Thursday 31 December 2009

Coming up: Tony Moulam remembers early days in the Arans

In the new year we get back into the swing of things with an article written exclusively for Footless Crow by veteran Welsh activist, Tony Moulam. Anyone compiling a list of their favourite Welsh climbs will almost certainly  have a fair few Moulam routes on their hit list....
( Mur y Niwl..Merlin..Oberon..Angel Pavement..Scratch..Christmas Curry.etc)
However,it was away from the honeypot crags of North Wales that Tony found another world of 'peace and solitude'. In 'Early days at Cwm Cywarch' he describes visting this beautiful quiet valley for the first time and meeting and climbing with The King of Mid Wales..John 'Fritz' Sumner. Within a few years he had established what the current guidebook describes as ' a magnificent mountaineering route'. The three star classic... Acheron.

Photo: Climbers on John Sumner's classic 'Will o the Wisp': P Stasiw©

Thursday 24 December 2009

Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda !

 Carneddau wild ponies above Ogwen Valley:N Wales

That's Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all those contributors,readers and everyone who has sent their good wishes. Coincidentally, it's just about three months since Footless Crow took to the cyber skies with it's first article. David Craig's lovely 'Falling Down' piece. In that time the mix of exclusive previously unpublished articles and works drawn from the archives appears to have worked rather well I think. The fact that Footless Crow has put on 500 new readers a month since that time shows that the blogazine is starting to find its niche in the world of outdoor writing.
Of course, it's all a work in progress so for 2010; more new articles and archived material. A much wider contributor base and hopefully, I'll be able to persuade female contributors to come on board and also offer young unpublished writers a platform for their work.
Rather belatedly, I hope to start introducing environmental articles and how about a bit of culture!
Book reviews,photography,mountain art and even poetry ?
One or two exciting things on the horizon which have to be confirmed but should make quite a splash if it all comes together, this space !
Now then.... I'm off for a mince pie and glass of rather rough vin rouge in front of the yule fire. Have a good holiday and see you in the new year. 

john appleby

Friday 18 December 2009

The Leader

Don Roscoe climbing on a Yorkshire gritstone outcrop in the early 1960's.Don Roscoe ©

After discovering Edward  Whymper's "Scrambles in the Alps" at the local library Don Roscoe was inspired with a desire to climb but back in the late 1940's climbers were few on the ground and getting started was quite a problem.  Fortunately, at the age of 15, while exploring the old copper mines at Alderley Edge near Manchester he met Alan Braddock who,it transpired,rock climbed and agreed to take him out to Dovestones the next weekend.  He did two routes, leading the second (a Severe) and he was hooked.
Alan informed him that he was going into the RAF the following week for five years. Don then enlisted his old school pal, Eric Price, bought the Laddow Area guide at vast expense - two shillings and six pence, about two weeks pocket money or, in modern currency, 12p.  Armed with an ex-roadworks piece of hemp rope they set out to explore the Grit.  Don, being the experienced climber was the leader.  During their excursions they met and climbed with Ray Greenall and Ron Moseley and then Les Wright and Don Whillans.  The Rock and Ice was just being formed at this time. Don Whillans invited them to join the infant club and they became founder members.
From then on it is history.  Don Whillans and Joe Brown were, of course the stars, but it was a strong and cohesive group of good climbers of the day.  Don Roscoe, egged on by Val Brown (who earned his eternal thanks), left his job as a GPO engineer and became a teacher, later got an instructor post at Plas y Brenin and eventually took a post at University College of North Wales, Bangor where he taught on the Outdoor Activities course for Post Graduate students in the School of Education.  Don, now 75, is still an active rock climber and thinks that sport routes are a much better bet for old crumblies with leading aspirations than Trad. routes done with a hemp rope and hob nailed boots, 'though not so exciting'!

The Leader

The next few moves were obvious, uninviting and crucial, retreat was out of the question and horizontal progress offered no easy solution. Not an unfamiliar situation to most leaders perhaps, but for me, then a ten year old schoolboy, it was the first time. Sounds of people playing on the beach below and out of sight of the little zawn drifted up but barely impinged on my consciousness. They seemed to emanate from another, more remote world. The reality of my world had become narrowed to a few feet of rock (If it could be described as such) upon which I was alone, unable to move up or down and not a little gripped.

This was the endless summer of youth which remembers no rainy days and I was spending a holiday on the Isle of Man. Even at this age the joys of the beach held little interest for me, but this particular beach, whereon my grandmother was comfortably esconced in her deck-chair, held other attractions. It was backed by a line of low cliffs which promised untold delights to a small boy whose imagination and desire had been stirred by the odd photograph of a rock climber clad impressively in nailed boots and tweeds with a hemp rope accentuating his airy pose. This was it! Now I could have a go.

And so it was that I came, after satisfactory preliminary forays on the smaller crags, to the little zawn. It was deeply cut back into the cliff and had a dark and mysterious atmosphere which both excited and repelled me at the same time. Once inside I found myself in a world of steep, grey rock streaked here and there with bird droppings and other remains of the nesting sites of the gulls. I don't know how high the cliff was, I suppose that it was no more than about thirty feet, but in my memory it looms immense, rearing up to the patch of blue, summer sky which marked the rim.

Could it be climbed? It looked as though it might be possible; I could see a line of cracks, little corners and ledges leading invitingly upward. With a surge of excitement I swung up onto the first ledge and began the ascent. I was clad, appropriately enough, in what would today be regarded as the best gear for the job--a pair of shorts. Alas no chalk bag and on my feet a pair of gym shoes. I still thank my lucky stars that flip-flops were not in fashion in those days ! At first all went well and I made rapid progress to a point some ten feet from the top where I came to the impasse. The good, sound rock suddenly changed- in the way sea cliffs do- to a very steep bank of mud into which were embedded a number of pebbles. I tested one of these and it gave way, cascading to the bed of the zawn in a little cloud of dust forcibly reminding me of my somewhat precarious position.

Ten minutes later I was still there. A growing dread was gnawing at my stomach. A tentative attempt to reverse had convinced me that this was out as I couldn't see what I had used to get up. Sideways movement was limited and still left me below the mud. I leaned my head against the surface and felt sorry for myself. I was hot, dirty, a little scratched and could feel the sweat running down my face. The top was so near, if only I could just move up a little. I studied the mud bank more closely, testing and discarding pebbles until I thought that I had located a few which would bear my weight. Slowly, keeping my weight as well distributed as I could, I eased upwards. Really frightened now I hardly dared to breathe. Another move and the tufts of grass were invitingly within reach. The urge to grab was strong but instinctively I seemed to know that this could spell disaster. A careful reach and my fingers were curled into the vegetation and then I was on top gasping with relief.

I lay there in the grass for a few minutes recovering my composure and reliving the events of the last half hour. They remain as vivid now as they did then nearly forty years ago. Perhaps this accounts for my marked aversion to climbs with loose finishes (It would doubtless emerge on the psychiatrist's couch). As I lay there I suddenly felt for the first of many times that bubbling surge of joy rising within me at the successful solution to a problem which had appeared to offer nought but a literally crushing defeat. I got to my feet and ran down to that other, more prosaic world with the wild joy still strong within me. I knew that there would be other times.
Don Roscoe©

Photo:Don now 75 climbing at Lola Montessa-Costa Blanca recently: Don Roscoe©

First published in The Climbers Club journal 1983. Thanks to Don for permission to re-publish and The Climbers Club for their cooperation.

Monday 14 December 2009

Coming up: Rock and Ice man... Don Roscoe

This Friday...a rare piece by someone who was at the heart of the UK's legendary Rock and Ice Club in the 1950's, Don Roscoe.
Don began his climbing career by exploring the northern outcrops around Manchester with school friends and a 'proper climber' whom he met down a copper mine.
Eventually he was invited to join the Rock and Ice club by non other than Don Whillans himself and the rest as they say is history. Still active on the rock face in his seventies and living in North Wales, Friday's article sees Don recall more innocent days.

Don Roscoe on Phoenix at Shining Clough: Don Roscoe©

Friday 11 December 2009

Gentleman Fred

Fred Botterill has never quite created the impact of his Lakeland contemporaries from that Golden Age of exploration in the late 19th, early 20th century. Figures like O G Jones, Haskett-Smith, The Abraham Brothers, Siegfried Herford et al... However, in 1903 the bold Yorkshireman succeeded in creating one of 'the' Lakeland test pieces of the day and one of the UK's early VS (US 5.8) climbs. The futuristic eponymously named slab route on Scafell which was considered so hard at the time that even the great Siegfried Herford backed off it, considering the climb too committing and dangerous without top rope inspection.
Despite creating more classic Cumbrian climbs,notably North West Climb on Pillar Rock and Abbey Climb on The Napes, Fred Botterill effectively gave up the ghost after he was involved in a fatal accident on another hard route of the time, Geoffrey Solly's Victorian tour de force, Eagles' Nest Ridge upon which he saw his leader, Thomas Rennison fall to his death.After that incident until his death in 1920, Fred Botterill withdrew from the rock face and quietly faded from the limelight.

Fred Botterill on the first ascent of Botterill's Slab: Photo JH Taylor courtesy of The Fell and Rock Club©

Clearing away the moss from little cracks here and there I managed to climb slowly upwards for about 60 feet. The holds then dwindled down to little more than finger-end cracks. I looked about me and saw, some 12 feet higher. a nest about a foot square covered with dried grass. Eight feet higher,another nest and a traverse leading back to where the crack opened into a respectable chimney. If I could only reach hold of that first nest what remained would be comparatively easy. It seemed to be a more difficult thing than I had ever done but I was anxious to tackle it. Not wishing to part with the axe I seized it between my teeth and with my fingers in the best available cracks I advanced. I cannot tell with certainty how many holds there were; but I distinctly remember that when within two feet of the nest I had a good hold with my right hand on the face, and so ventured with my left to tear away the dried grass on the nest, However, the grass removed from the ledge, a nice little resting place was exposed-painfully small, but level and quite safe. I scrambled on to it, but on account of the weight of the rope behind me, it was only with great care and some difficulty that I was able to turn round. At last I could sit down on the nest and look around me.

The view was glorious. I could see Scafell Pike and a party round the cairn. Far below was another group intent on watching our movements, a lady being amongst the party. I once read in a book on etiquette that a gentleman in whatever situation of life should never forget his manners towards the other sex, so I raised my hat, though I wonder if the author had ever dreamed of a situation like mine. I now discovered that our 80 feet of rope had quite run out and that my companions had already attached an additional 60 feet. Further, I began to wonder what had become of my axe, and concluded I must unthinkingly have placed it somewhere lower down. There it was, stuck in a little crack about five feet below me. Not knowing what was yet to come I felt I must recover it, so I lowered myself until I could reach it with my foot. I succeeded in balancing it on my boot, but in bringing it up it slipped and clattering on the rocks for a few feet took a final leap and stuck point downwards in the Rake's Progress. Standing up again I recommenced the ascent and climbed on to the second nest au cheval, from where, after a brief rest, I began to traverse back to the crack. This was sensational but perfectly safe. As usual I started with the wrong foot, and after taking two steps was obliged to go back. The next time I started with the left foot, then came the right, again the left, and lastly a long stride with the right, brought me into the chimney. The performance was what might have been called a pas de quatre. Complimentary sounds came from my companions below, but without stopping to acknowledge these I pulled myself up ten feet higher on to a good grass-covered ledge to the right of the crack, smaller but very similar to the Tennis Court Ledge of Moss Ghyll.
'How is it now?' my companions inquired. 'Excellent,' I replied, 'a good belaying pin and just room for three. Do you feel like following?' Without answering me the second man commenced the traverse to the chimney edge whilst I carefully belayed the rope. Up he came in splendid style and without stopping, taking only a quarter of the time it had taken me. He then untied and we threw down the 140 feet of rope to our third, who soon joined us. We hailed a climbing friend who was watching from the Progress and invited him to join us, but he very generously refused and said he would hover near lest we might not be able to advance further and so require the aid of a rope from above. We next christened our berth 'Coffin Ledge' built a cairn on it and left our names on a card.

Starting off again a long stride with the left foot took the leader back into the crack and a stiff climb of 20 to  30 feet landed us all into an extraordinary chimney, which though only wide enough to comfortably admit the body sideways ran right into the crag for about 15 feet. Like the crack below it leaned to the left at angle of 70 degrees or so. About 25 feet up, chock-stones and debris formed a roof, suspended in the middle some six feet below it, were three more chock-stones.When the second man had joined me he exclaimed with astonishment; 'What a place.... How can we get out?' 'Wait a bit,' I answered, although I could not then see a way. However, I went as far as I could into the crack and with restricted use of back and knee climbed upwards until the level of the suspended chock‑stones was reached; from there a narrow ledge rendered these easily accessible. They were securely wedged and safe to stand upon. The ledge continued along out of the crack until the most outward chock-stone of the roof was within reach.
I seized with both hands, and a steady pull upwards landed me into the Putrell Chimney of Keswick Brothers' Climb.

Fred Botterill: First published in the Yorkshire Rambers Club Journal 1903/04

First Fell and Rock Club meet. Fred Botterill right of George Seatree(with hat)centre of picture. Photo courtesy of The Fell and Rock Club©

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Coming Up: Tales of derring-do in the Lakes.

This Friday The Crow flies back 100 years to the English Lake District and recalls a contemporary epic first ascent.
The period around the closing of the Victorian era and the dawning of the 20th century was something of a golden age in UK Climbing. In the English Lake District, figures like O G Jones, The Abraham Brothers, Haskett-Smith and Siegfried Herford had left the gully epoch behind and had moved out onto the mountain faces, creating routes which are still considered classics to this day. In Wales, figures like Archer Thomson, George Leigh Mallory and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young were equally creative.
However, in the early years of the Edwardian era it was the activists in the north country who held the advantage over their Welsh counterparts, creating routes which technically had the edge. Friday's article describes one such route.

Photo: Napes' Needle (The Abraham Brothers.) Courtesy of The Fell and Rock Club©

Friday 4 December 2009

The Art of a Climber

Bill Wynn was born in Chester where he gained a scholarship to the city's Grosvenor College of Art. Whilst there he was awarded the Randolph Caldecott Memorial Prize but did not attach much importance to it at the time. It was not until 1996 and the celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic of the 150th anniversary of the painter and illustrator's birth that Bill learned of and made contact with the thriving Caldecott Society and its sister organisation in America. After art school and national service he worked in advertising agencies In Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.
Following his marriage to Marjorie Woolley in 1959, and their move to a cottage on the edge of the Derbyshire moors, he set up as a freelance commercial artist, practising this occupation for the rest of his life. In 1964 the family moved to Trefriw in the Conwy Valley and some years later to an isolated small-holding above the eastern rim of the valley, engaged mainly in commissioned work for children's publications, magazines and television storyboards. From time to time he also taught art at Llandrillo College.

These commitments represented only a fraction of his output. On holidays -- in Mallorca, Corsica, the Greek Islands, Kenya -- he carried sketchbooks which form pictorial diaries. And wherever he went, from the local agricultural show to the Venice Carnival, on the spot or within a few hours, he captured whatever caught his eye with whatever materials lay to hand. To the amusement or mortification of his friends, he often indulged his passion for the figure in caricature or cartoon. He expressed it more seriously in occasional studies of climbers in action and in the erotic art to which he devoted much time in later years. He was at ease in most traditional media but also enjoyed improvisation: he would paint with a feather, draw with a charred stick from the fire, use the dregs from the coffee pot as a wash; a number of his most characteristic pieces are found to be on the backs of college memos or cardboard boxes. He rarely exhibited and never showed the whole range of his work.

Bill started climbing about 1950 with Keith Shone, a fellow-student who was to remain a life-long friend. They were self-taught but almost immediately stumbled upon the unexplored limestone quarry at Maeshafn. On joining the Chester Mountaineering Club their expertise advanced and strengthened by the recruitment of Frank Corner the Maeshafn campaign gained impetus. Clwyd Rock now describes, under names given by later visitors, twenty climbs listed simply as pre-1974. Some photographs survive from not later than 1953 and one shows Corner leading their "Sweat Crack" which could easily be identified.

For almost fifty years Bill enjoyed climbing and hill-walking. (He also had a partiality for adventures on water In unseaworthy canoes, preferring to repair or improvise rather than to buy modern equipment, and he was once an on-the-spot entrant in the Nevis River Race.) In the fifties, at a modest standard, he climbed fairly widely in Britain and also at Arolla and Chamonix. On moving to Wales he teamed up on rare occasions with mainstream activists but mainly kept the company of an older group, centred around Dick Morsley and Len Baggott, from the North Wales Mountaineering Club. He developed a taste for snow gullies at that time and in later years he had the pleasure of excursions with his sons, one an accomplished rock-climber, the other a keen fell-runner and alpinist.
Mountain painting burgeoned with the Romantics but it began five hundred years ago in Europe, in ancient times in the East. It has engaged artists of such world-wide repute and has excited so much commentary as to stand within landscape painting -for mountaineers at least- as a closed genre. By contrast hardly any artists have produced substantial collections of climbers in action.(In Britain, at present, the only other sizable body of work seems to be that of Shelley Hocknell.) The reason is obvious. It's not that leaders are unprepared to hang on while the second sets up an easel or sharpens a pencil. Rather, it's that rock-climbing began about 100 years ago, alpine climbing about 150 years ago: but the camera appeared 160 years ago.

In Victorian times engravers had used their skills to illustrate the first mountaineering books and, since Whymper himself was an engraver, some realism was introduced in this work. But by the time of the Abraham brothers the camera was becoming, with difficulty, portable. Rapid development quickly made it the easy means of recording action. The artist, however, has other resources and Bill Wynn had a crucial combination of these. He was gifted with astonishing eidetic recall. He had a strong interest in kinaesthetics. And his work as a commercial artist had reinforced his natural decisiveness, fluency of line, and ability to discard the unnecessary.

Before his death, two groups of climbing paintings had already passed into private hands. Exceptionally, one of these groups (exhibited as 'The Maneaters') was inspired by John Cleare's black-and-white photographs in Tony Smythe's Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia, though no-one unfamiliar with the book could have guessed at a photographic origin. The cliffs appeared in sparing suggestion, the tiny figures were located perhaps with the simple pin-pointing of a red helmet. They were acquired by the one-time owner of Cobden's Hotel at Capel Curig and their subsequent fate is unknown. The other collection is that of Edwin Hammond and it is hoped that all but one of these paintings will be on loan at Bretton flail -- the missing work being slightly damaged after two months' entombment by an avalanche in the Alps last winter.

After Bill's death his work was found to include about eighty further climbing drawings and paintings. A number of these are roughs and show his affection for the cartoon. Almost all are small-scale since he was by inclination a miniaturist and his preferred practice was to work at the finished size for the printed page. The immediacy and originality of this work is evident. Much of it dates from around 1970 and centres on snow gullies or classic climbs. The figures are draped in old-fashioned equipment and winter gear, the sun isn't shining. The sense of effort and purpose, however, is striking and these paintings seem to have an advantage over technically perfect colour photographs of extremists on sundrenched rock. In those photographs the viewer's curiosity is frustrated by the one crucial matter which is forever hidden -- the nature of those few square centimetres of interface between the fingertips and the rock. In a Wynn drawing the figure has a comprehensible lodgement and the balance and involvement of the whole body is understood.

Bill would have drawn great satisfaction from this occasion. Since he can't speak for himself it seems appropriate to remember him briefly. When people summed him up they said that he was a 'character ' and there's no more accurate word. There were two sides to that character. Meeting him at a party or a disco you'd have thought him the gregarious type. He'd drink with the best, he'd tell immensely entertaining stories, and finally he'd get up and dance with exuberance until the music stopped. When his name came up, people smiled: or they smiled and shook their heads. On the other hand he preferred to live three or four miles from the nearest shop or pub. And he was apparently able to hole up there, sometimes for weeks at a time, without getting cabin fever. Perhaps he had a contract deadline, or was simply engrossed in the loving restoration of further additions to the huge display of old trade artefacts and obsolete agricultural implements through which Pant y Rhedyn had become a memorial to forgotten skills.

In fact, he had a strong streak of territoriality, planting 700 trees to shield the house from the little-travelled lane. The uninvited visitors who came because it was their duty -­building inspectors, policemen, Jehovah's Witnesses -- must have groaned at the thought of a second visit. (The building Inspectors wanted him to do things their way, the policemen wanted him to lock up his arsenal of firearms, the Jehovah's Witnesses wanted to save him, an unrealistic aim.)
His independence of mind shocked some and delighted others. A new Head of Art and Design at Llandrillo called a preliminary meeting of his fifteen staff. Having seated them In a semi-circle he asked them to introduce themselves in turn and make suggestions for closer co-ordination of their work. The first speakers stumbled through. Bill stood up, looked the group over, and said that his name was Bill Wynn, that he was there to teach painting and drawing, and that he knew how to do it.
Then he declared that he thought the whole exercise unnecessary and a waste of everybody's time. This announcement lifted a burden from some newly appointed staff who had been anxiously rehearsing their parts.

Contemporary art didn't inevitably impress him. Arriving early for a private viewing of an exhibition of modern sculpture he seized his chance, arranging his coat and scarf around a man-sized scrap metal construction before moving a chair to a strategic position. Then he observed as little knots of people drifted up to discuss it, only a few glancing uneasily over their shoulders.
He was able to find grim humour in dismal circumstance. Many years ago, intending a Sunday walk up Pen yr Oleu Wen, he decided to avoid the crowds by starting about a half mile down the Bethesda road and taking a shallow gully through the cliffs of Braich Ty Du. At the outfall of this gully he discovered the body of a man which had clearly lain there a long time and was clad only in street clothes and shoes. He returned to the Rescue Post to notify the team on standby, who were puzzled at his refusal to guide them. Then he explained that he'd found an old Mini tyre by the roadside and had propped it on top of the wall: if they walked straight up from that point they would find- the spot in ten minutes. Replanning his day, he set off up the Glyders, aware of a great deal of activity when he risked a backward glance. On returning to the car park some hours later he found a single policeman loitering and asked if everything had been sorted out. A confrontation followed, Bill insisting that he couldn't spend his day out gaping at the emergency services in action.

Called to a Police Station a day or two later to make a statement, he was surprised at the presence of a senior officer and at the turn the interview took.
Thank you, sir. And now, if you wouldn't mind answering a few questions.
Mr Wynn, did you recognise this man?
Have you, at any time in your life, lived in Birmingham?
No? Never? Well, when did you last visit the city?
Do you have any interests in any taxi business in Birmingham?
Do you know anybody in the taxi business in North Wales?
And you tell us that you've never lived in Birmingham? And you're certain you never met this man?
The body was, in fact, that of a young man from Liverpool. What Bill didn't know was that the police had an open file on a man from the Midlands, missing for some time but whose abandoned car had been found in the area, and that the Chief of Gwynedd CID had immediately hastened up to Ogwen. Finally he was dismissed with the reminder that he'd be needed at the Inquest and the remark that the police might want to talk to him again. The interview had delighted as well as astonished him. It confirmed everything he believed about authority. Probably the only authority he could ever have acknowledged would be that of someone who could draw a perfect line.

Harold Drasdo©

The above piece was originally penned to accompany a series of exhibitions held after Bill's death in 1998 which included shows at The Electric Mountain in Llanberis and The Mountain Festival of Literature at Bretton Hall. Thanks to Harold for permission to re-publish this work and to Marjorie Wynn for her support and cooperation.

All photographs and images Marjorie Wynn Collection ©

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Coming Up: Bill Wynn....Impressions of Climbers.

This Friday, Harold Drasdo writes about his late friend Bill Wynn. Probably the best climber/artist you’ve never heard of ! After settling in the N Wales uplands via Derbyshire, Bill earned his bread and butter as a commercial artist. Illustrating children’s books, television storyboards and working as an art tutor. However, it is through his passion for rock climbing that his unique style really breaks free from the creative shackles of commerce and finds its true expression through his exciting impressions of climbers in action. So many artists describe themselves as ‘mountain artists’ but few have captured so well or so imaginatively the human form engaged in mountain activity.