These two excursions have been enjoyed by many tens of thousands of children from Outdoor Pursuits Centres, followed in recent years by successive waves of junior leaders, police cadets, prison warders, servicemen and the SAS, all sweating a bit more than the kids but just as happy and excited. The legal status of these expeditions is dubious.


To wind up with a general view, many of those who've fought so gallantly for access to the countryside must see a depressing future ahead. Everything is to be privatised, everything with any scrap value or any investment value.
Of course, this same prospect is wide with promise for the trespasser. Vast areas of woodland, water catchment, even of nature reserve are to be set aside for his use.You might think him a contented man. In fact he nurses a spark of anger. All this fuss about a walk in the country. All this expense of spirit which might otherwise be employed more productively. To have to travel forever an outlaw in one's own country, when life is so short. I refer you to a seamless little poem by Housman and to its irrefutable conclusion.
The trespasser may not eroticise the presences of nature as Housman does. He may be disconcerted by the poet's arrogation of the scene — unfairly turning around, to reject me, the word I've been using so freely. Probably, though, he'll admit that what is most remote and inhuman can come. to seem close and precious as it dawns on us that we only get one shot.

For nature, heartless, witless nature,
Will neither care nor know
What stranger's feet may find the meadow
And trespass there and go,
Nor ask amid the dews of morning
If they are mine or no.




Harold Drasdo: First published in High 67


Wednesday, 27 July 2011

This week: Harold Drasdo in The Trefriw chainsaw massacre!


Original photo: Bruce Atkins

"Of course, this same prospect is wide with promise for the trespasser. Vast areas of woodland, water catchment, even of nature reserve are to be set aside for his use.You might think him a contented man. In fact he nurses a
spark of anger. All this fuss about a walk in the country. All this expense of spirit which might otherwise be employed more productively. To have to travel forever an outlaw in one's own country, when life is so short. I refer you to a seamless little poem by Housman and to its irrefutable conclusion. The trespasser may not eroticise the presences of nature as Housman does. He may be disconcerted by the poet's arrogation of the scene — unfairly turning around, to reject me, the word I've been using so freely. Probably, though, he'll admit that what is most remote and inhuman can come. to seem close and precious as it dawns on us that we only get one shot.

For nature, heartless, witless nature,
Will neither care nor know
What stranger's feet may find the meadow
And trespass there and go,
Nor ask amid the dews of morning
If they are mine or no."


This week, Harold Drasdo laments the appalling access situation which applies to UK waterways both on the riverbanks on on the watercourses. The denial of public access vigourously applied by landowners and farmers who appear to have local councils and national and devolved governments in the palms of their podgy hands! 

Only 9% of British waterways are open to the public. Any attempts to paddle or walk the remaining 91% are often met with threats and intimidation from the powerful riparian movement.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Crack of Doom...A short history of Deer Bield Buttress

It was during the summer of 1997 a huge rockfall sliced away the central Buttress of Bield Crag..The collapse wiped out 3 climbs which over the generations perhaps reflected the pioneering ambitions to advance the standards of Lakeland climbing - all that remains of those routes-  (The Chimney, The Crack and The Buttress,) now lie scattered down the hillside. A visit here, can be a nostalgic event, especially for those whose climbing heyday was in the seventies and who struggled to impose their limited talents, on this cliff

There is nothing aesthetically pleasing about this Crag, it is not high, less than 200', has a north-facing rather sombre atmosphere and was alien to the old pioneer maxim that real climbing only starts at above 2000 feet. Reflecting on that mood of the time and the first ascent of The Chimney, in 1908, it would be a lapse of 22 years before A.T. Hargreaves and Graham MacPhee forced a route up an obvious crack-line on the left of the Buttress - giving the protection of the day and the unique technicalities of the crux chimney pitch it was a remarkable lead. Understandably, despite Hargreaves's undoubted ability, it was not led on sight.

A.T.H. and MacPhee first came here in 1929 to climb The Chimney. During the visit  they looked at the Buttress but were repulsed by wet rock part way up the first section. This was probably the first attempt on a long standing problem that was to defeat many climbers before it finally fell to Arthur Dolphin in 1951.

They returned later that year to attempt the Buttress but found it running with water. The obvious crack on the left was drier and offered  safer possibilities.  MacPhee, not a talented climber but a great motivator probably encouraged Hargreaves to abseiled down and clean up the place. From the ledge on the top pitch he trundled down tons of hazardous rubble, but by then the weather had not improved and it was decided to call it a day.

On the 9th February, 1930 they returned to find the Crack bone dry. A.T.H. set-off and found the first four pitches well within his capabilities, clearing away a huge raven's nest en route.  MacPhee soon joined him where he spent twenty minutes digging out a thread belay at the back of the crack and  a further two hours watching Hargreaves's gymnastics as he tried to make sense of the chimney. Anyone who has reached this section will recognise the difficulties in protecting this pitch.

Deer Bield veterans:
Pete Greenwood on belay-keeps an eye on Harold Drasdo.

Hargreaves hinted at the unusual structure of the buttress when he said that it was possible to see the original Chimney route, through a wide crack on the right. After several further attempts and with weakening resolve he tried and failed to climb line on the left, probably the 1952, Dunmails Crack. Back to their stance and utilising MacPhees's thread belay, as a top rope., Hargreaves reached the roof where he wedge himself and contemplated the traverse under the overhang. After descending to his second he regained his composure and complete the pitch. The final corner crack, at the top  is no pushover and takes many by surprise although is probable that Hargreaves, a grit stone trained climber may have made light of it.  The pair spent four hours on the climb and a second ascent led by A.B. Reynolds, who sometimes climbed in his bare feet, took 2 hours.

The climb eventually evolved to become one of the hardest courses, of its type, in the Lakes  and is a matter of conjecture why, at first, was giving only a severe grading. A more modern grading assessed the crux-chimney at 5b. A.B. Hargreaves,(no relation to A.T.H.) a climber of vast experienced who plied his trade both in North Wales and the Lake District thought  it more difficult than Scafell Central Buttress and on a par Piggott's Climb on Cloggy.
He was there, a few years later with A.T.H. and Bill Clegg,  helping with the 1938  Langdale Guide. He led the chimney pitch but  was so knackered had to hauled up the final corner by A.T.H.  It would have been fascinating to be a fly on the wall to hear the verbal fencing  conducted between him and his second – his reputation as argumentative, bristling little guy was legendary.

Throughout the pre-war years The Crack, kept a low profile, becoming one of those outings which seemingly did not fit into the H.M. Kelly mode thinking -  his influence in the FRCC was  profound! In compiling  'A Short History of Lake District,'  published in the Fell & Rock Journal, Deer Bield Crack was not mentioned nor listed in the list of important routes which covered the first century of Lakeland climbing - it was one of many fine climbs,which included Gimmer Crack and  Deer Buttress, that were incredibly ignored.



Jerry Wright, a professional Lakeland guide, who was sometimes controversial for the sake of being controversial wrote in his Rock Climbing in Britain :  '...The Crack, The Chimney and The Monkey Puzzle Buttress;  '… in the 1930s when the first ascent were made they were mistakenly regarded as a step forward in rock climbing progress  but have now found their proper place, as amusing freaks, like Soap Gut on Milestone Buttress'. Monkey Puzzle is a 1946 Dolphin route.

In later years it must have gained some status when Joe Brown, in 1952 came with a detachment of Rock & Ice members after he heard about its fearsome reputation. Apart from Joe, the team was a talented lot, including Don Cowan, Nat Allen and Slim Sorrell.  Much to their disgust  the inside of the crux-chimney was coated with slimy green lichen.   Being small and supple, Brown led the troupe adopting a foetal position he moved up a few inches at a time, took his stance and brought up his mates. Though unable to see them he was able to hear a chorus of grunts and groans as they arrived at the most difficult section. Cowan  was the first to fall off and used the rope to reach Joe, losing several nails from his boots in the process. Nat Allen also fell and was hauled up. Eventually all the party arrived looking like sacks of potatoes and covered in grease – it must have left an impression on Brown as he describes, with vivid detail the outing in his book,  The Hard Years.

With the sixties came a vast improvement in protection technique and footwear  – for the journeyman climber it was a step up, at least, a grade and routes like Deer Bield Crack were within reach. I recall the MOAC nut coming on to the market and Peck's Cracker on a wire, hellish to get back once in place.   And it became fashionable to be seen wearing a specialist rock shoe  known as the PA - developed by  the French rock athlete, Pierre Allain. Obviously, now looked upon as antiquated  when compared to day's rock slipper, they were at that time a tremendous boost to confidence.
About the same period Monkhouse and Williams produced their Climber and Fellwalker in Lakeland, a worthy forerunner to the plethora of climbing literature that was to follow -  this time, however,  Deer Bield Crack  was included as one of the Lakes one hundreds best climbs – it even give indications how to climb the Crux pitch and at only £2.85,  they intended to  give value for money!
Many who knew the crag well looked with some uncertainty at the jigsaw of  ill fitting slabs which made up the detached buttress –  regular stone falls, especially in the Chimney Route, suggested it may be living on borrowed time. Maybe it was fatalistic that  it did collapse at night and no one was injured and yet despite the damage of blitzkrieg  proportions no one appeared to have heard its final demise.

Ken Smith 2011


Wednesday, 20 July 2011

This Week: Ken Smith on the rise and fall of Deer Bield Buttress.

Photo: George Kitchin

" It was during the summer of 1997 a huge rockfall sliced away the central Buttress of Bield Crag.
The collapse wiped out three climbs which over the generations perhaps reflected the pioneering ambitions to advance the standards of Lakeland climbing - all that remains of those routes-  (The Chimney, The Crack and The Buttress) now lie scattered down the hillside. A visit here, can be a nostalgic event, especially for those whose climbing heyday was in the seventies and who struggled to impose their limited talents, on this cliff'

This week,renowned climbing writer Ken Smith looks back on the heyday of one of Lakeland's backwater crags-Deer Bield Buttress-in an exclusive,
previously unpublished article.





Thursday, 14 July 2011

The edge of the world

 Photo: Douglas Wilcox

Good ideas are often stolen. I must admit, the idea of kayaking to St Kilda and looking over the climbing potential did not come to me from the wild blue yonder. It was someone else's. It came to me by chance.
This was a modern-day adventure. If done in good style — no support, no radios, no telling the coastguard, no enlisting the media — it could pay some kind of respect to the real adventure that day-to-day living often gave in the old days. It would certainly give the participants (or put them at?) the same risk. There would be the same uncertainty of outcome. Would we get there? Would we land? Would we climb?

The first crossing by kayak to St Kilda was completed in the early 'sixties by a couple in a Clyde wooden-hulled double canoe fitted with a sail, Hamish and Anne Gow — who started their trip near Mallaig on the mainland. As to the first climbing on St Kilda, no-one will ever know who first inhabited these islands and where they came from. From recent history we do know that rock-climbing was central to their existence. The cliff-nesting seabirds — gannets, fulmars and puffins — were :heir staple diet (they did not bother with agriculture or fishing for good reason).

On Hirta, Soay and Bororay the fowlers descended their ropes to reach the ledges. On the stacs the rock had to be climbed from the sea. Stac Biorach, in Soay Sound, had the reputation for being the hardest to climb. This was the Stac I wanted to climb the most; I was fascinated as to how hard it would be, Severe maybe? I thought, possibly harder. At one time any man who failed to climb it failed to get a wife! Stac Biorach has only been climbed once by a "stranger". R. M. Barrington climbed it in 1929 accompanied by native St Kildans. Several people have looked at and climbed on some of the more accessible St Kildan cliffs since the native evacuation of 1930 but the biggest faces have, surprisingly, been left alone. The last real interest was the Brown/Patey/Cleare recee for the 1969 spectacular. They dismissed the island in favour of the Old Man of Hoy — a safer bet for their purposes.

I stumbled across the idea of kayaking to and climbing on St Kilda in 1983 whilst in Scotland, working from Loch Eil Centre, and overhearing two of their staff talking about a possible trip: "It's a big one, never been done by kayak before ... can't really miss it ... biggest cliffs in Britain."
A few months later, back in Wales after the rigours of teaching winter mountaineering skills on Ben Nevis, I wrote to the two lads to invite myself along. They were good climbers, I reasoned. They must be nice lads. They are bound to have me along. Not so!
Soon afterwards I found out about another two friends who were actually planning their own trip to St Kilda. I didn't want another refusal.
"Sue," I declared to my wife, "I'm going to St Kilda."
"Oh yes...who with?'
Andy Halliday affectionately known as 'Shagger' to half his friends-I don't know why-said he'd come with me
why — said he'd come with me and by the time we were going two others had joined our team — Clive, a friend of Andy's and Nigel Foster. We discussed climbing objectives. I put in a double 9mm 50 metre rope, climbing shoes and Friends and Rocks. We considered faces of Conachair and Soay,both about 1000ft high. Too big for a small team of two, we decided, and so concentrated our attention on the smaller possibilities. Andy and I talked of Stac Biorach. Would we be lucky enough to get there in the first place? Would it be calm enough to swim from the kayak on to it? We would obviously have to solo it, up and down. It was great to dream up these simple optimistic plans. Stac Lee, the Blue Stac (564ft) looked feasible from the photographs.

A system of linked ledges goes all the way up the north face. Mo Anthoine had told us that the first moves to reach these were VS! Would it be calm enough to land? Stac an Armin — the Warrior's Stac (644ft) is the tallest in Britain. It would be a doddle if we could land on it.
Clive met us on Skye and Nigel caught us up on the west end of the South Ford Benbecula after we had made a start across the Minch. (Nigel, as soon as he heard of the trip had not been able to bear the thought of being left out. It was after all, only the last but one kayak adventure left in Britain.) The plan was to get to the Monachs and hope for flat calm to do the 30-mile, 10-hour hop to St Kilda.
We go to the Monachs, the weather was overcast, high pressure but with annoying troughs of low pressure giving turbulence here and there. One forecast gave force 4 westerly in our area. My personal cut-off point as a sea-canoeist was force 3 (i.e. flat calm) —the reasoning being, if after 10 hours paddling I had to return without landing for any reason (e.g. getting lost in mist) —by 20 hours force 4 in any direction would be hard to handle.

The next forecast was the same.
The next forecast was worse.

Nigel threatened to go solo. His bluff almost worked. But, after two murky but lovely days on the sand-dune-covered gneiss of the Monachs, wandering about the evacuated scatter of ruins, visiting a disused lighthouse and old school, finding graves of German war pilots, tiptoeing between fulmar, oyster catcher and eider duck eggs, we returned all the way to Wales.
A month later Nigel and myself were on Hasteir, 10 miles outside the Sound of Harris. We could see St Kilda clearly, there was a ridge of high pressure from Shannon to Iceland. I knew we were there. All we had to do was 10 hours hard work. I slept that night with the excitement I first remembered having before the Sunday school trips of old. By late afternoon the next day we were craning our necks, looking up at the amazing cliffs of Bororay. Tens of thousands of gannets were silently out to greet us. We kept our mouths shut as we gazed with climbing thoughts at the vertical cliffs and flying buttresses of Bororay, the impressive west face of Stac an Armin, and the sword-like profile of Stac Lee.


Ian McMullan inspects the cliffs of Connachair: Alun Hughes

There was a fifteen-foot swell even though the sea was calm. This eliminated any possibility of landing from a kayak— it had been stupid ever to consider it. The base of all Bororay and the Stacs seemed vertical. We were in no condition to look for the best spot.
The water was oily calm. I was almost nodding off, being very tired. We were in a place that did not belong to Britain. The scale was so much bigger. It was almost eerie, with only the sound of soft wing beats of thousands of gannets and the pitter-splatter on the decks. I was annoyed for being so sleepy-tired, a result of the twenty-daylight-hour days at these latitudes. I was aware that I was also very tired physically and I was trying to think objectively and also enjoy the situation. We had four miles to reach Hirta, the main island and only landing place. As we rounded into Village Bay, I started relaxing mentally and realised I had a pain in my left wrist. I recognised the pain — tinosynovitis! Climbing, indeed canoeing back, were out!

We landed. There were soldiers about. There was also a skin-diving group in a chartered boat. We were told where to camp. There was a generator going. Later that night we met the Commanding Officer, who seemed suspicious of our presence. We went for short forays and considered the intrusion the army makes on this small island.
The MacLeods of Dunvegan (Skye) owned St Kilda up to 1930 and the evacuation. It was sold to the Marquis of Bute in 1932, who was keen to preserve the island as a bird sanctuary and bequeathed it on his death to the National Trust for Scotland who in turn leased it to the Nature Conservancy Council. In 1957 a small area of Hirta was allowed to be used by the Ministry of Defence as a missile tracking station, linked to the firing ranges on Benbecula on the Outer Hebrides. £500,000 was spent on the pier and erecting new buildings in Village Bay. Today, more money is being spent on more major construction work by the army. It's sad but true that the last great wilderness areas on earth are full of either soldiers or scientists- or both- the very people who fail to understand the need that some people have for simple adventure.

We moulded our previous visions of Village Bay to fit reality — it was the usual disappointing exercise. Main Street is still much the same though, and the Nature Conservancy Council has done a very good job of renovating some of the houses. We spoke to soldiers at the Puffin Bar that night but there was no welcome. Outside the bar stood "the rules". Rule One said, "Treat all unauthorised landings with suspicion". It seemed they were stuck on rule one.

Pete Whillance on the first ascent of Rueval-E3-6a: Alun Hughes

The next day was ours to wander at will over the island, except, of course, not to go too near the listening station on top of Mullach Mor. We were told there was a ride out for us on the following day, for free.
Mid-morning next day we were chugging towards Lochmaddy and North Uist on a chartered converted fishing boat. Our independent, self-contained adventure had been compromised. It was a small price to pay, we thought.
The next visit was with the advance party of the only climbing group that has had permission to climb on St Kilda. I was with Pete Whillance again, (this time this was his bright idea) and Ian McMullen. They were both spending three weeks on the island doing a little more groundwork before the main group arrived in September.
They were also doing a study of the island for their college degree course. We arrived on the Charna, sick. It takes 24 hours to get there from Oban in this 50ft charter cruiser. We were with a group of nine other individuals who had answered holiday adverts in the Guardian. They were mostly professional individuals of assorted backgrounds, wanting a quiet holiday on this remotest island. All had great interest in St Kilda and its environment and it was a first visit for all of them.

It was early August 1987, the weather was bad as usual, but in the first week we did manage to look at all the climbing possibilities of Hirta, Soay and Soay Stacs. This was as far as the climbing permit allowed. We had an inflatable at our disposal. Ian and Pete also inspected the massive Conachair on ropes from above, a mouth-drying experience. Their study, that of an upland area under pressure, was well chosen. Human pressure is the overriding influence on anyone visiting the island. The visitors' initial reactions reminded me of my own back in 1984; they were all shocked by the army's expansive presence, put out by the warden's curt read-out of the by-laws, and they also had the intimidation of the contractors to contend with in the Puff-Inn.

As one member of the group put it, "I'm not a conservationist, I'm not a hippy, I don't smoke dope, I don't eat seaweed. But what I've seen today is criminal, I'm angry! Just what is going on? I came here for peace and quiet and right now I'm angry. Just down the road there is a power station, up there on the hill there are two sets of traffic lights and a zebra crossing, on top of the hill there are two massive building developments! No-one told me about all this before I came. How the hell did you get permission to climb? Who allowed these scientists to put large coloured earrings on these wild sheep? And did you know that the old manse is now the Sergeants' Mess? What's been allowed here is just crazy."

We humans have the useful ability to switch off what we don't want to see. On a small island this is very difficult and is also bad manners. What you end up with is hypocrisy and bad feeling. There is bad feeling on St Kilda — different factions with different priorities and no sympathy whatsoever. When we were there, (summer '87) there are over forty contractors on the island. ARC were constructing new buildings and installations for the army, hence the traffic lights on the single track road and the joke zebra crossing, bus stops and post box.

On August 10th, 1987 there was a small ceremony in the church on St Kilda. There were some army chiefs present, a dignitary from UNESCO, top NTS and NCC people, representatives from the Countryside
Commission and other assorted visitors and press people. St Kilda became a World Heritage Site during that ceremony. We were reminded of the extremely strict criteria needed for this to happen by the man from UNESCO.

Photo: Douglas Wilcox

One and a half hours after they flew in, they flew out again, "to make their connections". It was a terrible service, every speaker patted as many backs as possible and expressed great satisfaction with the present co-operation and general well being of the island. I'm not religious by any stretch, but to see military uniforms in this little church choked me. Religious and military people, our "sheltered societies", telling me that everything was just fine, when it was patently obvious to everyone present that it was not.
All these factors plus the bad weather blunted my enthusiasm on this visit. It was a treat for me to take part as a third man on a modern rock climb on St Kilda, an E3 on Rueval, led alternately by Pete and Ian. I wanted to touch the human history of the island, get involved with what the old inhabitants did, but the weather did not allow this. I left after ten days.

The National Trust for Scotland don't know what to do with St Kilda. The NCC have a difficult job. What St Kilda really needs is to be left alone, but that is obviously not going to happen. I'm sure the army will soon say that they "need" a new base. I'm sure that the sheep will "need" more study, the birds "need" to be watched more closely, the archaeology will "need" to be excavated. Some of us will agree with some of these needs.

For those of us that don't need scientific or other excuses to have some fun, this is the best diving in Britain (visibility underwater can be over 100ft) and the rock-climbing has only just resumed, this time totally for recreation. In the past the NCC has relied on the inaccessibility of St Kilda and the lack of publicity about the island to help its bewildering mis-management. The future will need a strategy to ensure that the environment is not damaged any more, and that if possible interested parties can have their fun on St Kilda, without injury to the wildlife and its habitat.
History has shown that human interest in the island has peaked and faded. At the moment it is increasing fast. The island "needs" improved management to cope with this pressure, so that by the time it is all worked out, the birds will still be doing fine ...

Connachair: Douglas Wilcox

Postscript In September Pete Whillace and Ian McMullen climbed the 800ft cliff of Conachair naming their route "The Edge of the World". Television cameras and a commentary by Chris Bonington accompanied the achievement.

Alun Hughes...first published in Climber-1/1/88




Thanks to Alun for permission to republish his article and to Douglas Wilcox for use of his St Kilda photographs.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

This Week: Alun Hughes' St Kildan odyssey


Photo-Douglas Wilcox.

"I stumbled across the idea of kayaking to and climbing on St Kilda in 1983 whilst in Scotland, working from Loch Eil Centre, and overhearing two of their staff talking about a possible trip: "It's a big one, never been done by kayak before ... can't really miss it ... biggest cliffs in Britain."

A few months later, back in Wales after the rigours of teaching winter mountaineering skills on Ben Nevis, I wrote to the two lads to invite myself along. They were good climbers, I reasoned. They must be nice lads. They are bound to have me along. Not so!
Soon afterwards I found out about another two friends who were actually planning their own trip to St Kilda. I didn't want another refusal.
"Sue," I declared to my wife, "I'm going to St Kilda." "Oh yes...who with?'

Andy Halliday affectionately known as 'Shagger' to half his friends-I don't know why-said he'd come with me and by the time we were going two others had joined our team — Clive, a friend of Andy's and Nigel Foster. We discussed climbing objectives. I put in a double 9mm 50 metre rope, climbing shoes and Friends and Rocks. We considered faces of Conachair and Soay,both about 1000ft high. Too big for a small team of two, we decided, and so concentrated our attention on the smaller possibilities.

Andy and I talked of Stac Biorach. Would we be lucky enough to get there in the first place? '


This week-Welsh film maker Alun Hughes describes an epic paddling and climbing adventure amongst the dramatic islands of St Kilda.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A Pagan Place

Helman Tor













Out upon the heather
A shadow came onto me.
Her hair was hanging over,
Her face I could not see.

She ran behind the rocks,
I heard the hounds cry,
The image of a woman
With her head held up high.

For the white hare is calling,
Dancing in the night.
She'll be out `til the morning
With eyes burning bright.
The white hare is calling you.


The White Hare: Seth Lakeman

From the Celtic fringes to the Celtic fringes and back again.Despite living in a part of North Wales which is infinitely more peaceful and less populated than most places in Cornwall, I frequently head 300 miles south to get my fix of those sublime green creeks, jagged ochre splashed cliffs and those rolling seas fixed beneath a big big sky. Little wonder artists from all over Europe and the UK followed the siren voice of the ocean. Drawing them to the Pagan lands to the West.

Wales has it's mountains,moors and rain.......... Cornwall has the light.

Given that a large proportion of those reading this piece online will be outside the UK,particularly in the United States and who may never have even heard of Cornwall; a quick bit of socio/cultural history .

Cornwall-or Kernow to give it it's correct Celtic name- is a land to which the original Britons fled as the Franco/Germanic/Norse invaders moved in from the European mainland.Forcing the Brythonic Celtic tribes west, to Wales, Cornwall and across the channel to Brittany and Galacia in Spain.
Whereas Wales kept it's language and identity to the extent that today it enjoys an autonomous degree of self government within the UK, pity poor Cornwall which despite having it's own language-closely related to Breton; A historical legislative body known as the Stannary Parliament; It's own flag-a white cross on a black background- and a distinct culture; lost everything as it was incorporated into England and legally fixed as an English county. The final ignominy being that in many legislative areas it is lumped together with that most English of counties, Devon as a constitute part of 'Devon and Cornwall'.


As a day to day language,Cornish effectively died out at the end of the 18th century although it was revived at the beginning of the 19th century by academics and today is taught in Cornish schools with many place names now bilingually identified.There is a Cornish Nationalist Party who campaign for a devolved assembly and recognition of Cornwall as a distinct Celtic region.To that end they have had some success with  the party gaining council seats across the region and seeing the language officially recognized by the EU under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Traditionally,Cornwall has been one of the UK's most economically deprived regions and today is effectively divided between an essentially poor indigenous population and the financially advantaged English migrants who make up two thirds of the population. Cornwall's wonderful coastline which traditionally serviced a thriving fishing industry,has,in the last forty years,attracted a huge influx of wealthy incomers-particularly from the South of England,who have turned it's harbours,bays and estuaries into expensive yachting communities.A particularly damaging social trend in this regard has been the huge growth in the second home market where many attractive coastal villages have become ghost towns out of season with as many as 80% of the houses therein,owned by outsiders as holiday homes.

A couple of years ago, I wandered out onto the sand dunes at Porthcothan near Padstow with artist and film maker Jane Darke who with her late husband, Nick, a locally born playwright of some repute, lived and worked in an old house which backed onto the dunes.One late November afternoon when I was there, something seemed not quite right as I stood on the rippled beach and watched the waves crash in. As the light leeched from the sky it felt strangely unreal. The houses which fringed the bay all remained in darkness? Jane explained that her abode was the only house now occupied full time.The whole circling arm of properties had fallen into second home ownership.



Notwithstanding Cornwall's economic hardships,one area where tradition has remained strong and resistant to malign external influences has been in the area of belief. As the Christian Church swept across Europe, it effectively employed a scorched earth policy.Violently suppressing traditional belief systems which could be described as Pagan. Obliterating sacred sites and building Christian places of worship and shrines on top of these sacred pagan places. Areas like Wales and Cornwall were the last redoubt of the druids and those who followed what is essentially a faith system compatible with Lovelock's Gaia principle. In common with belief systems like Buddhism,Taoism and those 'religions' of Native Americans, Australian aboriginals,Inuits and the like; Paganism rejects what to me is the unhealthy monotheism promulgated by Christian,Jewish and Islamic faiths and instead, embraces an infinitely preferable egalitarianism which sees humanity as an element within the web of life. A part of nature no more or less important than any of life's constituent elements.

Despite the all consuming advance of the church over the hearts and minds of the people,In Cornwall,the old ways continued to survive the Christian onslaught. Rural communities still turned to The Charmer; A Cornish equivalent of a Shaman or Medicine Man. Although the pastor or the local doctor was called when someone was particularly ill or at death's door, The Charmer was often the first to be called. Using what today would be describes as voodoo, the Charmer's book of cures often involved strange rituals such as passing under the belly of a Piebald horse, stuffing pillows with crow's feathers and hanging live chickens from smoke stained beams !

Bizarre..Indeed!  but any more bizarre than US TV evangelists exploiting mass hysteria amongst the feeble minded...providing their credit card details are in order.... or young men flying passenger planes into skyscrapers ?

If the dualistic faiths have their demons and infidels, Paganism has its white hares and adders.

It was a commonly held belief amongst those living in the rural backwaters was that those poor souls who were unfortunate enough to die through an injury or trauma were condemned to roam the earth as a white hare. The white hare was also seen to embody a black witch.The archetypal old crone of fairy tales who now roamed the earth as a fleet footed Jackrabbit; sending the pursuing hounds howling in fear as they looked into its burning eyes.
Traditionally,rabbits have also had a hard time in rural Cornwall and for seafarers in particular, the mere mention of a rabbit at sea was to guarantee empty fishing nets or worse.

Recent archaeological surveys in parts of Cornwall have revealed just how widespread elements of paganism were in Cornwall. Even after the reformation and rise in popularity of the new John Wesley inspired reformist branch of Christianity. In 2003 thirty five 'Witches pits' were discovered near Falmouth. Each lined with swan pelts and containing animal hide,unhatched eggs,human hair, fingernails and remains of iron cauldrons. These are said to date from the 17th century when Cromwell's Protestant stormtroopers attempted to obliterate any hint of pre-Christian paganism. Ruthlessly destroying ancient sacred sites in the manner of a Christian Taliban militia. Those unfortunate enough to be caught by Cromwell's zealots were tortured and executed without mercy.



By chance, I happened upon one place in Cornwall which clearly exemplified the attempts of the Church to first overwhelm and then recreate a sacred site into a Christian shrine. The Saints Way is a long distance path which connects the north and south coasts of Cornwall and links the traditional fishing towns of Padstow and Fowey. Perusing an ordinance survey map of the area I noticed that the path run up against an interesting looking tor- Helman Tor not far from the historical capital of Cornwall, Lostwitheal. As we approached the tor ringed with granite outcrops and boulders,I passed by a stone circle in a clearing just off the Saints Way path. Five sets of four stones in a circle with an elder tree- which is afforded great importance within the Wicca religion- at its centre. Meandering up to the summit of the tor,I noticed a white cross adorning one of the granite boulders adjacent to the summit trig point. Ironically,someone had carved the anarchist circled A in the trig point concrete next to the cross.

I wandered around the cropped grass plateau atop Helman Tor between great granite boulders which looked like Barbara Hepworth sculptures and played around on some of the rock problems hereabouts. Apart from my partner and Gus the Springer,we were alone. As I sat back on the grass beneath an overhung outcrop,I noticed a flash of colour in the scrubby hawthorn nearby. A fertiliser sack or bailing twine ? Indeed not. Within those sharp thorny branches a colourful pentangle gently rocked in the westerly breeze. Despite their holy paths and white crosses, the old ways are clearly still deeply rooted in the dark Cornish soil.

Words and photographs: John Appleby

The aforementioned artist and filmaker Jane Darke's brilliant film 'The art of catching lobsters'  


South West musician Seth Lakeman's The White Hare video

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

This week: Running with the white hare.

Looks like Drasdo got here first !

"From the Celtic fringes to the Celtic fringes and back again.Despite living in a part of North Wales which is infinitely more peaceful and less populated than most places in Cornwall, I frequently head 300 miles south to get my fix of those sublime green creeks, jagged ochre splashed cliffs and those rolling seas fixed beneath a big big sky. Little wonder artists from all over Europe and the UK followed the siren voice of the ocean. Drawing them to the Pagan lands to the West.

Wales has it's mountains,moors and rain....... Cornwall has the light.'

This Friday, John Appleby goes native in Kernow and gets stuck into English centralisation,Monotheism and wealthy second home owners. Banging the drum instead for devolution and Paganism.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness....

Boreray: St Kilda

The new season of Footless Crow articles begins shortly,with some exclusive unpublished works from writers such as David Craig, John Redhead and Ken Smith. Check out Welsh  film-maker Alun Hughes who writes about sea kayaking and climbing on the 'edge of the world'. The haunting remote islands of St Kilda which sadly, has seen aspects of its social and cultural identity,its unique ecology and the island's natural beauty somewhat despoiled  by an insensitive military presence.

Kicking off proceedings-John Appleby writes about Cornwall and it's Pagan roots which, despite the best efforts of the Christian church,continues to thrive and flourish amongst the foxglove studded green lanes,secret springs and granite tors where the white hare runs.