Thursday, 28 April 2011

The expansion of human activity

(Written in 2007 - the exact date has been lost)

Neglect is not the right word to describe the Newstones and Baldstones outcrop of beautifully sculptured boulders, elegantly cast along a slight ridge, past the steeper Ramshaw, a buffer between the increasingly popular The Roaches and the relatively unknown Gib Torr. Though all four of these closely bunched, world class grit stone havens have been developed to within an inch of their lives over the decades since their hidden treasure troves of problems were first discovered, within today’s ever expanding and increasingly less experienced by average climbing community, certain bouldering spots are not seeing similar levels of traffic as others.

With indoor walls continuously sprouting in towns and cities around the UK, the number of new climbers taking up the sport is astronomical, and their first excursions, second excursions, and most subsequent excursions into the great outdoors, where climbing means something, where the rock you ascend, traverse, descend and fall from will be around for a millennia, is more often than not chosen for its safety and comfort – the popular being the safest and most comfortable, the very reason for its popularity, feeding the perpetual cycle. Easy access is paramount – with well-trodden paths, chalk soaked holds, unnaturally flattened ground and beta from the dozens of climbers around making the experience all the more ‘indoorsy’.

This isn’t to say that Newstones and Baldstones (to be known as N&B for the remainder of this article) has been abandoned – quite the contrary. The rock is splattered with chalk, greasy holds are abundant, landings have been carved out of the previously un-level, plant-strewn surface and climbers can be seen there on a daily basis. The difference between N&B and The Roaches, however, is one born of this contemporary culture of rock climbing popularity – a shift into the mainstream. The contrast between N&B (which, for the purpose of this screed, and to save valuable wordage, includes Ramshaw and Gib Torr) and The Roaches can be used as a microcosm for any other well-developed, multi-crag region within the UK.

On any given weekday, there are dozens – now possibly even approaching triple figures – of people climbing at The Roaches, not to mention the walkers who pass between its beautiful trees, over the bright green, moss covered carapace, hiding the brown, grey and orange rock beneath. The tidal wave of human activity can be felt every available dry day that Mother Nature deems to cast among those drowned in swathes of rain, sleet and snow. The traffic jam of homo sapien activity is constantly engorged – there is never a rest for this incredible landscape. Those with years of rock climbing experience under their metaphorical belts, or simply any common sense, know to avoid The Roaches entirely on weekends, when the tidal wave is at its peak. It has become a huge tourist pull for the region – and rightly so, as the views, walks, rocks, history, and abundance of tea rooms, have all added to its appeal. It is a superb place to visit and denying anyone the pleasures on offer there would be a crime – unless, of course, those peregrine falcons are nesting on the Upper Tier again. Then access is rightly restricted.

N&B, on the other hand, has been relatively neglected. As mentioned earlier, neglect is probably the wrong word; under-valued, passed over, left to the few, pushed to the back of the visitor destination queue. And there are many that would appreciate it staying this way.

Its time is coming, however, and, before long, there will be the crowds gathering beneath its gorgeous problems, pulling on those exquisitely crafted crimps, slopers, pinches and jugs. Those who have visited N&B know its charms, its quirky appeal, the blissful peace and quiet, except for the odd wail of a pheasant or bark of a dog. This is not to say that on every arrival the climber must bear the brush of cleansing and remove the grimy, slimy dust and matter that has collected on the rock, because there are people there, maneuvering their way up, across and between the plethora of problems on every available day, but the numbers are so much smaller than at its neighbour, and those who do deem it worthwhile to peruse the rocks every so slightly further afield are, on average, more experienced. This affects the whole atmosphere of the place – giving it a relaxed, sometimes detached feel.

Landings have, again, been battered into shape through years of falls, bouldering pads and foot shuffling, and the rock bears the scars of years of abrasive pulling, pushing, grabbing and slapping. But there is a calmness about the area that is difficult to now find at The Roaches, unless you abandon the beaten path, to satellite sections of problems, such as the Cube, Attic and Cellar areas. Even Doxley’s Pool, itself out of the way of the humdrum that can be found in the Upper and Lower Tiers, now sees streams of human activity roll past, leisurely strolling along, stopping now and again to watch those clambering over the puddles and mud at the base of the boulders.

This, thankfully, cannot be found in such abundance at N&B. Discussing the matter in an open forum such as this seems a contradiction, but the inevitable will happen; the day will come when N&B begins to have a climber on every other problem, when queues form to climb the classics and demi-classics. The overflow will occur; The Roaches is reaching tipping point, when visitors will spill into the surrounding area in ever greater numbers, bringing with them more expensive cafes and tea rooms, ever elaborate maps, trails, boards, and hoardings that describe the flora and fauna of the area.

It is occurring now, it has been occurring for years, as, incrementally, more people reach out for something new, somewhere new, paving the way for the masses.