Friday, 31 May 2013

The mountaineers: lost in time.




Can you identify these five climbing amigos? Even better,can you suggest a location and date? I'm indebted to Climbers Club archivist David Medcalf for allowing me to use this fantastic shot. David posted it yesterday on the members forum after being pointed towards it by a friend who saw it on an 'Old Photos of Portmadog' website. Apart from the predictable suggestions of a less than serious nature including Ron Fawcett, Eric Jones and Geoff Birtles!.. no one as yet has come up with any hard evidence suggesting exactly who these rakish rock masters are.

My own hunch is that the group are in the Ogwen Valley with Llyn Ogwen just beyond the wall and the slopes of Pen yr Ole Wen in the background. It looks a wet day but it certainly hasn't dampened their spirits. If you have any information or comments then email me at mynyddgoch@yahoo.com and I'll add them here.


One suggestion which has come in since posting, has come from Gordon Stainforth,the renowned author/photographer, who suggests that the figure on the extreme right could be George Abraham. Another renowned photographer, mountaineer and author of climbing guides in the early 20th century. This makes a lot of sense as Abraham was in North Wales-presuming this is North Wales- in the Edwardian era.Writing a climbing guide and joining up with the leading lights of the day including Archer Thomson. Geoffrey Winthrop Young on the extreme left is another suggestion?


Friday, 24 May 2013

The Beautiful and the dammed



The two north-easternmost spokes in the great Lakeland wheel, Swindale and Mardale, could hardly be more different. To their west, or anticlockwise, the great glen of Ullswater cleaves down from Pattererdale towards Penrith. The blue shape of the lake on the map marries so closely with curve of Haweswater, to its east that, if you half-close your eyes (and use enough imagination), you can see the pair of them as a whale calf nestling up to its mother.

Eastwards, or clockwise round the wheel, the boggy uplands of Mosedale send their waters down the Sleddale Beck by a channel whose banks are starry with primroses each April. That water flows into the Lowther and at last the Eden in its long bending north. Starting from the same watershed, on Hartsop Pike, the Crookdale and Borrow. Becks trend south-eastward to enter the Lune near Tebay and finish up 40 miles away in Morecambe Bay. As for the difference between Swindale and Mardale ... well, we can hardly use `Mardale' any more except historically.


From 1935 onwards, the sweet valley was drowned to make a reservoir. The original lake was doubled in length and trebled in surface area. The dam looms like a prison wall. So Manchester needed the water.  So Mardale village had to go – its houses, its farms (which used to send 3,000 lb of butter south by train each week), the houses, the pub, the school, the reading-room, the church – the lot. The stones of the church were recycled to make the intake well for the dam. One hundred and four dead from the graveyard were reinterred in 'the Mardale portion' of Shap graveyard. Mardale was written off by the pro-dam interests as 'an overrated beauty spot' and the home ground of only 100 people.


Mardale Valley-before the flood

Am I deceiving myself when I believe that it couldn't happen today? That people's awareness and their protests would deter the authorities from destroying a community? Nowadays, whenever there is a prolonged drought, you can be a ghoulish tourist and poke about among the bones of Mardale. When the water sinks low, walls are bared, an arched bridge, heaps of rubble with caves between them – the cellars of the pubs. I'm ashamed to say that when I found a piece of a stone ginger beer bottle here in the summer of 1983,1 brought it away with me. Next year, another drought, and cars queued the length of the dale to see the wreckage. An ice-cream van sold refreshments. Worse locusts than me began to steal the coping-stones off the bridge and after a few weeks the parapets were gone. Up on the hillside there is a rock-climb called Dun Bull – last evidence above water of the bygone pub which had hosted many an epic of feasting and drinking when stray sheep were gathered in at the Mardale Meet.


The link between Mardale and Swindale is the Old Corpse Road. It tracks east-north­eastward up the hill opposite the pine-covered peninsula called The Rigg, crosses the watershed, and at last drops down into Swindale at its head. The Mardale folk carried their dead this way to Shap until they got their own church early in the 18th century. Until then the long carry had caused `excessive expense for funerals, and the souls as well as the bodies of infants taken to be baptised are endangered'. I last walked that way with my wife and another poet, who spent some miles extolling the virtues of Hunza apricots and doling out a few from time to time. (They're supposed to help you live longer – I can't yet vouch for this from my own experience). For weekly worship the Swindale folk had to make do with a chapel at Truss Gap Farm. Am I imagining this or did Harry Griffin, the renowned walker and climber, once recall that he had found the organ in the disused chapel and that, being expert on the keyboard, he coaxed from it a few struggling notes?



Swindale has never been ample enough to sustain settlement on the Mardale scale. It has stayed as it always was, beef cattle browsing the water meadows, sheep on the hill, a narrow zone of lush hayfields (one of which was named in a 13th-century document). On the eastern flank Gouther Crag juts out above slopes deep in ferns and foxgloves and bunchy trees. The grassy quietude of it all is entrancing. One time, when I was on a stance high up on a route called The Fang, I saw a hay tedder working along a field of ripe hay down below on the river-bank and I was able to delight in the perfect matching of the silken stripes of mown grass on the yellow-white stubble with the meanders of the watercourse.


The Drasdo Brothers-Neville leading-Harold hiding in the trees:photo John Appleby

Fang Buttress on Gouther Crag was named after a downward-pointing finger of rock, like a big blunt grey icicle, at the start of a route called Sostenuto, which was put up in 1958 by the Drasdo brothers from Bradford. When I first climbed it with my stepson in 1983, the right ridge of the fang was a help as you struggled to get started. Two years later I was climbing with the Drummonds – Ed, pioneer of scarcely believable routes in North Wales and Yosemite, and his wife Leah, a beginner. Ed had never climbed in the Lakes before. His first sally was to amble upwards unroped beside Leah and myself on a straightforward route called Kennel Wall. He looked unstoppable, fearless, agile as a cat, with hands like a bear's paws. When we went to start up Sostenuto, I found that the fang had fallen off, whether by gravity or due to some earth tremor. I was intrigued to see that Ed, who had climbed routes of the greatest difficulty (Main Wall on Clogwyn dur Arddu, the North America Wall on El Capitan), had to try twice before he could start Sostenuto without the aid of the fang's clear-cut edges.



Ed Drummond..'fearless and agile as a cat with hands like bear's paws':photo John Appleby
 

At the top of Gouther Crag, 500ft above the floor of the dale, you step off into another zone – trackless moorland, where I had my only sight of red deer in Cumbria. Five or six animals fled swiftly along then melted into the heather and blaeberry as they cunningly found cover beyond a rise in the ground. The same lovely contrast between the ruggedness and salience of the dale sides and the gently undulating moorland up above holds good all round the compass. At the dale-head Hobgrumble Gill and Mosedale Beck flow together beside a knoll called The Knott to make the Swindale River. The Mosedale has just plunged several hundred feet in a series of white cascades called Swindle Forces.

On days after heavy rain they have made me exult in their headlong plunge and reminded me of Beethoven – that rush and onset and resolution of many clashing sounds. Then, 'suddenly', as you emerge onto the levels of the moor above, the water is quite small, a brown peaty flow between banks of tousled heather that has never beenburnt or used in any way. All is calm. The water flows from one black pool to another by stony runnels just too broad to jump, so that you have to cross it by balancing along the wires of a rusty fence. Silence surrounds you, accented by the occasional pipe of a meadow pipit or the bark of a raven. It's like the lulling hush of an Andante after the speed and tumult of the opening movement. (The Drasdos' other route on Gouther is called Sforzando).


Haweswater offers few such elementals these days. The walk along the north shore is pleasant enough. A mile or two along from the dam the path picks its way past a craggy burst of waterfalls which offer superb terrain for hide-and-seek or scrambling or picnics on coigns among the birches and rowans. Always beside you the mass of trapped water imposes its sullen presence – a lake, it's true, but one whose oddly uniform shores betray that it was man-made, forced onto nature. You can appreciate the difference from wild water if you come down into Haweswater from its south end by either of the two old packhorse routes, either from Nan Bield at the head of Kentmere or from Gatescarth beyond Longsleddale. Up there the two tarns in their corries Blea Water and Small Water, are cupped as beautifully as raindrops in the calyx of a flower. Like Scales Tarn below Sharp Edge on Saddleback, they have rounded or lobed shapes of an organ inside a body or a chestnut in its husk.


Haweswater opens out northward towards Bampton and Lowther – well tended farming country. Swindale opens out eastward past a strange neutral ground crisscrossed by a maze of aqueducts and covered channels that pipe Cumbrian water down to Preston and Manchester. There is a fundamental change below ground there – the joint between the slates and schists of the north Lakes and the limestone which comes scything up from Kirkby Stephen. Shap Abbey is a stranded relic of the medieval age when monks built a major wool industry on grasslands that flourished on lime-based soils. Now that affluence has gone – also the trade brought in to Shap by the main road north. Shap feels backwatered these days – its pubs and shops not quite thronged enough, though equally you can enjoy their decent calm. It still gladdens me to be there because, looking westward, we can see the perky profile of Kidsty Pike and know that the particular atmospheres of Swindale and Haweswater are waiting for us there.




David Craig. First Published in Cumbria
 

Friday, 17 May 2013

'Lord Baker' in Langstrath: Cam Crag Ridge




Siobhan Appleby above Langstrath.

There was a lord who lived in this land Being a lord of high degree.
He left his fort for a ship's board
And swore strange countries he would go see.


Langstrath sounds like what it is - a flat valley floor as wild and 'lang' as a border ballad - and I'd never set foot in it. I don't know how that had come to be the case. It's a bit of an embarrassment really in a mountaineer with a hairline well in recession. (Until last year I'd never walked up Ennerdale either.) If you're always going to crags you can miss out on some fine valleys even in Borrowdale. So wanting to be a lord of this land in some degree I 'swore strange countries I would go see'.


Resting my fully extended rucksack against a wall to check the map at the first bridge across the beck I found that the midges tend to take a bite at midday here in July. I was sweating already and knew that with camping and climbing gear, not to mention wine aboard I'd soon be slightly extended myself. Norman, Kevin and Barbie were already well ahead, but I find that sailing up the motorway from Sheffield can actually weaken your legs.

He travelled east and he travelled west
He travelled south and the north also
Until he arrived into Turkey's land
Where he was taken and bound in prison
Until his life it grew weary.


It was a bit early to grow weary since I'd only walked from Stonethwaite's cottages and through the campsite, a magical grove that used to be romantically known as 'Fairy Glen' in books with titles like Odd Corners in English Lakeland. It certainly is an odd corner nowadays, though perhaps with fewer fairies. Who knows? Crossing the bridge there was a last glimpse of Eagle Crag round the corner to the left stuck out of the fellside like the end of an upright piano. Music seemed to be in my head as I followed the others into the unfolding long journey that is Langstrath. Whole herds of rustled cattle could be hidden in the pastures of this strath, knives could be drawn here, Turkey's daughter ('as fair a lady as the eye did see') could rise from bathing in Blackmoss Pot to cut Lord Baker's prison bonds and lead him to a ship harboured in the narrow black zawn of Sergeant's Gully. It's that sort of a valley.

The track, keeping close below the little broken walls of Heron Crag, brings you up to a flat-topped tower called Gash Rock which all but blocks the path. Below it is the green pool known as Blackmoss Pot where Harry Griffin, in a memorable entry for The Guardian's 'Country Diary', recommended bathing where 'neither costume nor towel was needed', although he did admit that 'this becomes too popular in heatwaves for my sort of dips, being too close to a well used track'. Above the track at Gash Rock the black cleft of Sergeant's Gully rises up straight as a sword.

Bentley Beetham on the first ascent of Little Chamonix in 1946: Photo FRCC

In O. G. Jones' first pitch by pitch guide to the Lakes of 1897 the Abraham brothers contributed a grainy granite-textured photograph of the difficulties on the fourth pitch of this climb. A wild beard of woodrush, the eagle's favourite nest lining, overhung the chockstone. The steep left wall offered the solution. Jones wrote, 'From a short distance this appears to be a smooth vertical slab; even on close inspection the holds it offers appear to be of the most minute dimensions'. Bentley Beetham's guide of 1953 commented: 'A very difficult pitch but no longer incommoded by vegetation'. It looked to me a great winter classic that holds the snow well and long. It's only given one star in Winter Climbs in The Lake District but this valley promises more than can be described in stars, words or grades. It needs music; it needs pipes for carrying on the long rush of air it contains.


At last, after passing above several notable alternatives to Harry Griffin's Blackmoss Pot, which almost tempted us to rashness, we saw the tent of friends we'd come to camp with high up the fabled Strath. They'd left their tent on the big bend above all the deep pots and plunging forces at a point where the river braids into little rolling plaits of water. By the time we'd pitched our own tents they'd appeared from up the valley and we all saw, looking back down the dale a soaring hump of rock, unnoticed on the walk in. Cam Crag Ridge stands clear of the green fellside as a slightly stepped, rounded spine on the skyline. Barbie was into the discoveries of the new scrambling guide after a long experience of fell walking and trekking. She vowed she'd climb the white back of Cam Crag Ridge, and this is the valley where vows are strong:

They made a vow for seven years
And seven more for to keep it strong
Saying `If you don't wed with no other woman I'm sure I'll wed with no other man.


Roused by the force of this we grabbed slings, rope and torches just in case, before stalking off through the grass, boulders and bracken to keep an appointment with the horizon.
Now it's in the nature of scrambling that a description in a guide cannot be as well defined as for a rock climb: you're finding your own way through uncharted wild country. If you accept that, you can pass below the jumble of boulders that probably provide a very interesting start to the ridge, and see instead the raven's nest round the corner, perched on a block, trailing a long bit of binder twine down into space. At the first platform on the ridge we began to savour the rock we were vowed to climb. Andy found a way, Barbie followed searching for holds with a clarity of purpose the ballads are made of. I threw more words and tunes to the wind behind, whilst Dave, forgotten at the back, enjoyed a new experience. Kev drifted about between us, focusing and refocusing his black Cyclops' eye from Japan as if the oral tradition had never existed.


 
Liam Appleby under The Glaciated Slab

Years seemed to pass as the ridge steepened and reclined, steepened and reclined in front of us. A little wall always gave to an open scoop, a top edge would reveal solid jugs to an easing slab up to a grassy break which we'd cross to a wall to start again. One steep section was littered with loose flakes which required care but mostly the rock was clean and sharp or leaning and rough, without tricks or traps. The final wall weakens with a groove and crack beside a tree. This last problem sharpens the enjoyment of hold-searching before a final rush to the flattening top of the ridge.


Barbie was pleased with her achievement, quite rightly. While I was babbling words she nodded silently, her eyes screwed up in that deep, inner, staring smile of hers. It was a great spot above the length of Langstrath with route-finding problems solved behind us. I was pleased to be part of it, but I was really married to the rock routes I realised that day, much as I'd enjoyed this scramble too. That night in the tent, well after dark, when all the bottles lay empty on the turf outside (temporarily) I sang what I could remember of the ballad of 'Lord Baker', how Turkey's daughter had searched for him when those seven years and seven more were over and done, finding him at last on the very day he'd taken a new bride in. When she sent a message that she was at the door asking for a piece of his wedding cake 'and a glass of your wine it being ere so strong',


He took his sword all by the handle,
Cut the wedding cake in pieces three
Saying 'there's a piece for Turkey's daughter, Here's a piece for the new bride and one for me'. And Lord Baker ran to his darling,
Of twenty one steps he made but three.
He caught his arms round Turkey's daughter

And kissed his true love most tenderly.

The next day Norman and I walked down the valley, Bowfell being in mist, hitched to the Bowder Stone car park and rediscovered the delights of pure rock moves which had been our true marriage all along; in this case the surprisingly neglected moves provided by Quayfoot Buttress, directly above the car park. Aberration (MVS), appropriately named for us, deserves to be better known since it rivals Ardus (Severe) on Shepherd's Crag for its delicate leftwards traverse on the top pitch. All that remained was a lunchtime pint in the Scafell Hotel with a warm lad who gave us a lift, a celebratory exchange of good routes yet to be done, and we'd both seen strange countries and found our true passion in the way of the narrative of things lived and sung.

Painting: Bill Peascod  


Terry Gifford: The Joy of Climbing: Whittles Publishing
Images: john Appleby unless stated.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Rhapsody in Rust


I found this old unpublished homage to V Dubs recently. I'm not even sure what media it was originally intended for but the sentiments expressed may still ring true for afficienados of original VW Campers and stir the same emotions.We're talking about the old air cooled rustbuckets here, which you could pick up for for relatively little and restore without breaking the bank.The modern VW Camper/Transporter is a totally different beast.With both water cooled petrol and diesel engines and costing a small fortune,the age of the '125 sheets' camper is well and truly in the past.



I took out all the seats and away I went
It's a right old banger and the chassis' bent .

It's got a great big peace sign across the back
And most of the windows have been painted black.
The windshield's cracked, it's a bugger to drive
It starts making smoke over thirty-five.

It's a psychedelic nightmare with a million leaks
It's home sweet home to some sweet arse freaks


Ian Dury


One of these days some young kid is going to write in and say; 'I've just passed my driving test and I'd like to know what's a good climbers car ?  Oh dear boy,do you really need to ask! For more than three decades there has really been only been one vehicle to chuck a sack in the back of and take off into them tha hills; a vehicle which has transcended mere transportation to become an icon of cool.The ubiquitous VW camper van. It doesn't matter whether your preference is for a 'splitty' , 'a bay' or a 'wedgie; the V Dub has become the vehicle of choice for climbers, surf bums and all cool creatures west of Bohemia.



My own attachment to VDubs goes back some years and remains worryingly undiminished. At the moment two red and white two-tone wagons sit outside;one a 69 bay, I'm thinking of exhibiting for the next Turner prize. This scrapyard thing, now all but stripped of its vital organs,has become a rusting, fading box of rare beauty.


Time and the elements have conspired to coat the bodywork with a scumbled patina while rust inexorably eats away at the extremities.Under the propped hood,in the empty engine compartment, an old sheep dog sleeps in the shade while up above, cats stretch out in the sun on the dented roof.

It came from a semi on Costa Geriatrica-Colwyn Bay-where I'd noticed it on my travels. Handing over 125 sheets,it was loaded on the back of a trailer I'd borrowed from a garage in Gweddelwern-the garage is no longer there; it literally blew up when it's cache of butane bottles went up like a nuclear device. The towing vehicle was a friend's Espace which saw it's clutch burned out tackling the 1-4 hills near home on the way back.



My current VW is a Wedgie which came from a windsurfing fiend a year ago.400 nicker sans MOT .I rather like the reflective rear window with the huge 'animal' logo and of course,the obligatory yin-yang sticker.


My home page shows a white wedgie marooned amongst a sea of Moroccan sand dunes under an indigo sky. It's a reflection of a dream I have.Driving down through France and Spain and then across to Morocco,down the coast to Mogodor where Hendrix and Joe Orton used to hang out in the sixties. Despite the fact that 'animal' hasn't been further than Aberdovey yet, who knows,it could happen? But then again, pigs might fly !

Anyone who drives an old camper has to expect to spend some time at the side of the road with the rear hood up. They have a habit of throwing the third cylinder and the Heath Robinson gear linkage often fails. I always carry wire and springs to effect running repairs. On a recent trip to Cornwall, I counted three old campers at various points broken down en-route. On a trip to the north west of Scotland,my starter motor went at Carlisle. The rest of the trip I had to effect the bump start which meant finding an incline I could park up on. On the way back, driving flat out on the Inverness by-pass, the rear nearside wheel bearing shattered causing the wheel to collapse and jam under the wheel arch.We careered across three lanes of fast moving traffic before coming to a stop. After applying some emergency treatment in the fortuitously sited lay-by we limped home to north Wales in 13 hours.My late friend Chas, drove back from Scotland to Wales with a totally knackered gearbox.Only able to engage 3rd, he kept an old flat iron propped up against the gearstick to stop it jumping out. Unable to do above 30, his journey home must have been even slower than ours.At least our crocked Combi could reach 40.

 


Then there was the time when my young friend Scott and I were on a climbing trip in the Lakes. We were parked up on one of the picnic sites next to Lake Coniston. Two o clock in the morning and with the smell of burning rubber and screeching tyres a trio of Cumbrian scallies circled our bus in their bangers, acting out a lakelandesque version of Fort Apache. My reaction was to run around in my underpants wielding a table leg shouting 'we've got a dog you know ! In hindsight,it sounds like a scene cut from Withnail and I.'


Did we have a dog...can't remember? If we did it must have been Tom, the first Labrador to climb a variant of 'Cyfwy Arete'. Scott slept through the whole thing. 


This addiction is becoming too much I've got three V Dubs which I've clocked on my travels, all sitting forlornly in someones drive. It's always the same " I'm sorry to bother you but I couldn't help but notice'.Then I'm driving home in a vehicle which bears more red oxide than original paint. It's not as if I haven't got enough to do. There's more to life than lying under a camper wearing a welding mask while sparks pour down like silver . One of these liberated machines was a blue bay which I only had for three weeks before a chance conversation down at the local tip saw a young hipster offer me a 300% mark up on the purchase price. Next time I saw him he told me 'well.. it was rotten as a pear underneath but I welded up and drove it to Frankfurt last week'. ( The Red Wedge was sold to a guy who drove it to Barcelona three days later).


The V Dub cognoscenti are invariably drawn from that category of humanity labelled 'likeable eccentrics'. One of these gentle souls was Mal, under whose tutelage I first took an engine out of a bus. Mal was a surprisingly sanguine character in the circumstances. Knowing that his toddler son had but a few months to live, he took off with him in his old bus on a caravanserai across southern Europe. 'We just wanted to give him a nice time before he died' he said in a remarkably calm, philosophical way. As we pulled the engine clear he remarked " well....do you think you could manage it by the side of the road in the Dordogne?'
Hmmm...possibly, but,at the side of the road on the Kendal by-pass in the pouring rain...Possibly not.

Camper's are made for summer. In winter they gather green moss and blisters. The heaters are crook and the thought of heading north swaddled in warm clothes trying to de-ice a frozen windscreen with a gloved hand is too much.

But then spring comes; you turn the key and the throaty aircooled engine spins into life. Levellers on the scrap-yard stereo, the musty smell of winter clinging to the sleeping bags, red wine stains on the rammy curtains and a curiously sticky steering wheel? Leaving the narrow lanes of Wales behind,cresting Aston hill at Ewloe; the Cheshire Plain stretches out as far as the eye can see. Beeston Castle, Stanlow Oil Refinery, the ICI plant at Runcorn. Familiar North west landmarks hove into view.Within half an hour I will be leaving the 56 and joining the M6. Pedal to the metal and she growls up to an impressive juice slurping 65. Sheesh! Behind me the hills of home...in front of me ... the north.




Words and images: John Appleby

Friday, 3 May 2013

Wild Mountain Time


Though the amount of our farm work had increased, we still climbed for pleasure and occasionally managed to go away for a night or two. One fine weekend, we went to climb the Great Gully on Craig yr Ysfa. As so often happened on a day in the mountains with Paul, time seemed to slow down. There was infinity between dawn and dusk on those days. We walked, ascending higher and higher into the sanctuary of the hills. There was no one else about. We ate our sandwiches on the bwlch looking down into Cwm Eigiau, and then descended to the foot of the crag. Here bilberries grew in profusion and we lingered, eating the ripe boot-button fruit and talking.

Now we were in shadow and the Great Gully looked formidable, an eight-hundred foot gorge up the face of the cliff. In places it cut in deeply and gripped enor­mous chock-stones between its walls. Even now, I had a sort of mountain stage-fright at the beginning of a climb and a feeling of awe at the magnificence of the crags. I began to imagine myself a little tired and half hoped that Paul would say it was too late to begin so long a climb. He had shown some inclination to dally, but now he was standing up. `Come on,' he said. 'Let's begin.'

We walked up the scree to the foot of the gully. It was so steep that the capstone at the top was visible from our position. We tied on the rope and then Paul was climbing upwards. My turn came and the feeling of lassitude disappeared as my boot nails engaged with rock, as a sense of elevation came with each careful move upwards. The climb was classed as very difficult or severe when conditions were wet but, with Paul leading, it did not seem hard. We were having a good day and now small feelings of happiness like champagne bubbles rose inside me. In the depths of the gully, deeply shadowed, the air was chill and the rock water-worn. Strange masses of greenery, not met with on the open hill, flourished here—cushions of moss like green sponges, parsley fern and reeds. The rock architecture was impressive, towering up on either side of the cleft and bridged by the jammed boulders.
Craig yr Ysfa

We looked out from the depths of the gully through the rock walls to a view of the opposite slopes, dazzling in the sunshine. The floor of Cwm Eigiau, the Valley of the Abysses, became more and more distant as we ascended and time seemed to stretch indefinitely to accommodate the length of the climb.
The last pitch, reached near evening, was the Great Cave Pitch. The gully cut deeply inwards and was bridged by huge hock-stones. The largest was about the size of a London bus, gripped firmly in the jaws of the mountain. We passed under it, stooping a little, into the near-darkness of the cave behind. Water trickled down the walls and planes of wet rock faintly reflected the light outside. There was a dank smell. It was now necessary to reach the top of the chock-stone from behind and this Paul did. Then he waited for me, jamming his body upright between the chock-stone and the ceiling of the cave.

It was difficult to launch himself from the floor of the gully and outwards on to the hold-less bulk of the boulder and then to wriggle upwards to its crest, but I managed to do so. I jammed myself as best I could while Paul attempted to walk out to where a narrow ledge on the left wall of the gully could be reached. The surface of the chock-stone sloped down and outwards to the immense drop which it overhung. It was smooth, hard and wet. Paul's boot nails skidded ominously :s he inched forward. There seemed to be no handholds. He balanced precariously and then stopped. 'I'm going to try it in socks,' he said. He removed his boots, first one and then the other, slowly and with care so as not to lose his balance. With stockinged feet he had a better grip and he crept outwards with the palms of his hands pressed against the low ceiling to give stability.

Then he stepped from the chock-stone to the ledge, found a belay and it was my turn. Bootless too, I followed in his footsteps. It was thrilling to balance out from the darkness to the light, across the bridge over nothingness, with the feel of damp-, smooth rock under stockinged feet, rock which was ready to shoot the climber out into kingdom-come if one ill-judged move were made. Then I stepped across on to the ledge and it was over. A few more yards of scram­bling brought us to the top and we walked out of shadow into the clear evening sunshine.. It was an exhilarating finish to a long and splendid climb.

We decided to go on to the top of Carnedd Llewellyn. The summit lay westwards, further along the ridge. Now the sunshine had a golden quality and a slight breeze was blowing from the Irish Sea. We seemed to be half way between earth and sky, with the world laid out at our feet. We paused on the top to watch the sun setting behind the bulk of Carnedd Dafydd. The Menai Strait away to our right were like a river of fire. It was unusual to see so rarified and so golden a scene and it stayed in our minds. Some distance below the summit, but above Llyn Llygwy, lay a small cwm in the fold of the hills. Here we decided to bivouac. We had our sleeping bags with us and, after a day of space, sun­shine and freedom, we could not depart from our dream of high places too abruptly. We put our few belongings on a small mound and squatting round the spirit stove, we made a meal of soup, biscuits and chocolate. We had been in shadow for some time and now the light was fading from the sky and the cool airs of evening were around us. The night would be calm and clear.

Then Paul said: 'Look, wild ponies.'
While we had been eating, a small herd had come over the shoulder of the hill and were grazing on the opposite slope four or five hundred yards away. There were a few foals among them. They looked beautiful in the fading light, wild and foot-loose on the open mountain. Their coming gave the final touch of enchantment to our lonely cwm. I wish we could have some ponies,' I said.
We considered the idea as we washed the soup mugs in the stream and cleaned our teeth, but there seemed no place for ponies in our schemes. Already, we had as much stock as the land could carry, with no spare grazing or hay. We had a tractor for farm work and there was little time for pleasure riding. Reluctantly, we decided that we could not have ponies on the farm. And yet I kept on watching the wild herd there on the hillside.

We laid our sleeping bags side by side and settled down. The night breeze was on our faces and there was no moon, but the Milky Way was a river of stars above us. A sheep in the cwm gave a hoarse, old man's cough and, infinitely high and far away, came the flutings of a curlew's call. I half woke in the hour of dawn when the air was heavy with dew and night thinning away from the hills. The silence of daybreak seemed to have a quality of echoing hollowness over the land. And then I slept again, and it was full day when I woke at last. The cwm was still in shadow but the sparkling morning sunshine lighted the upper slopes of the hills, winking from wet places on the rocks, or finding a diamond in a vein of quartz. It highlighted the glossy coats of the ponies as they grazed on the slopes. The foals were playing, filled with the joy of life and a fine summer morning. Little shrieks and neighs floated across to us as they frolicked. Paul was awake and talkative now. His face looked very young and alive.

`Let's not get up till the sunshine comes,' he said.
We could see the line of shadow retreating towards us as the sun rose higher and higher. We lay, two warm cocoons in sleeping bags, and waited delightedly for the sun to knock us up. At last it touched the sleeping bags, crept across them and was full and warm on our faces. Then we had breakfast and left the cwm, bathing in Llyn Llygwy on the way down.

Not all our mountain days were spent in fine weather. Some­times we went on the hills when it was too rough or cold to climb, went just for the fun of experiencing the weather. Sometimes we went hoping to climb, and were turned back. Whatever happened, each outing had its own special quality and was enjoyed. One December day we set off to climb Snowdon. It was unusually cold with lead-coloured clouds boiling round the shoulders of the mountains. Now and again, one of the peaks would come clear before the next mass of cloud gulped it down. A stiff, cold wind blew. We went to the foot of the Watkin path on Paul's motor­cycle, left it by the side of the lane and set off uphill towards the greyness of the heights above. The wind whipped cold in our faces and the waterfalls sang and splashed through a gag of early ice. The pools shone with a slaty reflection of the sky. There was a dramatic quality about the day and the weather which spurred us on to climb the path with greater speed.

We passed the Glad­stone Rock and the disused slate quarry with its roofless stone barracks, left Cwm Llan and climbed to the ridge of the south­west spur. From it, we had a magnificent view of valleys, lakes and mountains with their heads lost in the wrathful grey clouds. The ceiling of cloud was only a few hundred feet above us and streamers of mist, like hurrying ghosts, blew by. The wind was very cold and strengthening and so we decided not to go on to the top, where there would be nothing to see. After a last look at the wintry splendour, we turned down-hill over the frozen turf and ice-glazed shale. Now a few snowflakes whirled past. It would be a bad time to be benighted on the hills, but Paul was a safe guide.

Down in the cwm once more, Paul suggested that we brew tea in the shelter of the old quarry buildings; he had the necessary materials in the rucksack. We prowled round the derelict sheds and found a few bits of wood and roots of heather for a fire. Paul soon had it lighted in the angle of the wall, where some shreds of roof would protect us from the snowflakes, falling faster now. He found a long slate and made a little bench for us to sit on in front of the fire. The daylight was fading as the afternoon advanced and the wind moaned gently round the ruins, but inside it was sheltered. We sat companionably on our little bench, aware of the great mass of Yr Wyddfa beyond, and the remains of the once busy quarry around us in that lonely place. The fire burned up and a pan full of water from the stream was soon boiling.

Shadows flickered on the walls and the brightness of the flames seemed to increase the darkness outside.
We talked while the last of the daylight drained away and the snow came faster, great flakes dashing past, so that there was almost a blizzard blowing. A few flakes fell on the fire and hissed on the hot sticks. At last the fire was dying and all the wood had been used. A heap of white ash lay on our improvised hearth, glowing a little and stirring in the draught. We had talked for a long time. It was cold and nearly dark. The wind still whistled by, but the snow had stopped and a few stars showed through rents in the clouds. We packed up the tea things and left our shelter. Our bodies grew warm as we swung down the road but wintry air was on our cheeks. For a few hours we had enjoyed the desertion of the hills and now were returning to our own corner of comfort and activity on their slopes. As we walked downhill, my hand was in Paul's warm clasp.

Ruth Janette Ruck .
First published in Hill Farm Story. Faber 1966.

Images:JA



'Paul' Work is one of those virtually unknown romantic figures of Welsh climbing. Born on the flat Lancashire coastal belt in the pleasant little town of Formby, just outside Liverpool , he was a contemporary of the great Menlove Edwards-another Formbian-who attended the same school. He followed Menlove into climbing and was proposed and seconded for membership of the Climbers Club by Menlove himself and Colin Kirkus. Although he never matched the legendary pair in the technical department, he was a great explorer of the less frequented areas of Western Snowdonia where he established dozens of esoteric and infrequently climbed lower grade routes. In particular on the vegetated 400' cliffs of Diffwys on Moel Hebog, The equally verdant Aberglaslyn Pass, the cliffs of Moel Dyniewyd and Cwm Tregalen.
Probably his best known climbs-relatively speaking- are Christmas Climb on Dyniewyd and Canyon Rib above Aberglaslyn Pass. Paul Work and his wife Ruth lived in the shadow of Moel Dyniewyd where they ran a smallholding for many years until his death in the 1990's.