Monday, 5 September 2011

Finally! Real rock climbing after a month of Plastic Pulling

A single lane road winds between embankments of trees, bushes and other assorted flora. Occasionally, an oncoming vehicle brings the slow, careful driving to a complete halt, while one driver engages the reverse gear and backs up until they reach the nearest lay-by, sufficiently wide enough to let two vehicles through. After a short while navigating this very British jungle, a cafe appears to the right. A well-kept building, two stories, surrounded by a stone wall. People, some with dogs, others with children, mill around outside or delve through the small, squat front door, lower their head slightly as they pass under the frame. To the left, the car park is already filling up, with a single vehicle waiting patiently at its exit and then pulling out after I engage my indicator, broadcasting my intent to enter.

After parking up, I wrestle my bouldering mat through the rear door of my car, squash my bag inside it, throw the straps over my shoulders and embark on the remainder of my journey on foot. A few inquisitive glances are thrown my way. I hear a small child ask their parent what I have on my back but the parent evades answering, possibly due to not knowing, by calling the child to heel. Passing in front of the cafe, I leave the families and elderly people to their tea and scones and pick up the pace, marching purposefully into the bowels of the forest.

This is a well developed forest, however, with worn, large footpaths, trimmed tree lines, a picturesque lake full of ducks, crowned with a privately owned house - more of a mansion really, large, regal and with an immaculate lawn, bountiful flower beds and sculpted hedges. After passing the house, the landscape gets a little more rugged, with small trenches of soft, sloppy mud forcing me to use a little judgement about where to put my foot, having opted for a comfortable but non-waterproof pair of trainers. Either side of the path, the embankments rise steeply, covered with huge green trees. The sound of dogs barking, children squealing and laughing and the odd, deep call of a man beckoning his best friend - "Spike!" - can be heard above the trickling water of a small stream cutting through the middle of the valley.

A few twists and turns later, the odd nod and a "hello" to a passers-by, being dragged by their faithful, four-legged companions, and I break off left, off the main path and into the vegetation. Pushing through the bushes, I eventually emerge into a level clearing, immediately faced with a sheer wall of sandstone, water streaked and inviting to the rock climber that I am. I throw down my bouldering mat and catch my breath, walking back and forth, under the rock, occasionally touching its surface, gripping and testing handholds, checking for damp. I pull the guide book from my bag and glance between the pictures, annotated with lines and numbers, relating to specific boulder problems, and the actual rock itself.

No one else is here. It's peaceful. It's quiet. I sit on a large stone table, inscribed with names, initials and drawings, pull on my rock shoes, daub my hands in calcium carbonate powder and get down to the business of climbing. This is the first time I've been able to climb on real rock in a month and my motivation had begun to wane, the boredom and repetitive nature of the indoor bouldering gym taking its toll. But after just the drive in and then the walk here, touching the rock and inspecting real boulder problems, my motivation is reignited, and I have one of the best days out climbing by myself I've ever had.

This is why I go climbing. And I love it.