Friday 22 February 2013

Cornish Connections

This week, as a tribute to veteran South West climber, Mike Banks who died recently, the republication of his 1995 High article-Connections- which looks at the historical links connecting the early days of South-west exploration to the modern era.

The figure silhouetted against the skyline on the Bosigran cliff top was clearly that of an elderly man, his white hair blowing in the wind. The year was 1947 and I was being trained to become a Commando cliff climbing instructor. The Cornish coastline was a very empty place in those days; strangers were noticed. I was told that he was Arthur Westlake Andrews, who lived a few miles away. He was, I gathered, the founding father of Cornish climbing.

Not long afterwards I joined the Climbers' Club and realised that Andrews was the custodian of the Count House, the Club hut at Bosigran. He was a friendly and hospitable man, always interested in what was developing in Cornish climbing. Despite the disparity of our years — I was 25, he was 80 — we got to know one another. I would be invited to his house at Tregerthen, next door to Eagle's Nest above Zennor, where he would show me faded photographs taken in the Alps in the previous century. Together with his sister, Elsie, we would hold grave discussions on the etiquette of the Cornish cream tea. He held strongly to the view that the jam should be put on first, then the cream on top.

Andrews was the quintessential English gentleman mountaineer, educated at Charterhouse and Oxford where, of course, he read classics. A notable all-round sportsman, he attained national standard in athletics, winning the mile in Berlin. In tennis he got as far as the semi-finals of the Men's Singles at Wimbledon.
At Magdelan his rooms were above those of Coolidge, the eminent if fractious Alpine mountaineer some 20 years his senior. Through him Andrews became acquainted with mountaineering and from 1890 was active in both the Alps and the British hills. With Archer Thomson he was to produce a guide to Lliwedd.... the first Welsh guidebook.

It so happened that Andrews spent his holidays in Cornwall staying with his uncle who lived at Zennor. Having taken up moun­taineering he naturally examined the coastline with a climber's eye. In those early days the Alps were all the fashion. The British hills were widely regarded as a convenient form of Alpine training. Mere outcrops were dismissed as 'scrambles'. It is interesting that Andrews and Tom Longstaff, both West Country pioneers, initially opted for long coastal traverses. I suppose that the ascent of a cliff appeared to them ridiculously short whereas a long coastal traverse might offer a rock climb of near Alpine length. Indeed, Andrews harboured the ambition, never to be realized, of traversing the whole coastline of Britain. He also devel­oped the practice of climbing in gym shoes for which he deserves great credit. It enabled climbers to make far harder friction moves than was possible in nails. Remember that Vibram soles did not appear until after World War 2.

Even so, vertical routes were not neglected and Andrews made the first climb on nearby Bosigran in 1902, the Ledge Route. Cornish climbing, as we recognise it today, was born .Andrews went to live at Tregerthen in 1922 and continued to climb actively. Through him the Climbers' Club acquired the Count House at Bosigran in 1938 and he became the first custodian, always showing great warmth and interest towards visiting climbers. The hut gave a stimulus to West Country climbing and focused it firmly on West Penwith, perhaps retarding the devel­opment of other worthy West Country areas.

Zeke Deacon leading Monolith Slab: Rosmergy

I move on now to 1957 when I was in charge of the Commando climbers and often teamed up with the redoubtable Zeke Deacon on the lookout for new routes. On one occasion we were virtually provoked into a new route by Andrews. In 1923 he had traversed into the Great Zawn of Bosigran and had written that, if the ledges on which he had seen cormorants perching could be connected, then a notable route might be created. He urged us to try it. The Green Cormorant Face route resulted. It should be remembered that we were in the pre-nut era but  thankfully, rock boots had been invented. Artificial climbing was the flavour of the month. Zeke, who of course led, used several pitons with etriers on the first pitch. Even so, I found it at the limit of my ability. In any case, the second's job was no doddle. His task is to get the pitons out and doing this swaying on a wobbly ladder, walloping a peg at ankle level was both acrobatic and exhausting.

We duly reported back to Andrews and received his congratulations with an accompanying cream tea. Now Andrews was also a poet and a few days later a poem arrived in the post in which he parodied Flecker's famous lines on the pilgrims setting off on the Goldern Road to Samarkand. He was making a wistful, but not judgmental, comment on 'progress' in climbing technique; a lament at the loss of innocence perhaps. Looking back to his early Cornish years he asks:

Who are these beggars in their ragged clothes
And old felt hats and roughly mended hose
Who wear old pairs of worn out rubber shoes? 

 He gives the answer:

We are the pilgrims of a bygone age
Who traverse on the shore from stage to stage
In lust of seeking what no man has seen
Between Bosigran Head and far Pendeen.

But what of these Commando climbers?

Laden like Tartarin with all the gear
For storming citadels that climbers wear
Pitons and karabiners, ropes and slings,
And everything except pair of wings.

They reply:

We are professionals and this crusade
Is but the usual practice of our trade.

It is interesting that the use of pitons, which had inflamed British climbers when used by Germans on the Munich Climb on Tryfan in 1936, were approved by the climbing establishment in the 1950s. Might there be something prophetic in this if applied to the bolt controversy and might not Andrews's tolerant reaction have a message for today? Andrews died, ripe in years, in 1960 to be succeeded as custodian of Bosigran by another quite splendid old gentleman, Rear Admiral Keith Lawder. Keith had retired from the Navy at the age of 55 and taken to climbing with infectious enthusiasm. He was the most amiable of men, always ready for a joke or a prank. In fact the Admiral had never ceased being a Midshipman.

Rear Admiral Keith Lawder
I remember a naval club meet based at Bosigran. Keith, looking outrageously scruffy, was at the sink washing up. A young able seaman came up to him and said: "Wotcher Chief, what's this buzz about some bloody admiral coming on this meet?" With his conspiratorial grin Keith replied: "Don't worry. I hear he's not a bad old stick."
When he was well into his '60s, Keith set about exploring Lundy with Ted Pyatt. His memorial as a climber must surely be his first ascent, at the age of 68, of the incompa­rable Devil's Slide (Severe). It is arguably the finest slab climb in Britain. Whatever his or her talent, it is a route that any visitor to Lundy, who has an eye and a heart, must feel impelled to climb.

One of the most joyous climbs I have ever done was to repeat The Devil's Slide with Keith Lawder, then in his 79th year. The third on the rope was his grandson, Iain Peters who, instead of playing childrens' games, had since his early youth, been taken out on climbing adventures by his adored grandfather.
I have climbed with Iain, mostly in the West Country, from his boyhood until he blossomed as a climber. He is the author of the current guide to North Devon and Cornwall and the architect of many first ascents in this area.

So, from my youthful acquaintance with Arthur Westlake Andrews to my avuncular climbs with lain Peters, I seem to have spanned West Country climbing from its inception to the present day. It is a kaleido­scope vision. The '50s and '60s were rich decades. Three Commando instructors were pre-eminent: Zeke Deacon, Vivian Stevenson and 'Mac' McDermott. They climbed in the friendliest of rivalry with Peter and Barrie Biven and Trevor Peck. The guidebooks are witness to the rich harvest of their routes. The Commandos tended to fade out from the '70s onwards when their role changed from cliff raiding to Mountain and Arctic Warfare and they were less in evi­dence.

Of course there has been no let-up in the development of the area. Improved equipment, techniques and training methods have pushed up standards. New routes have prolifer­ated in the West Country as elsewhere.
I suspect that all climbers of mature years have one range of hills, or a particular crag, to which they instinc­tively return for solace. Unhesitatingly I head for West Penwith. It has given, and continues to give me, so much. It is, of course, greatly changed from those far off days just after the war when the Bosigran face and Chair Ladder were crying out for detailed exploration and Carn Barra was virgin ground.

The dreamlike quality of the far west is vanishing. The old friendships have given place to the acrimony that bolts seem to bestow and the environ­ment is under siege, eroded by climbers' feet and scoured by the gardening of routes. Long ago I remember the raven's nest on Bosigran that gave the route, Raven's Wall, its name. It is long gone; no longer do buzzards soar over the Great Zawn. I must leave the last word with Andrews who, decades before the environment became an issue, wrote:

Will there be ravens on Bosigran still and has the buzzard got his usual nest in the Great Zawn, or will they too have passed, To other hunting grounds with all the rest?

Mike Banks 1995 ( First published in HIGH 153 August 1995)


Friday 15 February 2013

The Ghost Stones

The Lleyn Peninsula has me in a draw, I have recently rediscovered how wonderful the landscape is and how easy its accessibility is too, despite the rather jaw dropping fact that if you lived at the tip of the peninsula at Aberdaron and required medical attention in Ysbyty Gwynedd, it being the local hospital, it entails a journey of 42½ miles by road and can take up to one and a half hours, or ten minutes in a 22 Squadron Sea King helicopter, a pleasing thought if you are ever in need of emergency aid, but it does make you think that you are rather in isolation.
The trip had already been aborted three times before a success was finally achieved, the first attempt ended almost where it began, I had planned a trip to climb Gyrn Ddu and Gyrn Goch, two small but deceptively steep hills whose flanks tumble into the sea via Clynnog Fawr and Trefor. I had passed their bases more times than I can remember but had never explored the tops, they had never been that high on my tick list for some reason despite being so close to home, but a trip up to the iron age Tre Ceiri Hill Fort on the Rivals with my friend John drew me to them as they bathed in the sunshine in the crystal clear light, I had used Google maps to have a look at the terrain as I often do these days if I am planning a trip and it revealed a fascinating landscape with some interesting rock formation and several prehistoric remains.
I had been given a small volume that my friend John Cantrell had published on walks in the Lleyn Peninsula and the circuit around these two peaks looked like a nice afternoon jaunt.

1st Attempt.

I parked on the old road at the village of Gyrn Goch and set off rather in haste and without reading John’s description in detail, I remember the text mentioning a path up the left hand side of the conifer plantation so I duly set off at a fair pace and took the left fork in the track as described, I followed the river for a short while and got to thinking that the path although very distinct was not much used, after a struggle to cross the river via some very greasy boulders I was confronted with chest high bramble and ferns, fighting my way as best as possible in Dr Livingstone style I quickly got the impression that my way was not the right way, by now the path was virtually nonexistent, up ahead I could see a dry stone wall and what looked like a 5 bar gate so I continued my struggle, I eventually reached my goal and my ears were filled with heavy breathing, I knew I had struggled through the undergrowth and had just joined the ‘bus pass’ set but I wasn’t that unfit surely, I reached the top of the wall and looked over it only to be greeted by a large mouth full of huge teeth wide eyes and nostrils that were snorting at me rather menacingly, I was face to face with a woolly faced alpaca, in fact the field was full of them, also rather weirdly, in the middle of the field was a 1960’s Triumph Herald. It had also started to piss down. A strange Pythonesque feeling came over me as to how unreal it all was, I turned turtle and headed back the way I came through all the ferns and brambles, to top the day my boots were leaking too, not a good day.

2nd Attempt.
Now I was laughing, I had checked my maps and reread John’s description, in one of the chapters to the walk he mentions a 100ft waterfall that tumbles from the edge of the cwm, this waterfall has kept itself a secret as far as I could make out, I asked several of my colleagues who were regular mountain walkers if they knew of this cataract hiding amongst the trees, nobody had heard of it and there didn’t seem to be any mention of it anywhere either so off I set once more. This time I at least found the right start and set off up the farm track
The BBC weather forecast was not promising too good a day but what the heck, nothing ventured etc,
I got as far as the forest clearing and the heavens opened, but I could hear the roar of the elusive waterfall so carried on, the track now became nonexistent and I found myself heading towards the falls, after what seemed an age I caught a glimpse of  it through the downpour and the dense undergrowth and decided that they would have to wait for another day, I was now at the wall which leads to the open countryside and the hills beyond so I decided to at least make a low level round trip by returning along the old wall that acts as a boundary to the woodland. The hills beyond had long ago vanished into the mist and it was getting wetter as the day progressed. The path was very wet, very boggy, it was still pissing down and my boots still leaked. Soaked and rather dejected I headed for home.

3rd Attempt

My wife Clare gave me one of those looks that says it all without actually saying much at all, not the bloody waterfall again, don’t bother it’ll rain anyway.
I had tried to convince her and myself that these trips to the Lleyn were a much better proposition at this time of year than heading for the higher hill of Snowdonia, I had regaled her with amazing facts that Snowdon can average 200 ins of rain a year but the Lleyn only averages 37 ins a year, so the law of averages had to be on my side, --- she laughed.
I set off once more and this time headed in a slightly different direction by heading into the woodland itself along the workers track which followed the stream and hopefully the waterfall too, this time I met a man and his dog, the first sign of any form of life I had encountered on my trips so far, the dog, a huge American mastiff eyed me up and sniffed about rather alarmingly, I fell into conversation with the owner who said, ‘he’s gentle enough, don’t worry’, (they all say that, or “he doesn’t bite” don’t they). The rope that the dog was attached to was thick enough to hold a trawler steady in a storm, always a worrying sign; any animal that needs to be linked to a hawser should be in a cage!! It turned out during our brief conversation that he had only had the animal two days and was getting it used to its new territory, hmmmm

I was carrying a black Manfrotto tripod which does rather resemble a rifle if you carry it across your chest, so the beast might have thought we were off to hunt Moose or whatever American mastiffs hunt. I bade him and his dog, which was now leaning against my legs and looking at me wistfully as if we had been hunting buddies all our lives, a good day and set off in search of the cascade.

After about ten minutes I was having second thought about my plan to thrash my way through the bracken and laurel growth and a lot of horrendously wet and slippery ground just to find the falls but I carried on regardless, eventually after much grunting and more Dr Livingstone style jungle bashing I found it, well sort of found that is—by hanging off the trunk of a laurel bush I could see the top third of it as it tumbled into the steep sided valley, at least it did exist but getting to it was nigh impossible and a tad risky too, to top it all it started to piss down and my boots were still leaking.

I carried on upwards and did the usual low level round trip and lo and behold the rain became a drizzle and eventually just a slight dampness, on the descent past the forest I came across the remains of an old medieval field system and the tumbled rocks of some dwellings which were an added bonus to the day. I took a few shots on the camera and headed back to the car, I was getting well acquainted with the area by now.

4th Attempt

Even I was getting a bit fed up of trudging up the forest path to gain the open moor but at least it wasn’t raining, yet!!
Once more I headed up the track and gained the boundary wall and headed for the summit of Bwlch Mawr and after a good brisk 20 minutes I was on the summit, It was from this top that the landscape opened up and I was amazed how bleak and open the vast expanse of moor actually was, to think it was only a short distance from the road it felt like being in the middle of the Carneddau. From here you can make out the dry stone walls which are an incredible feature of this area, they literally extend for miles in all directions, are all in extremely good condition and are as straight as a die, apparently they were erected early in the 19th Century by the workers who were employed by Lord Newborough** whose estate covered a vast area of the Lleyn and beyond, the amount of rock that has been moved in this very open and exposed bit of moor to create these walls is mind boggling as is the skill and quality of the workmanship.

Also on this summit there were what looked like the remains of Bronze Age burial cairns and dug into the  cwm between here and the next summit of Gyrn Ddu are the remains of Clawdd Seri a raised dyke which is mentioned in local records as far back as 1200 but probably again dated from the Bronze Age. The whole area seems to be covered in the remains of long lost settlements. After gaining the summit of Bwlch Mawr and doing a bit of exploring amongst its very rocky summit I headed along the wall to gain the next peak, this wall is a spectacular affair and is as straight as an arrow for a good mile, nothing gets in its way and it doesn’t deviate at all even when it confronts a pile of rocks but just carries on over and through like a knife slicing its way through the hillside. I was aiming for the lower summit of Gyrn Ddu and I did attempt to a shortcut across the moor to try and make a bee line for the gap in the wall and then straight up the hillside, after fighting my way through bog and tufts I could see why the path followed the wall for most of its length and I returned to the original track after a short deviation, the path here also becomes a section of the Lleyn Coastal Path before it breaks away to skirt the base of Gyrn Ddu before heading to Trefor and The Rivals and beyond.

On reaching a turn in the wall you are suddenly confronted with a short section of double wall as in a drovers track, this section has no relevance to the rest of the walls which are all single and high, this section is no more that 100 meters in length and ends as suddenly as it begins, another mystery!
From here you head up the path towards the lower summit of Gyrn Ddu where another wall heads off into the distance, as it reaches the lower summit is rather dramatically rides defiantly over the very centre of a huge burial cairn and undoubtedly the wall builders utilised the material available that was close at hand.

A slight wind got up and flurries of snow began to fall, between the two summits are more signs of human habitation in the form of the remains of a dwelling, there is not much left but it seems to have been a single roomed house or ‘hafod’ the Welsh word for a summer shelter, where shepherds would remain with their flock during the summer seasons, I contemplated stopping here for a brew and a quick bite to eat but felt rather isolated but not quite alone.

 I quickly reached the summit which is very rocky and reminiscent of the Glyderau and their boulder strewn summits and decided it was time for some nourishment, I dropped down to the lee side of the wind and brewed a cup of tea and ate my sandwich, I also had the comfort of the sea view which was a respite after all the walls and moorland. The next summit was Gyrn Goch and was the final top on the tour, it was a pleasant slope along another wall, this wall had an alarming lean of about 70° for its whole length and had obviously been constructed purposely in this way, possibly to act as a deflection to the gales from the sea and not a barrier against them, but it did give some shelter from what was now a biting wind, this was a pleasant little summit and again not a sound, no bird song or bleating sheep or the bark of dogs from the village way below

The silence was overwhelming until the ghost stones whispered into the winds as I finally faced the final slope and headed for home I wondered how much life was entwined in these now deserted hillsides, there were bronze age burial cairns, ditches and dykes from the dark ages, long abandoned farmsteads and field systems and the long oh so long dry stone walls that dominated the landscape slicing their way over the moor and rocky summits without as much as a slight avoiding turn till they veered off, mostly at a perfect 90° angle and headed off up another slope to create another boundary.
Will I return to this open and sky wide expanse of hillside again? To that I can positively say yes and fairly soon too but on a blue sky day with the sun shimmering off the waters of the bay and Skylarks and Ravens diving and tumbling and I will make sure that I have company other than the ghost stones and their long lost souls whispering to the wind.

**The Baron had his residence, Plas Glynllifon only a few miles away from these moors and guarded his lands for his own use; it is only in recent times that the area has become accessible with the advent of the CRoW* act and is now open access land, long may it remain so.
(*Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000)

Ken Latham 2013
First published on Musing from the mountains

Thursday 7 February 2013

At the Corrie of the Black Raven

My first rock-climb was on my 20th birthday, October 7 1952. My last was on May 19 2011, when I was 78 - although I'd had a gap (to put it mildly) from 1952 to 1973. I know I won't climb again and I'm not being all stoical or mellow about it. Really, inwardly, I'm groaning and keening as all that long experience of effort and delight has reached its terminus at last.
In 1952, on a moist and overcast morning on Lochnagar, I went up Black Spout Buttress, led by two good lads I've never seen since, Gavin Alexander, who looked like a colonial civil servant circa. 1910, and Ian MacPhail, who was lean and self con­tained and edited the Aberdeen student journal. As we geared up on the scree, in the enclosing gloom of the corrie, a voice said out of the air, 'Davey'" Fancy seeing you here " It was Bill Brooker; his invisible partner (I worked out many years later) was Tom Patey. They were putting up a route they named The Stack. Our route I can't quite identify. It took a mole‑like crawl through a squeeze between the pinnacle and the massif, then you stepped out into what felt like the misty air itself and crept up an exposed slab while the great ribs and faces gleamed dully all around.
The last climb was a trio of wee gems on a cragette in the jaws of Patterdale above Ullswater. The outcrop is called Oxford Slabs - unfortunately, because who wants a reminder of, say, Professor J.H.Clapham and his little circus of acolytic students when you're in the wild heart of Cumbria? The lines we found are not in any guidebook. They must be well frequented because there's an iron stake at the top and the scree is trodden through to gravel-probably by learners from the Outward Bound school not far away. Just for fun we named our routes: Sere, Slant, and Trident. The first had a single yellowed holly leaf lying at its foot; the second followed the diagonal grain of the rock (and Slant is also a distant echo of Slape and Brant); and the third was gouged near its top with a natural triple scar.

 'We' was myself and Chris Culshaw, who taught me technical climbing in the early 70s and has come with me up dozens of routes ever since. Mostly in the Lake District. He taught Remedial English at my children's comprehensive in Morecambe and has written many brilliant pioneering schoolbooks: a patient, humorous man and the best conceivable partner on rock. We put a top rope down Oxford Slabs because we know that we're both near the end of our physical tethers - and in my case have just passed it. Trident was gruelling enough: secured from above, I found myself committed to a steep, sheer passage with no resting place and I had to do a mantel which made my arms feel as though I was trying to lift a grand piano with a piece of string.
Some feelings are much worse than that and they're what has grounded me at last. Colour drains from the scene, a sparkly effect sets in like the blizzard on TV when no channel has been and all power of upward or forward movement drains away. This is because my heart, with its narrowed valve-and arteries, is failing to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to my brain. This had nearly killed me in November 2005. A daily cocktail of pills keeps me going - up to-a point. In 2009 I was climbing a route called Jomo in Trowbarrow Quarry near Silverdale (North Lanca­shire) with Dick Renshaw, now a sculptor, once a high-altitude climber until the rarefied air got to him high on K2 and the expedition doctor told him not to go up there again.

Jomo has two pitches, easy lumpy slabs up to a platform, then a delicate creep up a gangway abutting on a wall and a wonderfully precar­ious swing around a jutting beak, leaving a lay-away and using an ever-shinier limestone nodule for the right toe. I've soloed it and climbed it with my wife. Today I lead the slabby start and leave the gorgeous climax to Dick. After a minute or two, colour drains, sparkles take over, energy collapses to near zero.. I have to pause and spray clove-flavoured glycerol tri nitrate under my tongue from a little bottle I've put in my pocket for the past four years. In minutes full consciousness steals over me again; I step on up and fifteen minutes later, following Dick up the crux, I complete the route - not frightened- chastened, even humiliated. Dick is understanding and unworried - steadiness personified.
I'm left thinking what good is this, medicating my way up steep rock? where's the glory, the unalloyed delight, the sense of being at home in this fierce element, of being as equal to it as an orangutan is to the forest.?
This realization creeps over me like frost for the next two years, thawed briefly by that joyous session on the wee outcrop in Patterdale. In. the meantime I develop a fantasy with one of my climbing sons, Neil ( ascensionist, with Rick Campbell, of Thor on Shelter Stone Crag above Loch Avon) that he'll take me up a nice long mountainous Diff. or V.Diff, once I'm eighty. What a milestone that would be, what a happy defiance of old age. He and his elder brother Peter had taken me up Grooved Arete on the Rannoch Wall of Buachaille Etive Mhor for my 70th. A perfectly happy outing: technical edging up the first slim pillar - airy step out onto the face - frictioning up a huge slab with a macro-grain like sharkskin - hefty heaves up the final corner; and to end the day a feast of curried puy lentils down at camp in the stony, water-rustling darkness of Glen Etive.
Ten years later... the arteries have not magically shed their fatty furring, the valve is still too narrow (and really needs to be replaced by an artificial one that looks like an inch of complicated macaroni), my thumbs and shoulders are rusting up, my bowel is so much obsolete plumbing, my gait and balance are slow, uncertain, no longer to be taken for granted with the naturalness of an organism in its prime. I could get up to the crag (so could an aged slug) - if my partner had the patience of a saint, or a psychiatrist. I could manage the rock technically, if the spray was there in my pocket. No freedom of release in that, or revelling in wild beauty, or sense of enhanced belonging to the physical world.
The high episodes of those years from 1973 to 2011 are peaks in a range that seemed as though it would ripple on indefinitely. The elastic of the stretch through the overhangs on Haste Not (White Ghyll, Langdale), as you keep keep your fingers clutched on the point of a shield and wonder if your toes are ever going to reach lodgement in the neuk at its foot. The gibbon-like swinging from one rattling spike to another on the big traverse on Snoopy (Mainreachan Buttress, Fuar Toll, Wester Ross). The ledges on Moonshadow (Blouberg, Transvaal), eight hundred feet above the early morning polyphony of the baboons down there in the bush,while Alpine Swifts arc and whirr a few yards out from the ochre and cinnamon planes of the rockface. Even our failure on the Rock of Gibraltar, when Neil and I roped back down from three hundred feet or so (from a sling on an iron stanchion left by the British gunnery engineers in the 1780s), while cracking, bursting stones hurtled down into a scrapyard patrolled by dark-maned Alsatians - even that failure was an episode to revel in, and breathe again in relief at our escape, as we looked out from our hotel balcony towards Algeciras and Morocco.

All peaks - sunlit peaks - revisited a hundred times between 1 and 5 a.m., and their fellows in Buttermere and Wasdale, on Scafell and Rivelin Needle, in Glen Etive and Coire Etchachan, on Stanage and Mingulay and Beinn Eighe. It's a peculiar way to get to know the world, blood on the knuckles, birdlime in the hair, uncertain of your safety for hours on end, making journeys where the going is everything and arriving is an anti­climax. It's a natural way, as we see in the lives of rock-doves and ravens and peregrines. It's a wholly human way, as we alternate between the weird aloneness of yourself staring at an embedded rung of brownish rock and wondering if its upper rim juts enough to give purchase to your finger ends (the 5a pitch of Swastika, Trilleachan Slabs, Glen Etive) and the togetherness of reunion with your partner at the finish, knowing you had both.been through the same ordeal, won through it to the same contentment.

While climbing was continual, there had always been something to keep the imagination simmering: memories of the last climb, as vivid and improbable as a dream; a climb in prospect in an unexplored back dale somewhere, or even in a new country. Doing the legwork for the 1987 F.& R.C.C. Buttermere guide had me combing Newlands and Birkness Combe, Fleetwith Pike and upper Ennerdale, with eyes wide open and alert as a hunting buzzard - an earthbound raptor carrying only a pair of glasses, the old guide, a notebook, and some chocolate-covered Kendal mintcake. Three-quarters of the way up the Fleetwith Ridge, a slot opened deeply into the rock - a flurry happened - something shot out and away - a peregrine bolted eastward towards Green Crag, its image shrinking suddenly in reverse zoom as it zigzagged past Haystacks and left a clutch of olive eggs on the dust of thy, ledge. The moment could hardly have happened if I'd been rattling gear or shouting to a partner. I was alive, the bird was alive.

Such moments were always about to happen. It was like a vista that kept opening out indefinitely - always another crack to fit the fingers, another overhang to muscle up boldly or (more likely) to creep round cunningly, another gnarled cliff reaching skyward which might or might not 'go'. Climbing was always more or less there - inside us, ingrained. In the mid 70s, when all this was starting, I used to look down at my feet,, as they stepped over cobbles or setts or the patterned PVC on the kitchen floor and imagine that they were fitting themselves to edges, gauge friction, avoid unsteady rock. As experiences grew and layered themselves, it was as though the crags were one complex, many-bodied creature to which we related, with its nervous and vascular systems, its skeleton, its flesh. Or as Richard Fortey the fossil expert (author of Life and The Earth) puts it, 'The rocks beneath us are like an unconscious mind beneath the face of the earth, determining its shifts in mood and physiognomy.'

So the intimacy of connection between rock and self began to seem like molding. I was the malleable stuff poured into the contours of the rock, replicating its shape - which is what we do when we stretch an arm the exact 27 inches along a face to grip a hold, curl the finger ends 2 inches round an edge or bend the torso out and up and above an overhang.

One of the most tantalizing things about being grounded at last, and robbed of that close keeping with the rock, is that I can see the Langdale Pikes from the garden. Harrison's Stickle rises clear and salient thirty miles north-north-west across the Vale of Westmorland and the Kent estuary, across Windermerere and Grizedale Forest and Elterwater - all invisible, of course, bedded down in their leafy channels -until at last our vision reaches out to the Stickle, its left flank angling steeply up to the abrupt flattening of the summit. I last climbed there in the depth of foot-and-mouth. We had to walk up the fell between red-and-white tapes that kept people off ground they might contaminate as though we were trespassing on a crime scene. The goal was Porphyry Slab, first climbed in the middle of the Greatest War (August 11 1942). 

What will never leave me is the start of pitch 3, a step onto and past an arete of cleanest rhyolite, buffeted by a dry cold airflow from the south­west. No fear or worry, just that stride out into a racing, cleansing element, like entering the ocean for a swim. Now that jut of land has become one of the most tantalising focal points among many blue or grey skylines that I can no longer reach, except in these words - in fantasy.

David Craig: 2013. (Previously unpublished)