Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Fairy Steps

My mother said I never should,
Play with the fairies in the wood.

The autumn goldening sun shines outside the wood, but only slants through chinks in the lattice work of branches that bend over the ancient path through the woodland. Bramble bushes line the way, pale pink petals still clinging on, small fruit ripening. The blackberries aren't good this year; too much rain, although the paths now are dry. Slowly up and up, on and on and then a clearing where wild flowers poke through the tangle of low lying brambles. A look to the left, and yellow rock flashes through the ash trees, caught by the sun - Whin Scar. The crag builds up in height and I turn left into the clearing by the Fairy Steps. Along, and then up, on polish and jugs, the end of summer so I almost move nimbly, pulling and twisting, and then onto the top and swing back down the tree. Up again, next route, and ape back down. Repeat, explore, driven by the beat of the hammering of a woodpecker somewhere overhead. More routes, less climbed, starting through brambles which catch tear at my thin trousers and draw blood, and topping out into a covering of prickles, of holly and bramble and pine.

A scramble to the top, to watch the sun quickly vanish behind the Cartmel fells, a pink grapefruit sky and the rock drips orange as I descend the corpse route Fairy Steps.

Time to go now, before the woodland changes and the spirits emerge, before the trees bind together and the brambles snake over the paths and the holly bushes dance to shed their spikey leaves. Away, away!

North Wales

A last minute trip to Snowdonia for the weekend. Drifted home from work on Friday, didn't leave Kendal til gone 8:30, then hurtled down from the drizzly Lakes to the clearer skies of North Wales. A three quarter moon hung over the valley as we abandoned the car in the campsite, and ran across the fields to the pub to make last orders.

An early start on Saturday and somehow we were on the crag by quarter to 9, only the third car in the layby under Clogwyn y Grochan. Clambered up to the base of Nea, the bottom of the route resembling a ghyll scramble. I led the first pitch, and then shouts from George below that I still had plenty of rope encouraged me to continue up the staircase of the second pitch. All my gear was gone, placed in the too-tempting well-worn white nut scars that ran up the crag. I continued to finish the top pitch, a step left and up, sudden steepness and exposure, but not for long. We abbed off the gnarled, sling-strewn oak tree down to a very busy crag bottom, with the queues already starting for the route.

Across to Brant, George leads the first pitch, and I teeter across afterwards, swinging out on the loose flake and across the steep face up to the ledge. Not far enough, so I squirm up through a holly tree and shuffle across the ledge and under an overhang, smug for once at my lack of height to the infamous crack which I'd watched friends squirm up from the valley bottom on several occasions. "Thrutchy" the guidebook says. Up two moves, place two nuts, back two moves. Stall, remove coat. Up two moves, bridge out left, spot another foothold out right... and I'm up, some imitation of technique thankfully saving thrutching. Another pitch, George leads, and we regret not having abbed off sooner.

To Dinas Mot, now, somehow not too cold. We climb West Rib, and then back to the Grochan as the light dims, as George wants to do Kaisergeberge Wall. I want to go back to the campsite; tea, beer and bed beckon. Neil and Tanya head off. I am hoisted up the wall, plucking gear out until I pop out at the top as the sun sets, filtering up the Pass and making the crag walls red.

The Vaynol that night is heaving, Welsh and English voices mingling, farty beer flowing, band playing. We perch on the edge of stools until we can claim seats, and eye up the guidebook for the next day. To Idwal Slabs, with Tanya and Neil. It is quiet as we walk up the well made path that leads up gently to Llyn Idwal, though when we arrive the virtuous routes are already knitting up nicely. Up Tennis Shoe, my first ever proper climb, nearly 10 years ago. Tanya starts it, and I finish, popping up on top of the block, and running the rope around, wondering if I'll be the one to unbalance it and send it toboggoning down the crag. We weave our the warps and point up Javelin Buttress. Neil zooms off up, and Tanya and I balance up after. We eye up Gray Slabs, but instead decend down rock and moss and scree and wetness back down the neverendingdecent over and under and round Suicide Wall. A Gogarth-gone George is picked up in Bethesda, and then a traffic jam is sat in for longer than the whole weekend together as we crawl to Conway for kebabs then the long hurtle home.