Friday, 24 July 2015

A Climber Extraordinaire

I was getting down to work when a voice came on the telephone, strongly Lancashire and alive with excitement. I won’t try to put it in dialect.
“Tom, it’s Stan Bradshaw. I’ve been at the Munros on my own for a week. It’s been marvellous. Yesterday I was above the clouds, at 3000 feet in the sun with nothing but mist all round. I’ve done nineteen Munro tops, and I want to make it 20. How about joining me for Ben Challum tomorrow? It’s my last day. Can you make it?”

Before such enthusiasm what can you say? Especially when the man is Stan, whom I met for the first time on the Cuillin ridge a year ago. On that occasion I had watched Stan and his friend Frank Milner pick their way down Bidein Druim nan Ramh on their way to finishing the whole Cuillin Ridge in a single day. But alas, they had failed on the Bhasteir Tooth, and thirty-one hours from setting out they were back at their Loch Coruisk base.

By any standard that was a good attempt. I drove north to meet him, because he went back to the Cuillin last June and I wanted to hear the story of his triumph. Stan is 63, and wonders if he is the oldest man to have done it? Small, bald-headed, light and wiry, he had the coffee boiling when I arrived on him at breakfast-time for Ben Challum. During our climb he told me all about the most wonderful day of his life, beginning at 3.30 a.m. in Glen Brittle and finishing at Sligachan at 11 p.m.

“It was perfect, except for taking a third man along who slowed up Frank and me. But he gave up halfway, and we got moving then. We had a cache of food planted at the Inaccessible Pinnacle, and once we got it we felt sure nothing could stop us. We were tired when we got to the Bhasteir Tooth, and once again we couldn’t find the route, although we had made a reconnaissance in advance. We wasted a bit of time and energy, but once we were up we could relax, for we knew that nothing could stop us getting to Sgurr nan Gillean. It was beautiful! Everything about was grand—the colours, the sea and, swinging away from us, the marvellous ridge and the corries we had traversed.”

The Cullins painted by William Mervyn Glass
Telling the tale to me as we climbed, I noticed that he never seemed to pause for breath as the top of Ben Challum came nearer and nearer. I had never thought of it as an exciting hill, but Stan grew excited as the corrie opened up and a whirling flock of thirty ptarmigan crossed in front of us, white as doves. The cause of the alarm was immediately apparent, when over the ridge came an eagle, its broad wings beating as it crossed our flank.
Strangely, there was a flock of twites up here, too, despite the frozen ground and the cold wind that made us put up our anorak hoods. It was fine to get into the lee of the cairn and have a cup of hot soup and a jam butty while watching the moving black clouds obliterate peaks, or pass and reveal winking eyes of lochans, one of them pin-pointing our route of descent by the south corrie.

Nice to jog down the rocky corrie sweeping down to Lochan Dubh and listen to Stan telling me of his lifestyle as a tripe manufacturer, cross-country runner, fell-racer and hill-walker. He told me how the building up of his business hadn’t left him any time for climbing until he was 40, but that he had always been a harrier.

“I do four miles every day before breakfast in any weather. And I run six miles every evening after work, before tea. I’ll run six miles tonight, and I’ve done so every day since I’ve been up here. After coming back from the hill I have a cup of tea, then go out for my run and come back to a big meal I eat a lot.”
In fact, I did not know what a remarkable individual Stan was until I talked to his Cuillin companion, Frank Milner. Stan, it seems, is a legend in his own country, having at the age of 48 knocked a little off the time taken by Bob Graham to round 42 Lakeland summits in 24 hours, a record which stood for 28 years until Alan Heaten did the second round. Stan was the third man to do it.
Another of his feats was a winter run of 120 miles and 20,000 feet of up and down work to link the two highest pubs in England, Tan Hill in Yorkshire and the Cat and Fiddle in Cheshire.

Doing this with a couple of friends, they took only 51 hours and 49 minutes, without sleep, in rain, snow, mist, hail, thunder and lightning. They set out on Boxing Day. Stan has also done all the summits over 2500 feet in Lakeland in a continuous walk, 105 miles of ascent and 77 summits, all between Saturday morning and Tuesday morning.

Ah, well, it is encouraging to meet a driving force like Stan, who doesn’t know where to stop and who refuses to grow up or grow old. I went to the funeral of another man of that kind a few weeks ago, Dr J. H. B. Bell, with whom I had the pleasure of climbing in 1968 when he was in his seventies, yet he was doing the Munros for the second time and planning to go to the Alps that summer.

Bell was an Auchtermuchty man, chemist, scholar and editor of The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal. He was one of the big names in British climbing between the wars. Small and lightly built, like Stan Bradshaw, Bell at the age of around fifty pioneered some of the hardest climbs ever done on Ben Nevis. The Orion routes on the North-East Buttress will be amongst the finest of the Scottish classic routes for situation and difficulty.

Now he is dead, a great character gone, while Stan Bradshaw is off to the Canaries to climb a volcano in Tenerife. The great thing about life is to live it to the full when you have the chance. It’s the best recipe for happiness.

Tom Weir 

Stan Bradshaw Guardian obituary