Sunday 27 November 2011

Inside the giant's skull

Birkness Combe

If you walk away from Malham Cove along the mossy edge of the beck, then stop and lean backwards until you can just see the rim of the cliff at the bottom of your field of vision, the turfy slopes at either side join on to the foliage of the trees to compose a huge circular frame, a border of leaves and grass and rock surrounding the broad blue pond of the sky: the round blue eye of the sky, with the crag as the exposed bone of the orbital ridge and the leaves as lashes.

And once you have focused the rock as bone and the veg­etation as its soft, ephemeral contents, this image combines with the great age of the limestone, its many traces of earlier lives (strata, fossils, veins where waterfalls once coursed), to create a vision of a derelict giant spreadeagled across Yorkshire where he fell 280 million years ago, one arm reaching Gordale, shoulder blades laid bare between here and the Tarn, a fist clenched at Attermire ...Such are the trains of thought, or visions, that can come to us when we have time to settle into the climbing landscape, to grow intimately at home in its dales and corries, especially if you're working on a guidebook and have to spend hundreds of hours, spread over dozens of days, eyeing up the crags, noticing their whole shapes as well as their details, picking out landmarks from all points of the compass, memorising the paths of approach that will lead clim­bers' footsteps most conveniently to the starts and also the slopes and drops that will take them comfortably back down.

Years of this left me feeling at one with Buttermere. It had let me into its fastnesses and I have let it occupy my head. Yet five years before I had climbed there just once (Spider Wall and Rib and Wall on Grey Crag) and even  after dozens of visits with Bill Peascod, it was still just one of eight Lakeland guidebook areas and meant less to me than Langdale or Borrowdale. Then, in the autumn of 1984, the Fell & Rock deputed Rick Graham to write the Buttermere half of the new But­termere and Eastern Fells. He found he no longer had enough knowledge of the routes from Moderate to Hard VS/5a, and Bill Peascod had suggested me as his col­laborator. Since then I have climbed twelve thousand feet of rock in Newlands and Buttermere — 73 routes, 10 of them new or new variants (on top of the 24 and 6000 feet I'd done before) and drove 2460 miles, mostly to Honister, Gatesgarth, and Little Town.

Exciting times gleam in the memory: jamming and laying-away on the fierce blade-edges of the two vertical cracks on Carnival (Eagle Crag), climbing with Rick; exploring with Howard Warner from Win­dermere up the dizzy terrain of Easter But­tress (Eagle) — an inter-War route that deserves to be known among the classics, Gimmer Crack and Grooved Wall (Pillar) and Overhanging Bastion; jamming at my arms' limit, then tip-toeing slab wise with no pro­tection, then swimming up through ver­tical heather, to put up a new VS, The Legacy (for Bill), on Waterfall Buttress, Newlands, climbing with John Baker and Tim Noble from Wiltshire.

But the days that have let me more deeply into that country than I had thought possible anywhere outside Scot­land have been the solo days, climbing all day on Striddle, Fleetwith Pike, and Min­ers', Newlands, and Grey and Eagle, Birk­ness Combe, with no gear except my Fires, no company except the people in my head, no talk except the chatter of the old guidebook in my pocket, climbing and down climbing continuously for five or six hours with my pen and my glasses as my only equipment until cragging felt more like swimming, striking out through the crests and troughs of the rock, following its currents, cast thankfully up on its shores after days when it was possible to become so attuned that 4b or even 4c pitches felt as comfortable as walking round the garden.

William Heaton Cooper Grey Crag illustration for a previous Fell and Rock Buttermere guidebook.

It is in the great corries and partly enclosed dales — Birkness Combe and Bleaberry Combe, and Newlands near Dale Head and the side dale under Haystacks and the hummocky hollows below Round How near Dubs — that the 'Malham experience' is most vivid, when you realise that you're in the midst of a tract of ambient nature that surrounds your thoughts as snugly as your skull. And the greatest of these is Birkness.

To me (with native memories of the great corrie on Lochnagar, the north face of Liathach and Coire Mhic Fhearchair on Beinn Eighe and the colossal glaciated scoops on the Speyside faces of the Cairngorms), entering a corrie is like com­ing home. Part of me originated here before memory began. "Mere dreams, mere dreams! Yet Homer had not sung
'Had he not found it certain beyond dreams That out of life's own self-delight had sprung The abounding, glittering jet . ."

The great hanging basin of it looms up there, cloud steaming from its lips in wet summer months, filling with thick blue in October, dark-numb in winter as though the glaciers had come again, its upper atmosphere crossed by slanting sun rays as the light gets through at the end of the day. You lift yourself and your load at a steady plod up the path from Gatesgarth which didn't exist at all before Bill Peascod and Bert Beck began to forge their ways up Eagle in the summer of 1940.
The green breast of the combe is gentle and the sun still lights it before moving inexorably round to spend the day behind High Crag and High Stile. Surmount the breast and then the squared whale-forehead of Eagle, just another chunk of mountain on first sighting from the dale-bottom, juts up, separating itself from the ragged outcrops of Brant Bield to its left, darkling at you, taking you on. But those rigours are still to come; down here a shadowed peace sur­rounds you as though the land had risen up behind you and sealed you gently in.

Nobody ever lived in Birkness, no farm­ing families even summered up here with their flocks, according to the old shieling system; but the turf that makes little lawns beside the beck has been so well dunged and cropped by the Herdwicks that they are tailor-made for a tent-site and the boulder nearby has had a dry-stone shelter built up against it — a nice conundrum for the archaeologists of the 30th century.

So you enter the skull-casque of the mountain and become the one thought the giant is entertaining at the present time. The occasional echoing yell of "Safe!" or "Climbing!" disturbs the broad, contained silence of the combe as little as the ravens laughing gutturally to each other in the air above Grey Crag. All Birk­ness lacks is a tarn. Nearly all Lakeland corries face north-east, in the lee of the snow-bearing winds. The helm wind streaming over the ridge eddies when it swoops down into the corrie, as you can see when the wavelets on Bleaberry Tarn move towards the mountain, against the wind, in gusty weather.

The Buttermere Fells by Bill Peascod.

In the Indian summer of one  year I rose into Bleaberry Combe by the newly ­masoned path up from the north end of Buttermere to find the cushioned slopes of Red Pike quietly on fire with blaeberry leaves that 'the devil had swiped with his tail' — early frosts searing them the colour of water-melon flesh. The mild temp­erature was hatching out so many flies that the fish rising on the tarn were making rings as numerous as the start of a thunder-shower.

My goal was Chapel Crags. The guidebook writer must check everything, even an area described by his predecessors as 'looking quite impressive' from below but 'very slow to dry', 'very grassy', gullies 'usually wet and best avoided in summer'. Might there just be something sound and clean amongst all that suppurating lichen? Invar, possibly (210 ft., Hard Severe), on a small "continuous" buttress? or Costate Wall (170 ft., Severe), described by Mike Lynch in his encyclopedic annotations to the Soper/Allinson guide as "50 yds. R of Invar"? These delights are on the "extreme upper left-hand buttress," according to the Good Book. Extremely upper or extremely left? In this dripping maze unmistakable instructions are crucial. I never found that buttress. I did climb twenty feet up a very steep, sodden chimney-crack on the wall of the "prominent scree shoot" before decid­ing that it was insane to risk my promising career by falling out of a kind of vertical sewer.

In thinning cloud I beelined over to the south side where the moss and heather was crisp in the sunshine and I could justify my day by visiting a neglected range of out­crops, the Ennerdale Face of High Stile: "scarcely worth a special visit" but "worth including in a walk along the ridge". Well — if they formed part of an edge in the Stanage area the book would be less snooty. The crags are a line of cracked towers, high and dry on sun ward slopes in full view of Gable, Scafell, Pillar across the gulf of Ennerdale. What a gorgeous place to boulder! And more than boulder: Outside Edge (80 ft., Diff. (hard)) has a start that would fit a Severe, forcing you to haul over a blankish bulge by stretching at full arms' length for a side-pull — never an easy manoeuvre — while smearing with the feet.

His left lobe thinks Grey: follow your fancy, have a go — try out that long ram­part of slabby wall, Criss-crossed by heather cracks, between The Mole and the crown of Oxford and Cambridge Buttress — it's big, it has clean passages, why has nothing been done there? His right lobe thinks Eagle: do your duty — the seeping tangle of Border Buttress is not yet sorted out — and how many more days up here will the weather allow? Duty, in these last few weeks before the deadline, has to win, though I'd always regret it if the rampart turned out good and we'd failed to cover it. (I got up to it again the following week and found that it could be climbed anywhere at a most pleasurable V. Diff.: 60-metre sections of clean slab, wrinkled with quartz, divided by rakes of yellowing blaeberry.)

So I walk off south­eastwards along the brink of Eagle, spying familiar landmarks — the belvedere at the top of the Front's final crack, the notch where the last few metres of Central Chim­ney's hundred-and-fifty split the crag —and then spend half an hour confusing myself amongst the savage clefts that seam the Birkness Gully/Far East Buttress wing of the Eagle. Each slithering way down the collapsing turf-and-gravel banks looks no more reassuring than any other, I commit myself to the last steep, then spend a fascinating quarter of an hour surmounting heathered ribs to find myself peering down  hundred-foot crevasses with unclimbable dank and sheer walls, places that hold the night's murkiness at midday. Toil back up a rib, clamber precariously into the next cre­vasse, make headway gradually while the drop on my right deepens but I am at home in the giant's brainpan now, one of the more accustomed thoughts in his ancient circuits, my head and limbs are merging into his and I thank goodness more fer­vently than ever

These hours of solitary freedom transfer you out of human culture and into a sort of provisional kinship with the animals and the plants. I may never again so nearly share air-space with peregrines as during an explosive moment this summer. I'm down climbing round the heathery verge of a crag, searching for some safe way back onto its face — a brown ignition near my feet — hot streak in mid-air — a peregrine is bolting off into space above the dale, a frantic fire-flaucht, zigging headlong side­ways and back on course, shrinking in moments to a bullet at the far end of my vision. (It was probably a male in his first breeding season.

The birds evolved long after the giant's prime. In his moribund state they must seem to him like delirious thoughts of his own — coloured, wayward images — as they peck and fiddle at his bones to find sites and nesting-materials. On the front of Malham Cove the martin's nest, raising three broods by September. They stick their cups of mud to the wall — wall in the climbers'- not the builders' sense — as they will have done for thousands of generations before houses were invented.

David Craig

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Bonington and Steck in Mountain Heritage Trust Eiger gig

Ueli Steck: Photo Schweizer Illustreierte

The North Wall of the Eiger is a supreme mountaineering challenge. Its history is wildly dramatic, full of adventure and tragedy. From the earliest attempts by German and Austrian climbers in the 1930s, the best of each generation of climbers has taken on the Eiger’s fearsome rockfall and shadowy reputation to make their own mark. Two of the world’s most famous Eiger climbers, Sir Chris Bonington and Swiss legend Ueli Steck, will tell of their encounters with the Eiger in a unique lecture evening at the Royal Geographic Society to raise funds for the Mountain Heritage Trust.

The Event
The lecture will be held in the Ondjaate Theatre at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 1st December 2011 at 7pm followed by a private dinner at the Polish Club, 55 Exhibition Road, London SW7 2PN, just 150m from the theatre.
Tickets for the lecture: £25.00
Tickets for the dinner to 'Friends of MHT': £50.00 to include pre-dinner champagne, a three course dinner with wine and coffee. Tables of 10 can be organised in advance on request.

To book the dinner, please contact Maxine Willett, Archivist of the Mountain Heritage Trust, on: 01768 840911 or email

Who are the Mountain Heritage Trust ?

The Mountain Heritage Trust (MHT) was called into being in 2000 to preserve the outstanding heritage and history of British climbing and mountaineering. To date we hold an impressive and growing collection of papers, photographs, archive documents, artefacts and film which includes the Chris Bonington archive; the Alfred Gregory collection (Everest 1953); the Simon Yates collection and the papers of Joe Tasker who disappeared with Peter Boardman on Everest in 1982. We also own, amongst other items, the oxygen apparatus used by Dougal Haston when he and Doug Scott became the first Britons to stand on the summit of Everest in 1975 and the Chouinard ice hammer used by Yvon Chouinard himself when he made the direct ascent of the Diamond Couloir on Mount Kenya in 1974.

Sir Chris Bonington, Doug Scott (Vice Chair), Paul Braithwaite, John Porter, John Innerdale, Jerry Lovatt, Professor Terry Gifford, Jim Lowther, Richard Lemmey, Ron Kenyon, Julie Summers (Chair)

Monday 21 November 2011

Lines of Flight....revisited

Filming 'Lines of Flight'.

Lines of Flight is an award winning-but little seen-socio
cultural climbing film which came out in 2009/10 and was set in the industrial towns and immediate environs of West Yorkshire. Harold Drasdo-of this particular parish- offers a belated review of sorts and is impressed by the films sense of purpose.

This is a film by Sally Brown and Martin Wood set in Yorkshire and Derbyshire on the eastern side of the Pennines -- the Backbone of England. 'Lines of Flight' might be read as Means of Escape. The focus shifts intermittently. We see the free soloing of extreme rock climbs, those reaching positions in which a fall would probably result in death rather than serious injury. Or we see life in the settlements below the gritstone outcrops, edges and quarries.

It's a marvellous and wildly ambitious production, a work of art. At film festivals it's won prizes on all sides. The sense of place is fixed through establishing shots of the moors and edges to the accompaniment of readings from Daniel Defoe's Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain, 1724. They're crisply and expressively delivered by Samuel West, the film's narrator, and they bring out Defoe's restless curiosity. The strategies soon become clear. Topographical writing is looted with passages from the poetry of Wordsworth, Gerard Manley Hopkins and D.H. Lawrence. Layered underneath is a subdued musical score composed and performed by Robin Garside. It adapts to fit each scene.

Sometimes it's delicately airy as a soloist glides upward. Sometimes it's a tension-building pulse-like beat with heavy breathing as he powers his way through overhangs. Throughout the film one focus of attention segues into another without any jarring sense of dislocation, to this viewer at any rate. The filming and editing is by Richard Heap.
The strategies include the straight interview. The subjects aren't interrogated. They've simply been encouraged to talk freely about their practices, aspirations and felt rewards. I couldn't identify all of the climbers seen in action but the principal performers are named. Amongst those featured Andy Cave went straight from school to become a miner, working the deep coal seams until he saw the light, discovered the gritstone surprisingly close to his home, and qualified eventually as a professional climbing guide.

Andrew Popp is an academic, a historian, and he reflects on the meditative, almost trance-like sense of sustainment, a ritualistic kind of performance art, that hard solo can offer. He resists the suggestion that it's simply thrill-seeking. He also asks himself whether there isn't an essential selfishness in risking one's life since that would impact on others. 'Whatever does not kill us makes us strong', said Nietzche. There's some truth in it but it's an oversimplification. It might cripple us.

Graham Hoey, a teacher, ponders with the disarming modesty of all the soloists the problem of how to get work satisfaction when you're not given enough time to do a job properly. He sees solo as the purest form of the sport with great risks and great rewards. Allan Austin, hero of a bygone era, appears. I was startled and amused to see the A3 5 van in which I accompanied him on his first trips to Derbyshire and Langdale. In typically forthright manner he promotes rock climbing as the best game of all time – as thrilling as sports car racing and a lot cheaper -- and he gives a surprising and entertaining account of his own introduction. Some old footage from Ilkley, from the late forties and early fifties is incorporated in his declaration.

In counterpoise, the settlements beneath the West Riding moors and the new cities of the plain are examined. We see archive film, the hazardous activity of a Victorian steelworks, the huge garment factories, the endless production and assembly lines. Rapidly the distinctive regional character of the mill towns is erased and the camera shifts onto crowds of commuters hurrying back to work or racing around to fit shopping in. We're in a post-modern, post-industrial conurbation of new warehouses and malls which could be anywhere in Britain. "There's a shopping centre there but nobody actually lives there," someone says. Even here, though, we see a rebellious display of street dance by a pavement and railing acrobat running through his repertoire of smart moves.

He's not doing it with cap thrown down like a busker. He's doing it for fun, to release energy, to show that escape is possible anywhere and by all sorts of means.
In sharp contrast to these escapologists another class of expert witnesses is paraded. They're sociologists of a kind, professors who give their take on the world we live in. It's a world of vicious competition in which, they agree, 'we want cash' becomes 'we want more cash', a world in which as much as possible is commodified and put up for sale. Therefore in their literature they can happily use the expression 'Lines of Flight' to describe activities like walking or climbing which escape or resist commodification.

At this point I want to enter a protest at the language they use, the way they talk. It's a developed terminology which critics might attack as sociobabble. It's built from a vocabulary of high-order abstractions. Here I'm quoting from privileged information, a lengthy document supporting the film. The concept of 'lines of flight' was actually first proposed in the 1980s by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, a philosopher and a psychoanalyst. "Lines of Flight are ruptures, cuts, cracks and irregular and transverse lines of breakage, as well as folds and crease lines – interruptions without breakage – that divide a surface, landscape or space." The point is that I've taken this sentence absolutely at random from their page-long attempts at a definition. What's really needed is an effort to move down the ladder of orders of abstraction to find a language built on operational definitions.

Presently a man with feet in both action and theory appears and proceeds to interview himself. This is Martin Wood, the dreamer and fixer who directed the film. (Sally Brown is given equal credit and I assume that she is the producer and that Brown Bear Productions is her outfit.) At the time of filming Wood was lecturing at York University but he's now a Professor at Melbourne Institute of Technology. He charms us with his self-effacing manner and then happens to let out that he's soloed some or all of the desperate outings featured. He's a Renaissance Man for our times. He's sweetly reasonable. Nowadays, he points out, we're all in the same boat. The university lecturer shares anxieties about tenure with council workers fearful of cuts and with manufacturers watching rates of exchange. We all need fields for free action, some intensity in an outlet for escape.

The seasoned climber reading Loose Scree might well lose patience with the airy concepts and propositions underlying the film. Yet it stands entirely and easily on its own merits It demanded the collaboration of a very large number of people but everything's come together. Having watched it many times it still grasps me as I re-run it.

Lines of Flight: DVD, 22 mins, 16:9.
Brown Bear Productions in association with Zero Hold:

Harold Drasdo 2011: First published in Loose Scree:  

Saturday 19 November 2011

Bernadette McDonald's 'Freedom Climbers' wins Boardman-Tasker

Canadian writer,Bernadette McDonald has been announced as the 2011 winner of the Boardman-Tasker award for mountain literature. Her book 'Freedom Climbers' recently walked of with the prestigious Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Book Festival.

Bernadette McDonald's book, published by Rocky Mountain Books in October 2011, gives an account of the bravery and dedication of Polish climbers and their race for Himalayan peaks in the 1980s. McDonald puts forth the theory that the difficult conditions that martial law imposed on Polish society charged these climbers with the resilience to be the best in the world.

The book recreates the challenges that Polish climbers faced in pursuing their sky-high goals, detailing Voytek Kurtyka's remarkable conquest of Gasherbrum IV and Wanda Rutkiewicz's pioneer ascent of K2 as the first woman to do so in history, along with the personal stories of their friends and colleagues, many of whom perished in the punishing conditions of winter in the Himalayas.

Bernadette is the founding vice-president of Mountain Culture at the Banff Centre and the author of seven books on international mountaineering. She is the winner of numerous awards including the Alberta Order of Excellence, the Summit of Excellence Award from the Banff Centre, the King Albert Award for international leadership in the field of mountain culture and environment, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Here there be dragons: The Long Hope Climb review

And so it begins...It is 1970,  'the greatest decade the world has ever witnessed has ended and we have patently failed to paint it black'. Ed Drummond  who was busy making a name for himself with daring ascents in Avon and Wales, had persuaded fellow Bristol graduate Oliver Hill to join him on a climb which would cement his reputation as a pioneer par excellence. The destination-St John's Head on the wind wracked edge of Orkney.

A cliff which the pioneers described as 'like the prow of the SS Great Britain', cutting through the Atlantic breakers. The 500 metre route would take the challenge of the prow head on. Deviously twisting through loose, overhanging terrain with the added insecurity-weather issues aside- of puking fulmers disgorging their foul brew in the direction of any passing creature !

The ascent has 'epic' carved deeply into the blood red stone. Drummond and Hill's ascent over several days was unheard of at the time. A route of Alpine proportions involving technical climbing at the cutting edge of the era. Although it was a mixed aid route-the climb involved free climbing at up to E5 standard- given it's location and lack of escape or rescue potential, the climb became the stuff of nightmares for its ascentionists. Writing of the ascent, Ed Drummond described being visited by demons and ghosts as he climbed through fear and fatigue. Nearing the end of the route-and his sanity- he describes retreating in terror from one of the penultimate pitches and being assailed by an almost physical malevolent presence.   " Who are you..what do you want from me?'

At this stage he asked himself 'am I committing climbing suicide?'. For his dogged partner Oliver Hill... ' I was there to prussik up the rope and take out the pegs'... it would take the wind out of his climbing sails for several years,such was the psychological impact. Twenty seven years later,the route was freed - by English climbers John Arran and Dave Turnbull. 'Freed'...well not exactly for Arran and Turnbull took a sideline which avoided the crux and which Hill,with an uncanny photographic memory-had detailed in a pin point topo which he had sent to the 97 team.

Thirteen years on and enter Scotland's golden boy and possibly the UK's greatest all round climber Dave Macleod with trusty sidekick Andy Turner reprising the Oliver Hill role. Unlike the Drummond/Hill and Arran/Turnbull ascents which relied on grainy out of focus self taken shots and wobbly cine8 images to record the occasion, the Macleod/Turner team had  in harness the formidable creative unit that is the Hot Aches Crew who with acclaimed photographer Lucasz Warzecha, set out to record the event. An event which has evolved into the much anticipated latest Hot Aches flic..The Long Hope. A film which will receive it's world premier at the Kendal Mountaineering Festival this week.

The climb itself has been discussed at length in the climbing media so no need to give a blow by blow account of the climb itself. However,to get straight to the heart of the film itself, I have to say from the outset that the work is a stunning success ! Like the previously acclaimed Hot Aches production The Pinnacle- which featured the same Macleod/Turner team in their assault on the Marshall/Smith winter routes from 'one memorable week' in the early sixties- The Long Hope succeeds, not because of the drama of Dave Macleod pushing the envelope to the limit, Although there is plenty of sweaty palm moments throughout the sixty minutes running time. It works so well because it is so intelligently structured. Interspersing historical footage,stills,
interviews and narrative with contemporary events.

Rather than getting the Drummond/ Hill stuff out of the way and concentrating on Dave Mac flexing his abs on the 2011 route- Ed Drummond especially, is an engaging and overarching presence throughout the film.And so he should be of course, because after all, The Long Hope was his created from his raw ambition and vision. Albeit at times a demonic vision.

The contrast between Ed Drummond and Dave Macleod is a fascinating one indeed. Very much a case of Ed Drummond being the dark Yin to Dave Mac's  lighter yang. Drummond the wild performance poet,crouched simian like atop a scaffold tower.
Hurling obscure poetic visions at his perplexed and frightened audience. The political activist and idealist who saw his life fall apart in the 1980's. Recorded in gruesome detail in a BBC documentary.

Dave Macleod by contrast is very much the modern rock athlete. A man of steely single minded determination. Dedicated,committed and every inch a lean mean climbing machine. He may not go around saying 'my body is a temple' but it clearly is!  However, he is also a man who comes across as affable and approachable.
Someone the average climber could well imagine sharing a pint and an anecdote with in the Clachaig.

On the route itself,Dave offers the following information for those who fancy a crack at the route. 'You have to climb totally on balance. You can't afford to pull up on the holds' such is their fragility. The final crux pitches are totally compelling in their intensity. Like an all action film hero who just comes out gun blazing,Mac just ploughs on,and on,and on... with each move appearing ever more tenuous than the last. 'Surely can he do that..he must be the !!!

For the average climber gripping the edge of their seat, this is the stuff of dreams...and nightmares! The stream of expletives rattles out like machine gun fire as the bold Scot powers up the mind blowing face with the rasping waves far below. Simply watching this section is exhausting!

Graciously, Dave Macleod never falters in his praise for Drummond who with the rudimentary gear of the time and climbing into the unknown, achieved something equally magnificent. In truth the wild poet has mellowed these days into a wise and philosophical sage. Physically burdened by Parkinson disease since it was diagnosed in 1993. Drummond came over during the filming to be interviewed and come to terms with the climb which had nearly broken him physically and mentally.

In one poignant scene,he returns to a stone pillar above St John's Head and carefully scrapes away the luxuriant green lichen which had taken hold, Revealing the initials ED and OH carved into the stone 40 years ago. Despite the vicissitudes of a life lived less ordinary, Ed reveals he can only feel blessed as the days grow shorter,for the extraordinary experiences and relationships he has enjoyed in his extraordinary life For Dave Macleod..and Andy horizons still beckon.

As I write,the film has yet to hit the mountaineering film festivals or gain general release. I can only reaffirm,this is a brilliant and imaginative piece of work which I feel may well be seen as something of a classic within the genre in future years. Enjoy...but make sure you have some finger nails to gnaw on first!

Extras include... Return to the Indian Face: 50 years in the mountains: Mucklehouse Wall: The Old Man of Hoy.

The Long Hope is soon to be available from Hot Aches

John Appleby: 2011

The times they are a changing.

In the two years since Footless Crow crawled out of the ether; the site has consistently offered a new article each week from a
rock climbing, mountaineering or environmental perspective. The mixture of both republished and new articles has been relatively popular in terms of page visits, drawing a small but steadily growing audience.

I have been delighted to have received the support of many of the UK's best outdoor writers and photographers who have offered both new material and permission to republish their old articles in this new format.  Just over twelve months ago.I added a linked page To Hatch a Crow  which originally was intended to compliment the main site with news and reviews from the world of mountaineering and environmentalism.

Surprisingly perhaps,the Crow's fledgling site draws around three times as many visitors as the main site.Proving perhaps,that readers are more interested in a more consistently rolling agenda of new material than the more structured format of longer articles on Footless Crow. With this in mind, Footless Crow in future will now carry both articles and news and reviews which will be updated more regularly, with articles still carrying trailers but with shorter features complimenting the main material. I hope this revamp doesn't upset or put off the regular readers as it's intended to pep up the site and draw in new readers.

Not surprisingly for a UK site based in North Wales,the majority of those dropping in are from the UK but as many of a third of page visits are from the United States.With this in mind,US mountaineering news will compliment the UK stuff as it has on THAC.
To Hatch a Crow will now concentrate more on environmental news from around the world although news from wider world of mountain activities will still feature. Thanks for looking in and hope you like the new format.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Alfred Wainwright: Fool on the Hill?

It is twenty years since 'the greatest fellwalker', AW Wainwright was cast to the fell winds atop Haystacks above Buttermere. In the intervening years, the iconic image of the avuncular, flat capped, bluff Lancastrian with a smouldering pipe firmly fixed in a jowly jaw, has remained constantly in the public eye.

Indeed, in the years since Wainwrights death there is no sign that 'The Wainwright industry' is grinding to a halt. Each year sees a fresh batch of glossy coffee table tomes re-printed, New updated versions of his pictorial guides dispatched. Ditto desk diaries,address books,walkers notebooks,caledars,DVD's etc

However,despite the general hagiographic treatment of Wainwright the man and his work from the media-Think Julia Bradbury traipsing around the Lakeland Fells in BBC's 'Wainwrights Walks', quoting at length from one of his pictorial guides as if AW was Rabindranath Tagore! - the Fellsman has seen dark clouds gather over his snow capped reputation.Hunter Davies' 2002 biography of Wainwright, brought into the public domain some less than attractive elements of the man's life and character. Despite Hunter's sensitivity in dealing with the less savoury parts of his subjects' character. Enough information came out both in his book and in contemporary articles by other writers to suggest that Wainwright was actually was not the lovable curmudgeonly eccentric beloved of Daily Mail readers and BBC presenters but was in fact, something of a dark,egotistical and self centred individual that most people would cross the street to avoid!

Not surprisingly though when dealing with iconic cultural figures like AW,nothing is quite as it seems and in truth,the heart of the AW enigma lies somewhere between the two extremes. AW himself would say in his Lancashire drawl..let's get down to brass tacks.

I must hasten now to the Scafells.noblest of Lakeland's cathedrals,while good health and appreciation of beauty and simple reverence and gratitude remain with me. For when I have lost these blessings I shall have little left.

Alfred Wainwright...the history bit.

AW was born in Blackburn Lancashire in 1907. Yes US readers...the one with four thousand holes in it! Born into a working class family to a rather unpleasant alcoholic father with violent tendencies and a demur saintly mother who bore the brunt of Thomas Wainwright's boorish and unpredictable behaviour. In common with most working class children of the day, AW was destined for a life in one of the town's many cotton mills but his academic prowess proved to be a defining and redeeming feature of his early life and he managed to escape the clutches of the mill owners for a life of white shirt and tie accountancy in the service of local authorities.
After passing his accountancy exams and climbing the town hall career ladder. Wainwright began to while away the quieter moments with doodling and calligraphy experiments. Developing a reasonable degree of competency in cartoon drawing and cartography.  Indeed Wainwright had developed his passion for maps in childhood. Spending hours studying existing maps and designing his own. Created to detail  imaginary locations where his creative  young mind had led him.

A holiday excursion to the English Lake District with a cousin-Eric Beardsall from his Blackburn home in 1930 proved to be a revelationary experience for AW. Together they climbed modest Orrest Head and the experience proved to be the catalyst which ignited his lifelong religious passion and fervour for the fells of Westmorland,Cumberland and Lancashire.

In 1931 Wainwright had married local mill girl Ruth Holden in Blackburn, with whom he had one son. It quickly became apparent that the upwardly mobile AW felt he had made a terrible mistake and had married someone with whom he had nothing in common. It grew into a quite frankly horrible loveless relationship with both parties held within a iron maw of contemporary social mores. In 1941 the Wainwrights upped sticks and moved to Kendal where he had gained a position in the local authority. Eventually becoming Borough Treasurer,a position he held until retirement in 1967.

During his time in Cumbria and partly to escape to from his tragic  relationship
Wainwright began his transformation from Fell Wanderer into Fell chronicler. What had been originally intended as a comprehensive journal evolved into the classic series of pictorial guides which AW began in earnest in 1952. Completing the 7 volume series in week ahead of his 13 year schedule!

The probability is that the books will progressively be withdrawn from publication after a currency of a few years

After divorcing Ruth Holden in the late 60's he married long term 'girlfriend' Betty McNally in 1970 and remained with her in the Kendal home he previously shared with Ruth Holden until his death in Kendal in 1991.

Following retirement Wainwright devoted more time to his writing career and as his popularity and appeal took off,began to produce a series of works including glossy coffee table works in collaboration with photographers like Derry Brabbs. In the late 80's Wainwright star had risen to the extent that television producers had beaten a path to his door and persuaded him to take part in fell walking TV programmes with friend and Cumbrian resident,Eric Robson. In this post retirement phase,Wainwright had also written a guidebook to the popular Pennine Way and created a long distance walk of his own. The Coast to Coast walk across Northern England between St Bees in Cumbria to picturesque Robin Hood Bay on the North Yorkshire coast.

We shouldn't forget Wainwrights passion for animals and football! AW was a founder member of his home town Blackburn Rovers Supporters Club and established an animal sanctuary in Cumbria to which he is estimated to have given over a million pounds in his lifetime.

WAINWRIGHT-SAINT OR SINNER?: The Case for the prosecution.

For anyone writing about Alfred Wainwright the man,from a liberal 'right on' perspective it is hard to know where to begin! Here was a man who according to friends was a boorish hang-em flog em conservative. A Tweedy old fashioned curmudgeon who had a seedy dirty raincoat, misogynistic view of women. Witness some rather sad sexualised cartoons which survive from his  Blackburn council days. A man who treated his first wife appallingly. A relationship which was unremittingly cold, emotionally cruel and abusive. A man who left his one and only child out of his will, despite the fact that his son was at the time of his death,suffering from a severe arthritic condition which had forced his early retirement. This despite the fact that Wainwright was a millionaire at the time of his death who had bequeathed a small fortune to animal charities.

As a person, Wainwright could be described as socially autistic. His wanderings in the fells were inevitably solo affairs as he couldn't stand most people and their idle chit chat. Living by Pascal's advice 'the more I see of humanity the more I love my dog'! He had the reputation of treating the approach of a well-wisher as the signal to turn his back and go through the pretence of urinating. Strangely those outstretched hands of his admirers were quickly withdrawn!
From an environmental perspective. It is argued that his pictorial guides and coffee table works helped to popularise and vulgarise the fells which he claimed to hold in religious reverence. In the lingua franca of the era, quite a cad and something of  a hypocrite wouldn't you say?  However, at this point, his legions of admirers may well chime ' cool your boots man....I think you'll find that old Alfred was a bit more 'right on'  than you give him credit for!'

ALFRED THE GREAT: The case for the defence.

Alfred Wainwright might well have been socially autistic,politically reactionary and emotionally selfish but then again,many well regarded creatives from Karl Marx to John Lennon....Ernest Hemingway to Picasso- carried within themselves some pretty heavy personal baggage. He might have been someone you would wish to avoid at all costs but surprisingly,in many ways, elements of his life and personal philosophy could be seen as progressive and enlightened. For example,Wainwright was very much the proto environmentalist; Railing in print against ecologically insensitive developments such as the destruction of the exquisite valley of Mardale in the north Lakes to create a reservoir to supply water to urban Manchester.  Think Capel Celyn in North Wales or US readers think Hetch Hetchy California.

But man works with such clumsy hands; gone forever are the quiet bays and shining shores that nature had fashioned so sweetly

Further environmental misgivings were expressed regarding the coniferous afforestation of Ennerdale and the construction of the A66 highway between Penrith and Keswick in Cumbria. The current encroachment of huge wind farms in Cumbria would have driven him to apoplexy! A development which couldn't fail to lambast in print.

Given his quasi religious appreciation of the northern fells, it is appropriate that Wainwright's carbon footprint -a term he would have snorted at- was minimal. As a non driver all his life,AW's excursions into the fells were overwhelmingly carried out by using public transport. Planning his trips meticulously. Aiming to return from the fells in time to catch the bus home and hopefully, in time to snatch a fish and chip supper!

All my walks during the past two years have ended at Keswick Bus Station

As a fell wanderer,Wainwright was the antithesis of the modern day walker. Eschewing the expensive 'must have' outdoor fashions which modern outdoor magazines-driven by the advertisers-convince their more gullible readers they really MUST purchase if they want to go hill walking. You wouldn't find Wainwright waiting for a bus in Keswick wearing the latest Gore-Tex kag, trendy Lowe-Alpine hat with his size tens slipped into a pair of £300 boots! AW somehow managed to roam far and wide over the fells in attire which modern walkers would find more suitable for a walk in the park!  Ironic that someone proclaimed by the outdoor media as 'the greatest fellwalker' was a million times removed from their commercial agenda.

Wainwright has been criticized for his philanthropy towards animal welfare charities rather than supporting 'people charities'...poverty, child welfare, help the aged etc. However, surely in any civilised society it is incumbent on the state to look after its citizens. After all, it is a Victorian concept that the weak and vulnerable should be at the mercy of charitable institutions. With animal welfare off the state's agenda then this area by contrast is very much the concern of charities and individual philanthropists like Wainwright.

One of the most appealing elements of Wainwrights character was his modesty and his indifference to the wealth he had accumulated as his career really took off and his books began to sell in their hundreds of thousands. There was nothing ostentatious about AW. Indeed,it appeared that he had little regard for material possessions at all, preferring to distribute his wealth through his charitable donations or indeed,through benevolent contributions to friends and collaborators.

Wainwright may not be considered as an outdoor sage in the manner of a WH Murray,an Edward Abbey or a Aldo Leopold but he sprinkled his pictorial guides with poetic musings on the spiritual elements which infused the fells and the act of fell walking.

In the north country parlance..'there's nowt as queer as folk'. Alfred Wainwright was a queer eel to be sure, but his pictorial guides can be seen as one of the great achievements in the field of outdoor literature. Every page hand crafted in loving detail and offered as  his' love letter to the fells' . Destined to remain forever unfashionably fashionable, Wainwright's works will undoubtedly continue to be read and appreciated long after many current well regarded outdoor writer's works have been consigned to the bargain bin or charity shop.

I had escaped from the disappointments and unkindnesses of life and emerged above them into a new a better world

John Appleby 2011

Wednesday 9 November 2011

This Week: Alfred Wainwright....True North.

"I might have been the last man in a dead world" AW

"It is twenty years since 'the greatest fellwalker' , AW Wainwright was cast to the fell winds atop Haystacks above Buttermere. In the intervening years, the iconic image of the avuncular, flat capped, bluff Lancastrian with a smouldering pipe firmly fixed in a jowly jaw, has remained constantly in the public eye.

Indeed in the years since Wainwrights death there is no sign that 'The Wainwright industry' is grinding to a halt. Indeed,each year sees a fresh batch of glossy coffee table Wainwright tomes re-printed, New updated versions of his pictorial guides, ditto desk diaries,address books,walkers notebooks,calendars dvd's etc.

However,despite the general hagiographic treatment of Wainwright the man and his work from the media- Think Julia Bradbury traipsing around the Lakeland Fells in BBC's 'Wainwrights Walks', quoting at length from one of his pictorial guides as if AW was Rabindranath Tagore- Hunter Davies' 2002 biography of Wainwright, brought into the public domain some less than attractive elements of the man's life and  character

Despite Hunter's sensitivity in dealing with the less savoury parts of his subjects' character, enough information came out both in his book and in contemporary articles by other writers to suggest that Alfred Wainwright was actually was not the loveable curmudgeonly eccentric beloved of Daily Mail readers and BBC presenters but was in fact, something of a dark,egotistical and self centred individual that most people would cross the street to avoid!

 Not surprisingly though when dealing with iconic cultural figures like AW, nothing is quite as it seems and in truth,the heart of the AW enigma lies somewhere between the two extremes. AW himself would say in his Lancashire drawl..let's get down to brass tacks. '

This week,twenty years after his death in 1991, John Appleby takes a warts and all look at Alfred Wainwright- the man and his legacy. Despite disturbing more than a few skeletons in Wainwright's closet,the author finds much to admire in 'the greatest fellwalker' .

Thursday 3 November 2011

Sacred Ground

John Redhead

Browsed to the Bone

Hill farming has always been seen as a joke and annoyance by those using the hill recreationally. The farmers were treated with ridicule and flippancy when accosted by them on the hill. I was once stepping over a stile with my dog on a lead, on my way to climb a route on Tryfan, when a farmer approached me and said he wanted the dog off his land. A scrawled sign on the gate said, Dogs on a Lead. I asked him if he could read English and carried on. He persisted aggressively with his demands. I refused, saying I was on a designated footpath within the National Park and what right had he got to harass me? He came at me to fight! I pushed him away and his glasses fell to the ground, breaking a lens. He was in rage. He went into his house nearby and came out with a twelve bore shotgun. He raised it up and pointed it at me, at which his wife threw herself out of the house screaming at him in Welsh. She stood between me and the gun. It was a nasty scene. A twitch away from News at Ten. Ugly. He backed off shaking in a mess of a man. I actually felt sorry for him. The old boy should be hanging out with girls in grass skirts swinging his hips to some samba rift on a Caribbean island, pissed up on coconut cocktails! Why is the land such a burden to these people? Is this due to the conflicts and restraints of a hard life fighting nature and resenting those enjoying it? I shouldn’t feel sorry for being free in the land. You shouldn’t get used to this aggression.

Another ‘diverse hill farming character’ that is allowed to farm sheep on Snowdon aggressively jumped up and down on a friend’s parapente chute after he had landed on the flanks of Snowdon. Causing a lot of damage to the fabric of the chute, he gave him a mouthful of abuse about flying being unnatural and scaring the sheep! It was tragically comic! The incident was photographed. He came across as a lunatic! I know this man, he treats ravens and foxes with the same disrespect! The episodes of confrontation and abuse of rights from these people constitute a novel in its own right. There is a correlation between farmers, depression and shotguns and farming being the profession highest in the suicide stakes. Seems divine to me. That’s the land telling them! But part of me likes this old geezer! I like the energy of this old boy playing the game he knows and getting away with it. I once said to him that these hills need the trees and wildlife back and he replied, “You can plant as many trees as you want boy, fill it with what you want boy, but it will cost you. It will cost you a lot boy” It’s all about a commodity and spreadsheets to these folk.

The continuing damage caused by hill farming is a major consideration for the need for escape. I have taken the issues on board and can no longer see it as a joke. As a climber in the hills en-route to a climb it can be tolerated. It can be tolerated for entertainment value. As an intolerant bastard who doesn’t climb anymore and cannot ignore the damage it’s a ‘fuck up’! Groups like The Snowdonia Society patronize the ‘traditional’ upland sheep farmer by supporting so called 'thriving and cohesive' hill farming communities. They do not exist! It’s a con, make no mistake, it’s the tongue they are patronizing! Their lifestyle depends on subsidies with absolutely no economic benefit to the community at large! And you simply cannot reconcile ‘any’ upland farming methods and wildlife habitats. Further, there is no tradition of hill farming practices in North wales, unless you consider a 'tradition' within three hundred years. A 'true' tradition would be to leave the mountains alone and appreciate and respect them for what they are. Wilderness should be on the agenda. The last thing the hill farmer needs is more power! Or poetic accolade! Or even a house to live in! In protecting the tongue, The National Park supports terrorism against wildlife! An idiot with an aerosol can defacing a crag with graffiti does far less damage!

Subsequently, I can no longer venture into the so-called wilds of Snowdonia without feeling a sense of loss and sadness. The subsidized practice of sheep hill farming has browsed the mountain to the bone. I feel isolated. And as I feel in my own bones, the mountain is no longer sacred. My bones feel browsed out too. I have hunger for this ‘food’, this wilderness, this other. This is an important issue. I think the space that is wild nature is connected with the health of society and are we not all creatures within this space? To me this is ground zero, the all being source of life - a collective oneness. The man-made Gods breed a conquering of nature from the granite box down in the valley. These chapels are not lost in the landscape but scream, “Shit off nature.” The effort! To me they are symptomatic of the damage, symptomatic of the ‘pollution’. The wilderness has been traded for a cheap unnecessary commodity. It became personal. I could only focus on the damage, perhaps in the same way as focusing on the beauty of the city streets?

wilderness of the streets.

‘From my tree house studio in the centre of Liverpool, I survey the surrounding forest throwing up its sounds - the breaking of bottles, hideous screams and delirious shouts and the endless groaning of the dispossessed.’

This is another occasion when ‘real’ time caught up with me whilst cleaning the street outside my warehouse studio in Liverpool. It is also to do with an intervention and researching where you are, homes and letting go. These streets had become my purposeful nest built out on a limb and exposed. It could so easily be torn apart by the surrounding life-forms that charge about with different stories and other intent. I am reminded of the fragility and exposure that threaten the daily life of the inhabitants of hedgerows that my Grandfather showed me as a child. I don’t think I ever forgot the magic I felt in examining the nests and the eggs found in these hedgerows on our many walks. Regardless of the ‘art’, I think the interventions are somehow part of this childhood magic to examine and ponder the apparent fragility and wonder of life.

“With the town empty and splayed with the fresh droppings of the previous night, I brush the streets bordering my little patch. This patch has its reference point on a global grid within a mephitic network. I feel the patterns of this network radiating out from an insignificant crack at my feet in this Fleet Street pavement... the homeless emerge upon a morning of last night’s thrown away takeaways with the rats and pigeons... briefly they warm themselves at my urban bonfire... I hold my sweeping and gaze into the yellows and greens, blues and violets that set free the dense black clouds of smoke. I feel close to an envy? An envy of the homeless. An envy of their proximity to this speeding and of their carefree throwing and picking in the shade of consumer life - of their honest back to the bone, close to the life and death of whatever total wastedness and degeneracy is... much more than mere vagrancy in which I often see my future...

I met Peter Poetry in the street, enthusiastically eating a pizza that had been thrown on the pavement. Picking off ‘street bits’, he enquired as to my familiarity with Sartre! He was a large, erudite gentleman of the road who carried two plastic carrier bags full of books. These bags of books were his home. At that moment he was residing in an enclosed skip around the corner to my studio. He would be politely outraged if anyone threw rubbish into the skip whilst he was in residence, “I say, do you mind, I live here, I am trying to read!” His books kept his intellect ticking whilst the man disintegrated slowly from years of tragedy, pain and misfortune. We shared many a ‘coffee morning’ in the studio as I struggled to grasp the breadth of his intelligence…sharing his wisdom and his ‘big city’ trickster that kept him moving…

It was from my warehouse home here that my involvement with E9 6c was filmed and recorded. This happened within the last few weeks of my departure from this special perch. John Mortimer’s son, Jeremy, produced an excellent piece for Radio Three called, ‘Between the Ears’. Dominic Clemence produced and directed the film for BBC2. This was the attempted story of The Indian Face, a fierce route on the cathedral of rock, Clogwyn Du Arddu, on the flank of Snowdon. I liked the bit where I am sat under my climbing wall in the studio flippantly explaining the image I painted on the scar where the flake had been. This small granite flake had come away in my arms whilst testing the peg that had been smashed into its side. I drew a quick sketch on the wall of ‘the hunt‘, something that had stayed with me from viewing the Lascaux Caves in France. Only two people had seen it. Paul Williams had photographed it and Johnny Dawes had scraped it off (or rather, an acolyte had scraped it off). One had died and the other had seemingly gone mad!

 The late Paul Williams photograph of John Redhead's notorious Indian Face painting

I joke, but I had to get Johnny back in the script when he became defensive about my rant against top-roping. I stand by my argument that top-roping damages the rock! Bolt, peg, top-roping ego – damage done! The narrative needed his feedback and method of approach. It was important because it set the scene. My attempts on the line were foolish, naive and dangerously ‘pushed my luck’. His determination and intense, practiced approach won the day. I took a huge, very lucky fall. Warriors or not, I think we both enjoyed negotiating with our lives in our own way. Perhaps the rock was secondary to the psychopathy that we both moved through? And out of? I think it a great historical episode and one that the youths of today will have to take on board and finish off? Or perhaps not. Perhaps it was a full stop. The youths of today have moved on by doing their own thing that in turn moves on towards their own full stop. They are emerged in their own paragraph. An endless series of climbing’s punctuation. Perhaps a few will turn a few pages back…

Dominic and Jeremy and the film crew stayed in a caravan overnight in the car park next door. They likened the experience to a safari! They stayed awake all night terrified at the noises of the inner city jungle. This is the weekend hunting ground of frivolity and bravery with its resident shouting and groaning and the dark savagery of the pack on the scent. I always said there is more wildlife here than on the peaks of Snowdon! And there is also more humanity, working itself out without the trickery of a fairytale land that says all is well! It isn’t. I like the fact that the city screams, “All is not well.” Beware! Sturdy creatures dwell here!

From this ‘Pool of Life’, I turn on the tap and watch the water flow over an upturned spoon in the sink as if a river meandering over rocks – it seems to belong, and listen, in its flowing, to the great, grey rivers of the world. And surely, when I turn the spotlight on, the solar wind charges across the solar system in the ceramic bowl and the spoon radiates with the energy of a thousand stars.

Granada TV had previously invited me for a slot in their arts programme, Celebrations. A few months before I had tried to gain permission to climb the Anglican cathedral but had been adamantly refused by the church authorities. “This is a sacred house of God,” seemed to seal my aspirations. However, thanks to ‘financing’ from Granada TV, this particular ‘sacred house of God’ came at a price! Negotiations were made and I was filmed on my ascent of The Apostles at about E3 5c. Maneuvering by the third apostle, the pinch grip I was using on his nose came off in my fingers! I had chalked up the previous two Apostle’s noses and had laughed at the thought of them taking cocaine! I guiltily placed this sandstone appendage in my inside pocket and climbed on more gingerly to the centre of the huge, mullioned rose, the symbolic mandala above the high altar. I returned later and abseiled down with a tube of glue! I laughed again at thoughts of a glue-sniffing Apostle!

Tony Wilson

I was later introduced by Tony Wilson on the six o’clock news as the first performance mountaineer!

As a climber, this was taken further thanks to being invited to play with urban trash percussionists, Urban Strawberry Lunch. They were Liverpool’s noisy, energetic outlaws that banged anything for a musical jape. Climbing, rigging and playing buildings became my first incursion into textural sounds and electro acoustic compositions. Climbing and playing the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester was particularly challenging and inspiring. Home to the Halle Orchestra, this glass structure is supported by huge stainless steel springs which the auditorium is then suspended from. It is built to withstand earthquakes and reduce any external noise from the street. We were told that it would be like playing a dry sock! As sound terrorists, we were initially despondent. However, as we explored the structure for potential, it transpired that if you placed the sucker of a bog-plunger on the plate glass, a strange and eerie whining materialized from the passing of traffic outside. With fishing lines attached to the external structure, an Aeolian harp was established. Amplification brought these sculptural sounds into aural existence. Ambient recordings of doors, stairwells and voices added to the orchestration of the building that was anything but a dry sock, for the opening of the International Festival of new Music!

John Redhead 2011: Images J Redhead collection apart from Indian Face image

Tuesday 1 November 2011

This Week: John Redhead finds himself in Fairytale land

Redhead you say !

" I was once stepping over a stile with my dog on a lead, on my way to climb a route on Tryfan, when a farmer approached me and said he wanted the dog off his land. A scrawled sign on the gate said, Dogs on a Lead. I asked him if he could read English and carried on.

He persisted aggressively with his demands. I refused, saying I was on a designated footpath within the National Park and what right had he got to harass me? He came at me to fight! I pushed him away and his glasses fell to the ground, breaking a lens. He was in rage. He went into his house nearby and came out with a twelve bore shotgun. He raised it up and pointed it at me, at which his wife threw herself out of the house screaming at him in Welsh. She stood between me and the gun. It was a nasty scene. A twitch away from News at Ten. Ugly. He backed off shaking in a mess of a man. I actually felt sorry for him. The old boy should be hanging out with girls in grass skirts swinging his hips to some samba rift on a Caribbean island, pissed up on coconut cocktails!

Why is the land such a burden to these people? Is this due to the conflicts and restraints of a hard life fighting nature and resenting those enjoying it? I shouldn’t feel sorry for being free in the land. You shouldn’t get used to this aggression.'

Following last week's slice of Johnny Dawes,this week another iconic rock master in the shape of John Redhead offers extracts from his forthcoming book 'Colonists Out'. Including John's take on the Indian Face affair. UK climbing's remarkable cause celebre in the 1980's in which Redhead and Dawes played out the key roles in a captivating piece of rock theatre upon Clogwyn Du Arddu's intimidating field of dreams.