Friday, 28 December 2012

Clarach Bay Bouldering

Clarach Bay Bouldering – Mid Wales.

Sometimes in climbing you need something to pull you out of the doldrums. Plateaus can be hard to deal with - you feel heavy, uncoordinated and despondent. At these times you just need to get out there and climb, leave the projects behind and get enthusiastic about something. For me enthusiasm is nearly always rekindled by the development of ‘esoteria’, venues which have been discounted by others as being to scrappy, obscure, or to distant to be worth any effort. However to a boulderer disenchanted with projects and the general climbing rat-race present in Britain’s premier bouldering venues, it is these esoteric areas that will yield real excitement, adventure and at times problems of true quality. I was stuck in a deep rut earlier this year until my climbing focus turned to Mid Wales. I was going to visit friends there, and as I was aware, you never know what might be found to cure the climbing funk if you don’t look.

Mid Wales is sparsely populated. Its patchwork landscape of mountains and sea is so beautiful it almost hurts to be there when the sun shines. There is some already well documented bouldering in this region of the principality. Cae Du near Towyn, is well known and well visited by boulderers looking to take their family on a holiday that might, if they are lucky, involve some climbing.

I knew I would be staying in Aberystwyth. Aber is close to Cae Du as the crow flies, but a good hour and a half drive around the Dovey estuary is not an option for quick-fix climbing sessions. Internet searches revealed little in the Aberystwyth area. There were vague possibilities of bouldering on the top of a wet mountain with an hour walk in but nothing practical. Could there really be no bouldering in this area? Would the deep funk of a plateau be magnified by a forced, restless rest period? Well ........ no!

When looking for the magic of esoteric bouldering, persistence is the key. The mountains and bays around Aberystwyth had to yield something! I sent out e–mails, dug a bit deeper, contacted Terry Taylor at midwalesclimbing.com and eventually got a result. A lot of work I know but sometimes the thrill of the chase can be as exciting as the results you uncover, leading to a building of momentum and a return to psyche.

My digging, searching and hard work eventually allowed me to home in on a target- a venue five minutes from Aberystwyth and ten minutes from where I would be staying. Clarach Bay has some sports routes and there were some rumours of bouldering, however most of the leads that reported this place were pretty negative. I’ve never really listened to others so I thought I would find out for myself. Clarach has one other major feature which made it easy for me to ignore the opinions of others- it’s coastal. Many people hate bouldering on the beach, having to judge tides, weather windows and conditions, but I love it. The unique elements of shady caves and the cooling effect of evaporating salt water make coastal locations the only place to climb in a sweaty British summer.

My first visit to Clarach confirmed that my inquisitive and optimistic outlook can be advantageous (ok- it’s can also be annoying). Local climbers had forsaken Clarach in favour of the more popular bouldering of North Wales and the Peak. What they had left for me was by no means world class or even nationally significant- however, it is good. Cool, wave-washed graywhack sandstone overhanging with slopers and crimps, a little friable yes, but nothing serious. I climbed a range of problems from V1 – V7, some of which genuinely hold their own against problems in the Pass – honest!

It’s now summer. I’ve been to Clarach several times and climbed my projects. Psyche is restored by the regenerative qualities of the Mid Wales coastline. If you need to step off the treadmill and find some solitude, try some esoteria – you won’t regret it. There is a video and topo showing my exploits at Clarach below, use them to help you access the bay or as inspiration to find your own little boulderfield to breathe life into and pass on to others who are lacking psyche.


Clarach Bouldering from Owen McShane on Vimeo.


Here's the link for the topo.

http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/1975141/clarach-topo-pdf-june-15-2010-9-16-am-11-7-meg?da=y

Cheers Owen

More Welsh Esoteric Venues - Pembrokeshire

Pembrokeshire’s Potential



Most climbers think that there is no bouldering in Pembrokeshire, and why would you think otherwise? The standard trip to Pembrokeshire is a blend of the following ingredients:

• A bank holiday weekend
• Camping at Bosherston
• A traffic jam
• Classic trad routes in Mowing Word and Mother Carey’s Kitchen
• (and most importantly) Cream Tea.

With so much to think about and no established bouldering guide or circuit, the visiting climber seems to have no appetite for unlocking Pembrokeshire’s bouldering potential- or is it the cream teas that stop the hungry from exploring?

Well to those who have made the effort it is clear that Pembrokeshire has a lot of potential and is one of the last unexplored corners of the UK in terms of bouldering. It stands to reason that 180 miles of rocky coastline must yield some problems. When consider the rock types on the peninsula; limestone, sandstone, rhyolite and dolerite, the potential here begins to slip into focus.

There have been a few attempts to buck the trend and develop Pembrokeshire’s bouldering resources. My project here is to bring all the information that exists, past and present, together. This might provide the spark needed to get a scene going- leading to a systematic review of what’s available down there, way out west. You never know, people might travel for the bouldering rather than the trad on those bank holiday weekends. (However, it will take a little more than a bit of bouldering to reduce cream tea consumption.)

The first real bouldering development culminated in the production of “Anorak – Pembrokeshire Bouldering” a fanzine type bouldering guide published in 1997. There was an article in “On the Edge” magazine that people talked about for a while, a few people checked the venues out, sent some significant lines, and then the scene seemed to evaporate. A second attempt to create a buzz around Pembrokeshire’s coast line resulted in a PDF topo for Newgale North. This was written and distributed by Mark Hedge and he did a pretty good job. Mark’s input resulted in some interest and conversations on Ukbouldering. However no real momentum was created, the topo disappeared, and the pace of development in Pembrokeshire raced towards stop once again.


One of the many problems at Maidens Castle, Trefgarn.


So how can we light the touch paper, create a scene and get Pembrokeshire’s many potential locations developed? Well, to start with, here are those original topos- copy and paste these addresses into your web browser and use the information wisely!!

Firstly, here is the original Pembrokeshire bouldering guide – this is an interim version which has dropped a few of the venues from the original and has tried to incorporate photo topo’s and V grades. Use it with caution- it is not comprehensive and it originally only tried to point the way to potential so use it in this way:

www.alunrichardson.co.uk/uploads/pdf/rock%20climbing/pembroke_bouldering_2.04.pdf

Next we have Mark Hedge’s Newgale Guide, this is more comprehensive and useable:

www.keepandshare.com/doc/2007254/newgale-bouldering-guide-pdf-june-24-2010-12-12-pm-12-2-meg?da=y


Below is a picture of the slabs at Newgale North, these slabs create the caves referred to in Mark's guide.


Watch this space over the summer as I intend checking out more of Pembrokeshire’s bouldering spots with development in mind. In the meantime here is a video of a newish problem put up by Dan Warren in Newgale North (also some esoteria on Holyhead Mountain).



Remember the potential is there, it just needs to be unlocked. Use these resources to guide you and see what you can find. However if you do go and find nothing, don’t worry, you can have a cream tea, they are always easy to find.

Cheers Owen

Precipitation, Problems and Pembrokeshire – Newgale Revisited.



Driving around Pembrokeshire can be a surreal experience. Black stretches of unmarked tarmac snake through the landscape like serpents of infinite length. The few signs tell you that there is a mile to the next town, however in this part of West Wales a mile is not an actual measurable distance, rather a dreamy period of contemplation, bounded by the high green walls of natural hedgerows teaming with life. I was travelling along one of these lanes on a recent visit and as I rounded a corner I was greeted by a sign that stated “Budgie Babies £7.50 each.” How this sign could possibly be effective on a road driven on by, at most, tens of people a week, I have no idea.

I grew up in Pembrokeshire and when I visit now I am overcome by memories of past good (sometimes wild) times had in the perfect rural idyll. This usually lasts until the rain arrives. It can rain a lot in Pembs which is why it is so green and beautiful; however this is no consolation when well-made climbing plans are disrupted. The upside is that this inevitably leads to Cream Tea Cheer-Up Therapy, something that should be made available on the NHS as an effective cure for depression.

During my last foray into Pembrokeshire I managed an hour of bouldering in two days. Rain stopped play. However that one hour literally left me begging for more. At least the rain encouraged me to explore more of the possible bouldering areas in this quiet county. Some potential was seen, old problems rediscovered, and I came face to face with one of the best coastal boulders I have ever seen.

Trefgarn is a town found between Fishguard and Haverfordwest in the north of Pembrokeshire. There are two crags with bouldering here, Wolf Rock and Maiden’s Castle. As venues they were given a thorough going over in “Anorak – The Pembrokeshire Bouldering Guide” from 1997 (see previous post on how to get hold of this), however much potential remains. I could still recognise
this even through the sheets of rain that were slowly but surely dampening my enthusiasm. The potential lies in the semi highball bracket, however I could not touch it as these lines were wet. The reason I include Trefagarn is this: you can climb there when it is raining as some parts always remain dry.

The rock at Wolf Rock and Maiden’s castle is volcanic and dries very quickly. The scooped wall behind the main pinnacle at Maiden’s never gets wet. This is where my single hour of bouldering was had; and what an hour it was. I rediscovered problems and eliminates I put up ten years ago, yarding between holds on a twenty five to thirty degree overhang whilst everything around me disappeared in the enveloping mist. If you go to Pembrokeshire and its damp this is where you should go.

There are two types of rain in Pembs: type 1– soul destroying damp drizzle and type 2 – oh god there might be a mudslide! For most of the rest of my trip I experienced rain type two. On day two of my fact-finding mission I had cream tea for breakfast, that’s how bad it was. Spirits lifted, and happy in the knowledge that the tide was out, I thought I would investigate Newgale South. Dolph had developed a boulder there in 2001 and being slightly obsessive about Pembrokeshire bouldering I had to go and see it. Within a minute of walking along the beach I was wet. Within three I was soaked and the mission to find Dolph’s Boulder became an exercise in resistance training as my clothes were so weighed down with the contents of the sky.

The bouldering on the northern end of Newgale is well documented and the topo for the caves there can be found in my previous post on Pembrokeshire. The southern end has been a bit of a mystery to me. The Pembs bouldering guide hinted at potential and Dolph said it was good. I had looked before but had come away with nothing. I must confess I did have a “man look” last time; the kind of look a man has in the fridge when looking for something- the kind of look which is followed by a yell to his partner or wife who will then find the item in question. Despite the rain I was determined to find the potential at Newgale South and yelling would not help as my wife was 200 miles away in Liverpool.

To find the bouldering at Newgale South you need to walk south along the beach past the prominent headland and into the maze of small zawns that point out to sea from that point on. All the documented and potential bouldering on this part of the beach is hidden away amongst this jumble. You may walk around and think there is nothing there, however persistence reaps rewards!! If you take the time, this is the potential you will find:







If you are really diligent in your search of this sandstone jungle, you will also find this:
Dolph’s Boulder



It still has project lines on it!! A photo topo of what has been done and what remains can be found by following this link.

http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/2206476/newgale-south-topo-pdf-september-2-2010-2-58-pm-3-6-meg?da=y

When I say this boulder is good- I mean it is really good! Bullet hard sandstone, wave washed and rounded in its lower reaches like a bowling ball. If you needed a reason to motivate yourself to get down to Pembrokeshire to boulder, here it is. Believe me, if you get there and it’s not raining (and you manage to get onto the beach without consuming too many cream teas) you will have a very good session indeed! Even though it was wet gaining the knowledge, Dolph’s Boulder made the absorption of every drop from the sky worth it. Go to Newgale, you won’t regret it.

Cheers Owen

Are You Ready for the Breck???

The Breck is an urban quarry in the middle of Wallasey on Merseyside, the other side of the river to Liverpool. It has a rich history and used to be the training ground of past heroes such as Phil Davison, the man who first soloed Right Wall in Llanberis. In recent times the Breck has fallen out of favour. No one really climbs there anymore, and it has become a refuge for those who feel the National Curriculum for Science and Geography is best replaced by a GCSE in litter, broken glass and scrounged cigarettes.

Imagine an old man, overlooked in favour of his more interesting neighbours. After a while someone will break into his home to find him stinking of piss and at death's door. This is the best way to describe the Breck. Some of us in Liverpool, like some form of Help the Aged or Meals on Wheels, are trying to assist this ailing quarry back to health.

The Breck encapsulates all that is good and bad about urban climbing. The floor of the quarry resembles some kind of art installation. If you could remove the dog poo, there’s an arts council grant to be won by anyone who can claim to have arranged the rubbish themselves. The quarry holds a lot of eliminates, out of fashion now, but good moves none the less. Apparently some of these problems were used back in the day to train for Gogarth! Being a boulderer I have no idea what that means, but it sounds good. The Breck also holds many good true or pure lines, as good as anything else on Merseyside and possibly beyond.

The Climbing.

The bouldering can be found on four separate walls of bullet hard sandstone, which at times resembles the grit found in the Lancashire quarries. The climbing generally involves pockets and crimps up walls of increasing steepness.

Granny’s Rock.

This is an isolated pinnacle of rock in the middle of the quarry. It is the first piece of rock to dry in Merseyside and is great to warm up on. Granny’s is the home of the Breck eliminate, with problems going up to V9. The only problem with this pinnacle is its colourful decoration, and in- situ carpet of glass.

Bluebell Wall.
A steep undercut wall / slab with slightly highball technical climbing. Problems range from British 5b to 6b (old money grading I know, but they do work). The climbing here is similar to, and as good as, Pex Hill and for many this is the main action in the quarry.

The Who Wall, and the Back Wall.

Si "Fatneck" Huthwaite bouldering out of the fireplace on the Back wall of the Breck.

The Who wall is limited but it is worth a mention, as it has a meaty high 6a up the middle of its front face. Just down the hill from the Who wall is the Back or Overhanging wall. Put simply this is one of the most impressive sweeps of sandstone on Merseyside. Originally developed as a top roping venue with in situ belay bolts and a route of French 8a, this sector has recently been exploited once again as a bouldering spot. An ascent of the Haston dyno (very highball V10) and Britain’s’ first confirmed British tech 7a move has turned tongues and heads Breckwards. The back wall at the Breck is steep and powerful. Problems follow the lines of the top rope routes and can finish at two thirds height in breaks or large pockets, but this could be seen as a cop out as the lines were originally soloed to the top. When you climb lines on this back wall they don’t seem high, however the amount of air time clocked when jumping off tells you a different story, even from the breaks. Opportunities may still exist for new lines on this wall if you take a boulderer’s perspective, but believe me the problems will be mingingly hard.

Why Bother.

Many people who read this post may wonder what the point is. The Breck on the face of it is a scabby urban quarry with eliminates, it doesn’t sound worth visiting. The point is this; we need to get in there before the old man goes terminal, before he is lost to dog shit, rubbish, kids, fire, and vegetation. Instead of flying off to EASYBOULDER every time there is a cheap flight advertised, let's try and keep our venues going. The Breck, like many other quarry venues across Yorkshire and Lancashire, has a rich history and lots of good climbing. It is worth the small amount of effort visiting these venues to give them a viable future. It only takes a regular show of visitors picking up the odd bit of rubbish, deterring vandalism by just being there, to turn these places around. If we don’t do this we will lose “The Knowledge” held in these places for ever.

Here's a Video of Mike sending the Haston Dyno, ground up with a crux high off the deck, bouldering as nature intended.


Cheers Owen

Van Deimans and Devils – Tasmania Bouldering.

Many of you who daydreamed your way through secondary school geography classes thinking about the boy/girl next door, or those who did not have access to Loony Tunes cartoons (and therefore lead a culturally impoverished existence) may not be aware of the island state of Tasmania. Most of those who have heard of Taz of Tasmania, the arch enemy of Bugs Bunny, best described as a whirlwind of spit and anger that is not too dissimilar to most teenage boys, will still have no idea of where Tasmania is. The percentage of the British climbing population who would firstly find Tasmania on a map, and secondly imagine that there is bouldering potential there would be close to zero; and therein lies the appeal of the place. For someone like me who has a great love for esoteric venues, bouldering in landscapes not in crowds and with a healthy sense of adventure- it’s definitely worth a look.


Tasmania is the island state found south and east of the Australian mainland. Its European history is short- around three hundred years (its indigenous history would stretch back millennia). The islands story is one of convicts, whalers, farmers and mining, littered with cruelty, graft and gritty characters. Life in Tasmania was hard. However it was also the birthplace of the global Green Movement. In the early 1970s it gave birth to the world’s first Green Party; a political party that held the balance of power in Australia’s coalition government at the end of the 1990s. Tasmania has reinvented itself in recent years. It now promotes itself as the natural state; ecologically minded, organic, with almost a third of the island given over to national park. At least two of Tassie’s beaches are considered to be in the top ten in the world, and Tasmania lays claim to the cleanest air on the planet. If you needed a reason to visit, it was right there! Is there any bouldering I hear you ask? The answer is most emphatically, YES.


Long Haul Breakdown from Owen McShane on Vimeo.


Tasmania has a small climbing community, not really surprising as there are only five to six hundred thousand people on the entire island! However those who do boulder are very active indeed. Tasmania is a boulderer’s playground; it is an island full of rock (sandstone, dolerite, and granite being the main types), add to this a dry temperate climate which allows ten months of outdoor climbing a year, and you then have a very interesting package indeed. These factors when added together have conspired to produce an almost bizarre number of strong boulderers per head of climbing population. Of Tasmania’s five hundred thousand inhabitants, around fifty boulder. Of those fifty at least five climb V13, and one climbs as hard as any in the world- the spread of grades across the island reflects this. However, don’t be fooled- there is plenty for everyone as a great number of the best problems on the island rate between V3 and V7 with plenty of bouldering of all grades still to be developed.

The Venues.

Tasmania’s bouldering community is almost unique in its desire to get news of the island’s development out there. A constantly updated website exists with an online guide:

http://www.thesarvo.com/confluence/display/thesarvo/The+Tasmanian+Bouldering+Guide (cut and paste this into your browser to view the site).

“The Tasmanian Bouldering Guide” is a community authored resource which has resulted in the production of a high quality guide. The Guide can be bought as a black and white paperback (cheap), a full colour paperback (expensive) or downloaded as a PDF (free), all from:

http://stores.lulu.com/thesarvo (again cut and paste into your browser to see).

I feel we could all learn from this Tasmanian model of community- generated bouldering resources. Information is generated by the community for the community without the need for financial gain, individual bias, or elitism. A V4 first ascent which is done at someone’s limit is as significant to them as a V13 sent by a media savvy beast- so why not give both achievements the same column inches? So, boulderers of the UK unite! Don’t wait to be sold a new guide to your area, find a consensus and create your own.

The Tasmanian Bouldering Guide lists around 25 separate bouldering locations, with around 1500 documented boulder problems. Many of the venues have a lot to offer, however the best are Oatlands, Handsome Crag, and the granite venues off the East coast- namely Bicheno, and Coles Bay.

Oatlands.





Oatlands is a town just off the Midlands Highway in the centre of Tasmania. It was obviously once a prosperous market town, however it seems to have receded to one horse status with the decline of the local wool trade. Now that the town has been bypassed by the main highway, the one horse seems to have been lead away to the glue factory. On a crisp winter day when conditions are good, you can walk down Oatland’s main street and see no one at all.

What Oatlands does have is sandstone; steep, solid, quality sandstone that will keep you up at night thinking about it. The climbing is on the edge of the old town reservoir. The lake level fluctuates with the seasons and droughts, however the presence of water means that all bouldering sessions are accompanied by a chorus of croaking and the flapping of wings. The grades here go all the way from V0 up to astronomical. This is the hunting ground of local legend Sam Edwards; the guy has sent The Island in Font and did the first ascent of Gold Fish Trombone in Bishop- widely held as one of the hardest problems in the USA. Just looking at a Sam Edwards’ line at Oatlands will simply drain the strength out of you. The bouldering takes place on free standing boulders and edges. There are slabs and other features, however the best problems here are on roofs- big roofs, with big moves. If you like Parasellas’ cave- this is your Nirvana.



Handsome Crag.

This is another sandstone venue, however it contrasts with Oatlands in every possible way. The bouldering is found in the Mountains above the town of New Norfolk, a town with some dubiously narrow genetic codes, surrounded by beautiful, rolling countryside. To get to Handsome Crag you follow a sinuous dirt track populated by some malevolent hairpins. The track deposits you high on a hillside and deep into a world of Tea Tree and Eucalyptus. Climbing here is a multisensory experience; the sounds of Kookaburras laughing and the smells of the undergrowth would reduce most fee paying hippies to tears. However, as boulderers aren’t that sentimental, the free standing boulders here are more than enough to grab your attention.

The bouldering at Handsome Crag sits mostly below the crag itself in three separate sectors. The crag above is crammed with good looking trad lines if you like that sort of thing. I don’t, so you’d have to find out about that for yourself. Each sector is filled to the most part with free standing boulders teeming with slopers and requiring technique. Don’t worry though- roofs, highballs, slabs, walls, and prows can all be found in this extensive boulder field. This venue has something for everyone, and is Tasmania’s version of Font, with lines of all grades and styles and projects to go at. The only question that remains is …. do you have the balls to take on the track to get to it?



Coles Bay and Bisheno.
These east coast venues are something special. Bouldering on granite eggs on a shore line populated by penguins and pounded by some of the best cold water surf in the world. Coles bay is found in the Freycinet National Park, home of Wine Glass Bay, whilst the boulders at Bicheno sit on the shoreline that wraps around this sleepy seaside town. The grades at both venues may not threaten the higher end of the V scale, however the experience of climbing here is very hard to beat.

Coles Bay is the embarking point for three or four different bouldering spots, the best of which is Blue Stone Bay. Before going there check out the Coles bay bakery- I challenge you to find better baked goods accompanied by fantastic coffee and a genuine smile anywhere in the world. If you want to explore the bouldering delights of Freycinet you must pay a national park entry fee, worth every cent to experience the adventure that lies beyond the park gate. Yet another terrifying track takes you to Blue Stone bay. It’s pitted, pot holed surface eventually leads your now adrenaline saturated body to a rudimentary campsite, parking and the odd Kangaroo. Once out of the car, a journey down some hidden steps and a death defying shimmy along a narrow ledge 100 foot above the pounding surf, leads you to a perfect boulder of blue close crystal granite.

To describe these boulders as remote, on their promontory half way down a cliff looking out to sea, is an understatement. You are far from civilisation here. If you hurt yourself, the first humanity will know about it is when Skippy the talking Kangaroo brings your bleached bones back to the nearest town. Having said this don’t miss the opportunity to climb here, the danger, the remoteness, the quality of the lines, the position of the boulders and their outlook make this a unique place to climb; almost magical. Just remember to take friends and pads. I didn’t and my god, I was terrified.



In comparison to Coles and Blue Stone Bay, Bicheno is a rather civilised, almost tame affair. The twenty mile shift north along the coast from Coles sees a real softening in the landscape and lifestyle. You can grab a quick coffee from one of the surfshops/ cafĂ©’s whilst resting. The sea laps the edge of the granite platforms as you circuit your way around the boulders accompanied by fishing boats and penguins. The granite here is white and rough, good to climb on even when a little damp. There is even an island covered in boulders, which is connected to the shore at low tide by a spit of sand. The views here are breathtaking and the lines are striking. There is even a white sandy beach to lounge on. I’ve glimpsed heaven- it’s called Bicheno.


So what can I say about Tasmania? Should you visit? Is it worth it.....? No it’s not, don’t go, you won’t enjoy it. The pleasant climate, clean air, fantastic food and brilliant bouldering won’t be your cup of tea. The islands friendly population and welcoming climbers will only put you off. The breathtaking scenery will bore you. In conclusion then, stay in Blighty. I’ll go back for you and make sure Tasmania doesn’t feel left out. I’ll easily navigate my way around world class venues with my comprehensive free guide on your behalf. I mean easy access, fantastic lines, and psyched climbers wouldn’t interest boulderers wanting an adventure far from the crowds. You wouldn’t want the perfect bouldering experience at the other end of the world, ....................... or would you?


Cheers Owen

Goldsborough – Esoteric Bouldering: Obsession and the move.


In quiet moments I quite often consider the nature and expression of sanity, and look at myself to see if these conditions really apply to me. I usually come to the conclusion that I am sane, just a little too enthusiastic about life (others would disagree). However when I explain to my work colleagues that I spend one of my weekend days in temperatures of minus three clawing my way up boulders with numb, injured fingers- they usually pronounce me utterly mad. Consequently I don’t dare tell them about climbing in Welsh caves through winter nights, in a state of sensory deprivation save for the flicker and splutter of a gas lamp. I’m sure questions would be asked, concerned phone calls made, and the relevant authorities would come and pick me up for an extended holiday on full board in a nice, white room.

When taken at face value, climbing in a freezing cave, or under a random overhang in the depths of a wet, British winter is insanity. We now have purpose-built bouldering walls with training aids and cafe’s. Why would anyone choose to freeze? The answer is obsession. It has been said that all males are slightly autistic, unable to deal with their emotions, but able to display an insatiable interest in something. I know people who can tell you the results of football games that precede their birth, or recite the entire back catalogue of a Jungalist record label from the early 1990’s. I can tell you about bouldering venues and problems from across the world that I will never visit. It is this obsession that drives a normally sane, sentient male outdoors in mid-winter. This madness can manifest itself in many ways, either by leading the unsuspecting boulderer to a distant, esoteric yet exotic venue, or by leading them miles from home to attain that perfect moment of achieving “the move.”

Goldsborough.

Pete on Beth's Traverse 7b+

Liverpool is both a fantastic and frustrating place for a boulderer to call home. Our local urban sandstone crags are an acquired taste. Some hate its eliminate or uber-technical nature whilst others revel in its’ graffiti clad, litter-strewn majesty. I know of one very notable local beast who claimed he would not take the opportunity to move to the ecstasy of a lifetime of world class sports climbs in Catalonia until he had floated up Monobloc at Pex Hill; testament indeed to the draw of the lines and the history that surrounds the climbing in Merseyside. Liverpool is perfectly situated for bouldering in Northern Britain; an equal distance from the Pass, Peak Grit, the Lakes and Yorkshire Grit. Everything is an hour and a half away, and herein lies the frustration. Three hours round trip with only a hunch about conditions!! Even with the advent of super-fast mobile means of communication, the picture of potential friction and moisture is never particularly clear. Being surrounded by a ring fence of Britain’s best bouldering there is often little incentive to discover the new and exciting. It is easier to languish in the established, the familiar and the classic. However life needs to be exciting and the path of the lazy boulderer, climbing the same old crumbling eroded problems is a negative one that ultimately leads to disillusionment and retirement.

I have always been drawn to esoteria! Out of the way venues, with quality lines talked about in hushed tones; illuminating the climbing experience with bright flashes of personal discovery. All of this done in a natural arena with no crowds, no fanfare- just friends. I often muse on what makes a venue esoteric? Is it its popularity, its location, or climbing style? I just can’t put my finger on it. If I could I would bottle these elements and sprinkle them over all of our bouldering venues, thus improving everyone’s climbing experience.

Goldsborough Carr is definitely one of these magic, esoteric venues. It sits high on rolling moorland, on the last gasp of the North Eastern Pennines, overlooking Barnard Castle and its surrounding hamlets. The drive from the A66 to the car parking seems to take you further and further from civilisation to a remoteness barely tangible in other parts of England. The crag inhabits a hill and sits solid and squat in a landscape that is reminiscent of Mediterranean table land, but with a lush greenness that only British precipitation can bring. These flat topped vistas permeated by curvaceous valleys are characterised by one overriding sense, and that is of silence, deep brooding silence that is strangely comforting when compared to the hustle and bustle of urban living.



Views from Goldsborough







The fact that Goldsborough has earned its esoteric status mystifies me, this place should be popular. A quick search on climbonline.com (the font of North Eastern climbing knowledge) reveals the fact the Goldsborough has 158 routes and boulder problems. A more detailed search uncovers a PDF topo written by Steve Dunning (one of the main protagonists in this area), the topo is not comprehensive yet it still lists 12 problems of 7a and above, 9 of which are above 7c. Such a high concentration of difficulty is usually associated to the mainstream, not the margins. However as the lichen on the upper walls of these huge roofs stands testament, Goldsborough is very rarely crowded. You are more likely to be entertained by the sing song of a local accent saying “Hello,” as it meanders its way along the coast to coast walk (which traces the valley bottom) than be accosted by the aggressive grunts of someone trying to send! Goldsborough’s esoteric qualities can be attributed to its relative geographical position. County Durham, the region within which Goldsborough is found, is sandwiched between the sculpted lines of Northumberland, and the rough brooding slopers of Yorkshire grit. Goldsborough is reminiscent of both of these neighbouring regions in line and texture, but loses out to both of them. This ‘poor cousin’ status that Co Durham climbing has taken on may be its salvation in time.

The lines at Goldsborough seem to fit into two categories; firstly good old fashioned highballs, problems that actually get route grades (a mixed economy promoted by the invention of the crash pad). The second category is that of the steep roof- these generally finish up the highballs and thus require some stamina. These roofs are characterised by big moves, small holds and an exercise in ‘horizontalism’ that some may consider an art form in its own right. To my mind three lines are worthy of particular attention. First is Jumping Jack Flash, a 6a+ that apes its way along and up the arĂȘte of Fiddlers Buttress. Next is Beth’s Traverse a 7b+ that scratches along crimps that trace a line through the steepness, joining Jumping Jack Flash at possibly its best move. The third line brings my thoughts full circle back to the subject of obsession.

Me on Hole Shot 7c

Hole Shot at Goldsborough is a 7c found just right of Beth’s traverse. It shares the same finish as Beth’s, an airy romp up Jumping Jack Flash. I have not climbed this problem. I have not even sent all of its tenuous powerful moves. Some would say it has shut me down, chewed me up, and spat me out! However I can do most of the moves, I can string quite a few of them together; that’s enough to spark an almost autistic interest. The problem has drawn me in. The nuances of the configuration of fingers on holds, the subtle application of body tension, and the flow of dynamic movement all act like a symphony on the senses, leaving an indelible dent on muscle memory, creating a thirst for success. Synapses fire and mental acrobatics are performed instantaneously, turning the negativity of failure into the positivity of “not bad for a first session- psyched to come back.”
The die is cast, a project mentality is initiated and the commitment to days of travelling and failure is made. However this is not a negative occurrence. Giving in to this obsessive behaviour is what project based climbing is all about. In some ways having a project boiling away under the surface of my general climbing life makes me happy. Where better to display such obsession than in the serene silence of the North Eastern Pennines. Goldsborough is great, its esoteric status makes it much better. No one else will be there; they will be in Yorkshire and Northumberland, leaving me to my rather guilty, manic, mad yet satisfying project.


Goldsborough Bouldering from Owen McShane on Vimeo.


All of the photos used in this post are from the Smooth Pete collection

Cheers Owen

Ogmore Bouldering.



This article was written some years ago now. Its main focus, the boulder problem ‘Work Hard Canoe Home,’ like many beach boulder problems is no more; consumed by the very elements that created it. Wind, waves and water have turned this wall of limestone into pebbles and sand, dispersed now across the Bristol Channel. The sentiment that prompted the writing of this piece still remains despite the demise of the problem; it points to the fundamental emotions involved in project climbing. It turned out that “Work Hard” was not 7b, more like easy 7a+, but this does not detract from the experience of climbing it. As for Bouldering down at Ogmore, like the rock on its beaches, it has evolved and developed over time and I will highlight some of the developments on this shoreline later.


Owen McShane on the end of Fatneck Special 7b

Obsession by the Sea.

Have you ever got locked into something? A project near your limit, an aesthetic line, or something you’ve just got to do? Boulder problems like these become a personal journey which can tax your mental and physical resources. If you get really obsessed you can open your life to a myriad of potential torments: conditions, strength, skin, and motivation; if any of these are less than perfect you might fail. However you’ll keep on going back because until you’ve done it you won’t really climb well on anything else. It will be there in your subconscious nagging away until it’s done. My climbing life has been littered with such projects, but one really stands out as a tribute to my manic obsessiveness.

Ogmore by Sea.

I’ve been climbing at Ogmore, on the South East coast of Wales, for a long time. I’m actually a Welshman in exile on Merseyside but it won’t be long before I’m a naturalised Scouser, which is no bad thing (after all, I have married one!) Most of my family live in Cardiff, which keeps me grounded Welshside, and leads to many visits to the greatest country on earth. After a bit of research through back issues of old climbing magazines I found out about Hardy’s bay and the Trench at Ogmore. That was six years ago. I fell for the climbing there and have been visiting ever since.
The first time you visit Ogmore you’d think there was no real bouldering here, just a poor limestone conglomerate platform that slopes into the sea. However a walk along the beach at low tide quickly dispels this misconception. The platform has been eroded by our friend the sea to create narrow zawns of perfect bouldering height. The climbing, like its northern cousin Angel Bay, is smooth, hold less and undercut with big frictionless slopers – just how we like it.
The Trench at Ogmore is well known and well documented. An old article in “On the Edge” likened the Trench to “slippery grit by the sea.” I must admit this is a good analogy. There are features to be climbed at this venue, but no real holds until the top. The climbing is technical and brilliant. Grades begin in the fives, and stretch up to 7c (a word of warning though most things here feel hard for the grade). Pebble levels can vary by up to a meter and a half- on one day your problem might be a sit down, the next it’s a jump start!! There are still some unclimbed lines here. Unclimbed lines, now that grabbed your attention didn’t it. Some of these projects are fairly reasonable as most of the climbing in Hardy’s bay area 4 is in the font 5 to 6c grade range, with only the newer lines breaking into the mid 7’s. There is something for everyone here.

Torment.

My fixation, the object I desired, is also found in Hardy’s Bay. In general the climbing is steadier here and it is closer to the car park yielding a good ‘metres climbed to time spent away’ co-efficient. This is a vital mathematical equation to master when you really should be with your long suffering relatives.
Hardy’s has a great circuit and I got to know it inside out. It was at this point that I deviated from the topo and looked for potential – a dark twist on a beach of white limestone. The point is that the potential is there, especially for those who like impossible mantels with no holds (however I don’t).
The line that got me is obvious; a left to right traverse following one line of weakness for fifteen feet, fully undercut so heel hooks and feet in the same weakness is all you’ve got. All of this is followed by slappy moves on generous slopers up the wall just when you are boxed with fatigue.
In its original state this problem had a block jammed under the overhang near the end providing some respite for the feet and making the slappy moves easy. I sent this original problem in one session- it felt good and in the region of 7a. However, instead of feeling happy with my day out on the beach and celebrating with a few kilos of ice cream I felt cheated - the block needed to be eliminated. I had taken my first step into a dark place.

Work Hard Canoe Home

Temptation.

I went back a few months later and my prayers had been answered! Storms had pushed the block further underneath the overhang and it could no longer be used. The line had become pure and I was about to be locked into climbing it. Step two into the dark pit. The new problem was going to be better but a good deal harder, it would have to be worked – from Liverpool! However that was fine; there are only 200 miles, a family and a fulltime job separating these locations.
On another visit I linked the moves and only had the final slaps left. Step three into the pit. The point of no return on a project – nearly doing it and being sooo close. This is also the point at which excuses for failure can be made; I would talk about damp rock, illness, and stress amongst other things but the problem needed to be sent and I lived so far away. I found myself watching the weather for Cardiff, working out the tide times for Ogmore, looking for reasons to return and try the moves. I don’t remember exactly how many times I went back to try the problem, I just remember the looks of pity on my friend’s faces.

The End is Nigh.

My mother was going backpacking somewhere exotic and mentioned that she needed a coat. So I bought her one and of course time waits for no man- she needed it so I would have to drive it down to her! On the four hour drive to Cardiff on a busy, wintery Friday night I started musing on the pointlessness of it all. What if it did not go this time? What if it rained? I convinced myself that beach bouldering dries quickly because of the salt in the atmosphere! I know I was clutching at straws; all that sea water may have had something to say about my salt theory.
I get to Cardiff at 10, bed by 1, up at 7.30, at the crag by 10, warm up, have a first go, fail and try again. Then suddenly it’s done! All that time invested, working the moves, paying for petrol, making excuses... and it’s done. Do all projects end with an anticlimax? As these thoughts swirl around my brain busily occupied fighting endorphins, doubts, and fatigue, the adrenalin begins to fade. The dark cloud that has enveloped my climbing world begins to dissipate, a grin manically stretches across my face and the name comes to me- Work Hard, Canoe Home. The only problem is that I am alone. I want to tell someone- now!! The old women walking their dogs on the beach just won’t understand.
Now is the time to use my phone (this is the real reason why mobiles were invented) - time to text my mates. I tell them about sending the line, how it felt easy and how life is now very good. The only problem with such instant means of communication across vast distances is that your mates’ suspicions about your sanity are confirmed. In one silly moment of elation people know that you have committed to a seven hour 400 mile round trip to climb a boulder problem no one will ever be interested in, that may even have been climbed before.
“That’s nice” or, “Well done” they text back.
I reckon that deep down they’re just as excited as I am – they just don’t have the words or time to fully express their feelings.




Sequential shots of Hip Hop Paper Boi Scandal 7a+

Recent Developments.

I mentioned earlier that “Work Hard Canoe Home” has gone, in fact a whole wall of problems in that area has disappeared, however Hardy’s Bay at Ogmore remains one of my favourite places to climb. There is something about the quality of the slopers here, steep sit-starts coupled with elements of endurance that draw me back visit after visit. Extensive topos for all of Ogmore’s areas can be found by copy and pasting the following link into the task bar of your browser:

http://www.swbg.co.uk/bouldering/ogmore_by_sea/ogmore_by_sea.shtml

The South Wales bouldering website has lots of good information on Ogmore. The sections of this online guide worth visiting are areas 3, 4, 5, and 6. One problem is that it’s Hardy’s bay section (particularly area 4) is now massively out of date, as it has not kept pace with the erosive forces of the Bristol Channel. To save you time, copy and paste this next link into your browser and it will take you to the relevant page for the remaining, recently and fully developed “Daylight robbery” area of Hardy’s bay:

http://www.swbg.co.uk/bouldering/ogmore_by_sea/daylight_robbery_area.shtml

If you need any more encouragement to visit Ogmore, here are some videos from Kev Hughes’s collection. Kev is probably South Wales most active boulderer- his video topo to Dinas in Glyn Neath is proof of this (there will be more about this later in the year) The videos show problems from the Daylight Robbery section (area 4), and the Pebble Dash area (area 5). Enjoy! – Skinny and Hoobs





Cheers Owen

Borth Bouldering – A Slice of Mid Wales Mystery


Sometimes when looking for gold an individual needs to look past the obvious and mine seams of desperate disappointment before a glimpse of a prize may be sighted. Prospecting for new Bouldering in the UK can often reflect the experience of mineral men, scratching for riches amongst thousands of tonnes of valueless rock. The productive, obvious seams that produced some of our proudest problems in Yorkshire and the Peak were exhausted years ago. North Wales’ boulder rush of the late 1990’s seems to have slowed from a torrent to a trickle. At times the prospector feels marooned, stuck on the slag heap of history, wishing a new gold rush would begin.

Obviously glittering nuggets of interest will be found in even the most overworked of boulder fields, particularly as new blood enters old arenas looking to accrue the riches and accolades of a hard first ascent. However we all dream of something bigger, finding a rich vein of rock that can be mined day after day, yielding gem after glittering gem as the seam is worked, refining these minerals in terms of difficulty and quality. Dreams are just that- dreams; electrical impulses of fantasy firing from our synapses. Energising, enthusing, but often for nought. Following the dream of discovery can be frustrating, leading to long wet walks around crumbling boulders, slumbering under their mossy blankets without a glint of gold anywhere. No gems, no return for all that time invested.

Dreams may just be dreams, but disappointment fades over time whilst the lust for gold always remains. New areas are out there! New boulders with lines waiting to succumb to our tools of excavation: chalk, toothbrushes, fingers and boots. People pan for gold because they think there is something to be found. If we stop walking, panning and sifting through this constantly eroding British landscape we might just miss that glimmering glint of quality - the shimmer of potential that lies around the next corner.

I have prospected in many places and beaten a solitary path through miles of mud and scree, however my thirst for discovery still continues to motivate me. This desire has taken me to seams of rock that few, if any, have worked. Wales holds many of these seams. Some I’ve exhausted, others I’ve yet to exploit. Mid Wales is a part of the Principality I’ve returned to time and time again. This area is generally overlooked by the bouldering mainstream, far enough from the mines, quarries, and bouldering melting pots of North Wales to slip under that scenes’ collective radar. Clarach Bay near Aberystwyth was the first place I unearthed potential, however I did not discover this venue - I simply sifted through what was left by others.

I have written about my experiences at Clarach before, and you can find this here. However I always felt that Clarach was the beginning. The problems I climbed were not part of the major deposit of bouldering on this coastline. Rather I suspected that this was merely the glimpse of glitter that pointed to riches hidden elsewhere, a waymarker on to which hope and enthusiasm would be built. Somewhere on the headland that lies between Clarach and the huge expanse of sand that frames the Dovey estuary to the north (Borth,) there had to be something hiding, waiting for its potential to be unearthed.

Every Celtic nation has its own Atlantis story. Tales of a land that lies to the west under the waves, submerged due to man’s careless nature. An ancient land, the loss of which lamented through the ages in myth and song, warns of the destructive force of the sea. The stretch of coast between Clarach, and Borth is the gateway to Wales’ own Atlantis “Cantref Gwailod.” Evidence of an ancient land litters the local beaches. At very low tide a now Petrified Forest lies mangled and buried by Borth’s shifting sands. Stepping over these mighty tree stumps who have witnessed many millennia pass, you get a tangible sense of the age of this coastline. Untouched and unfazed by the hand of recent human history, standing watch over a civilisation lost. Walking from Borth, south towards Clarach sifting through the series of shales looking for climbable lines, the ancient echoes of this coast haunt you. Borth quickly disappears from view and you feel alone, far from civilisation, transported back into a more elemental time populated by Gulls, water and rock.



At first this journey feels futile. The rock is fractured and friable. However lines do begin to appear, rock hardened by the destructive forces that engulfed Cantref Gwailod. The constant attack of the waves and the metronomic motion of the tide have sculpted this malleable medium, hardening it into the occasional gem. These stop you long enough to break out brushes and shoes to pan for the riches that these minerals can give. These gems seem like rare, precious anomalies in the landscape; however they are enough to motivate, to drive you ever further from the bustle and safety of the beaches and closer to the now silent peal of Cantref Gwailod’s warning bells. The journey continues around this shore line, the sound of the lapping waves sooth as the lack of major discovery jarres and disappoints. However, another headland, another bay, the cliffs build, the rock bands thicken, the frequency of discovery increases, as does expectation and enthusiasm.

An hour into the journey, an hour from people, cafes and cars, I stand speechless. I’ve never won anything in my life, however stood there looking at these boulders, some of which are as big as houses, I had a real sense of winning the jackpot, winning the bouldering lottery, gaining riches which would sustain my climbing life for a substantial period of time. The gem- like problems here and there along the coast lead me to this place. No need to sift and pan for gold now, rather an opportunity to exploit a rich seam, where problem after problem has succumbed to this industry between the tides. Wave-washed shales, greywhack, overhangs, mantels, prows, campuses and technical walls climbed at a range of grades have been excavated from the rubble. Others who want to join this gold rush must time their journey well. The long trudge through these ancient stones will bring you to these boulders, however they can only be exploited for three or four hours before the merciless tide rolls in again, engulfing the boulders and everything that lingers there.


Borth Bouldering from Owen McShane on Vimeo.


I’m not going to tell you where these boulders are exactly. Grid references, GPS, and satellite images that lead you like the Pied Piper to this destination would detract from the adventure, discovery and magic that permeate the climbing experience on this coastline. I have included some videos, and photos that document some of the developments far, this should whet the appetite. This is enough to get you started. Suffice to say, walk along the coast at low tide, follow the base of the cliff and search for the riches. Pick off the problems and let them lead you south to the mother load, the rich seam of wave hardened rock that lies around the headlands out of sight of all save the lost souls of Cantref Gwailod.


Borth Bouldering Continued from Owen McShane on Vimeo.


The bouldering on this neglected piece of Mid Wales coast line, populated by fishing boats and sea gulls will not be to everyone’s tastes. The ambitious power athlete will find lines that suit here; however the effort that needs to be taken to enjoy these golden problems will put many off. Those who enjoy bouldering within a landscape, not just using it but interacting with it will enjoy this venue. Pulling down on slopey crimps with the smell of brine in your nostrils, the call of the sea birds in your ears and the warmth of the sun on your back is a hypnotic sensory mix that will leave you eager for more. I believe there is more to be mined here. I have only prospected part way round this stretch of coast. If you too lust for the rich experience of hidden lines in Britain’s mineral mix then see what you can find between Clarach and Borth. At low tide with the sun high in the sky the bells of Canterf Gwailod may sing to you from the depths, revealing the secrets held within the shales.


Me scoping the line that became "A Skinny Heel" V6

(Appologies for the rough video edits, but I just wanted to get this information out there, it has been a long time comming)

Cheers Owen

On the Ropes.


My climbing is in a bad place at the moment. I’m floundering. Like a prize fighter struggling to compete in a mismatched bout I’m stuck on the ropes; guard held high, weaving and ducking to dodge the blows as they rain around my head. Each successive jab drains my resolve, my psyche. Swollen knuckles, tendonitis, awful skin, muscle pulls and arthritic joints all leave me punch drunk, waiting for the sanctity of the bell; treatment and rest. I scrape through each session, each round, doing enough to stay on my feet, but at what cost? The physical price paid on overhangs, roofs and boulders has always seemed worth it, but now it feels like I’m in trouble; my luck is out, the knockout blow is closer than I ever anticipated. I question my motivations, my drive, my future. Could it be time to throw in the towel?












One thing you have to understand is that I have never had class. I don’t want to be a contender, I don’t want to be somebody, and unlike Eddie in the film “On the Waterfront,” I’m quite happy being a bum. I have always competed against myself in climbing, not my peers. To win was to climb new problems, to go toe to toe with what seemed like an impossible sequence, using guile, persistence and training to knock it down, count it out and move on to the next problem. With youthful elasticity I used to float like a butterfly around my chosen arenas, chest puffed out, buoyed by the arrogance of enthusiasm and devotion to the arts of powerful dynamic movement.

Like all fighters who hang on to their dream, I have made the transition from cocksure challenger to battling journeyman, training harder than ever to stay alive in the ring. Roads are pounded; kilometres drift by in an oxygen-deficient haze. Calories are counted as the need to make my fighting weight takes on an obsessive quality. Hours are burnt on the Beastmaker and campus board, locking ever decreasing holds, throwing further and further to rungs that languish in the aspirational abyss, sparring on plastic indoors hoping to gain a bit of knowledge that might help me undo my next opponent. Constantly driven on by the mantra “What would Jerry do?” The answer to that question is simple; Moffat would train harder and get stronger. He still stung like a bee in the arena of dreams into his forties despite debilitating injuries in his career. Facts like these help when the psyche is beaten out of you, but more is needed to motivate.



Unlike Moffat and Mohammed Ali before him, I don’t have the belief or the drive of a champion. I need something else to drive me onwards through testing and challenging times. For me the thing that has driven me on is the line- that one climb that is on the edge of your current ability, too hard to be sent quickly and yet so tangibly close that it feels like it could go at any time. A worthy adversary, who will give a good clean fight until the last round, an opponent that will draw out all of your physical resources stored from years of training, a nemesis that will grind you down until all that is left is the desire and hunger to succeed, no ambition, no pretence, just you, your fingers and hope.



So here I am again, sat receiving treatment in the corner waiting for the bell and the next round. Split tips are moisturised, glued, and taped, the seconds tick by and the adrenaline begins to flow. I gaze at the might of my opponent looking for a weakness. I need to use my height, my reach- my only advantage in this pound for pound match up. I assess the powerful moves on razor holds in the roof, and the bicep ripping swing to get out of it. I visualise the quick dancing feet needed to get established on the headwall and the left, right, left combination that would lead me to the knockout I so sorely need. The noise of the waterfall behind me and the climbers I share this venue with today disappears into the background as the ringside bays for blood would in the ears of the boxer. Time slows, fingers crack and the tendons flex, the bell rings and it’s time for yet another punishing round.............

Knock out, or knocked down, who knows what will happen in the next round....

Cheers Owen

A summer on the road.



I started bouldering in the late 90s- in 1998 in fact. My early forays were designed to distract me from some of the more enjoyable yet physically taxing aspects of my new life in the urban spaces of Merseyside. As with many things in my life, brief visits to climbing walls and crags quickly led to complete immersion in all aspects of climbing and climbing culture. Guide books, magazines, videos, topos and tall tales were digested greedily and in equal measure. My need to experience climbing physically, mentally and culturally could not be sated. Thirteen years of injury and the shifting sands of life have done little to quench this thirst.

In the late 90s the ultimate expression of being a baggy, beany wearing boulderer was to be involved in a road trip. Ben and Jerry had stepped out of their Pennine playgrounds underscored by the weird musical landscapes provided by Warp Records in “One Summer Bouldering in the Peak” and jumped into a world of beats, base and travel showcased in “The Real Thing.” This video, propelled by the rocket fuel of Ninja Tunes’ various artists changed the lives of many and provided the template for all climbing films that followed. Titles like “Rampage” and “Frequent Flyers” from the States stoked boulderers’ desire to go on the road. Like a crazed furnace man I happily shovelled coal onto the fires of those around me, feeding their burning need to go to venues such as Font, Ailfrode and El Cougal. Many a lad happily hopped onto my train of pure enthusiasm- many a girlfriend wished I could be derailed in some way.

On a road trip distance has no meaning- neither has time. All spatial and temporal measurements are calculated by looking at the number of map pages traversed compared to those yet to come. Towns, cities, countries fly past in a blur of smells, sounds and colour. Blood thickened, senses sharpened by espresso. White lines guide the way, keep you safe, tick, tick, tick by, setting the rhythm of the road. Hypnotised by motion, reality is held within a metal bubble with a windscreen on the world. All existence is fleeting, fluid as it flies by. This intoxicating mix of movement and momentum means no venue or problem seems out of reach, beyond the glare of headlamps searching for experience.



This year, like those of the past, the road trip is king. A thousand miles has disappeared in a day. This summer two thousand miles have evaporated in a couple of weeks. The bays and coves that nestle along the Welsh coastline have been scoured and exploited from north to south in search of the wave-washed booty that may lie within. Familiar haunts have been revisited and reworked; new venues have been found and hot foreign boulders have been plundered for all that they are worth, all to the tick, tick rhythm of the white lines as they stretch away into a myriad of possibilities.

It’s been a good summer to be on the road. Liverpool’s terraces have always ebbed and flowed, swelled and crashed into rollers of discontent on the streets. Urban spaces across the nation suffered a similar fate, burning on the bonfires of inequality, flames fanned by cuts and carelessness. It would be nice to think that the rhythm of the road could open minds and help quell the flames, however it is unlikely. As one character met on a trip this summer said, “London has burned on and off for a thousand years, there is no reason it should stop now or in the future.” So as we remove carrots and rule our urban spaces with sticks again, discontentment will build and we will ride these waves of fury out into the countryside and our playgrounds of possibility in summers to come.

Views from Dinas Pembrokeshire

Dinas is the Welsh word for city. It is strange that in a summer spent escaping city life this word in particular has resonated through the venues I have visited. From Dinas rocks in Glyn Neath and the wonder that is Fat Cat Roof, to the blue dolerite above Dinas in Pembrokeshire and on to Dinas Dinlle west of Caernarfon the launch pad from which new problems were crafted at Porth Dinllaen. The tick, tick rhythm of the lines on the road has led me away from the Urban whilst place names have firmly anchored me to that labyrinth of lives – the city.

Road trips are about escapism- swapping a routine of commuting and working to one where only eating, sleeping and climbing counts. Life becomes a simpler story on a road trip, the pages turn themselves day to day, crag to crag. In this narrative I like to frame myself as the driver; part of the machinery that devours distance, separated from the engine by nothing more than a simple membrane of skin, sensing the surface of the road through the vibrations of the steering wheel. My escape into the process that propels us along the road is secondary to the escape sought in the landscapes at the journey’s end. Carn Enoch and Garn Fawr sit high on a moor that overlooks Newport and the north coast of Pembrokeshire. This boulder field’s position high above Dinas Cross, inhabited by nothing but mountain ponies and sheep, is possibly one of the best in the UK. What the venue lacks in volume it makes up for in atmosphere. There is something ancient and mystical about this place; if you tune in the impression it makes may just help you through those dark, damp urban nights to come.


Some Problems from Dinas Pembrokeshire












Porth Dinllaen is a different beast; separated from a tourist hotspot by the manicured grass of a golf course, escape should be hard to find. However the crowds’ attentions are diverted by sand, beers, ice cream, sandwiches and putters leaving you with leagues of sea and boulders to climb. Half a dozen freestanding boulders serve as a playground for a boulderer looking for sport whilst the family enjoy the foaming waves nearby. The rock here can be sharp and even friable however the elements have sculpted it into shapes that succumb to a gentle mix of care, power and guile. Numerous zawns litter this short stretch of coast, they contain beautiful, dangerous lines waiting for someone who is willing to risk all and engage with the escapism of first ascents above angry landings. The climbing here feels adventurous despite the crowds and their sandcastles a stone’s throw away. Road trips throw up a rich range of experiences, you can take what you like from them. I’m sure someone out there would quite happily consume a post-send ice cream whilst contemplating how they would play the difficult par three, thirteenth hole that lies before them, their golf clubs and bouldering mat.












Sequencial shots of a possible new problem at Porth Dinllaen - Hoobies High Heels font 7a










Summers, like road trips, inevitably come to an end. The time arrives to meld with the car and retrace the steps taken into these rich landscapes of experience, following them back into city structures of concrete, brick, glass, and angst. Returning to the urban seems less melancholy when the journey is fuelled by beats and base, fingertips throbbing, the mind illuminated by the myriad of moves attempted along the way. These mental scenes will light the dark months hiding under the same overhangs and caves that have sustained past winters. Like ants we will swarm over our cities, retreating to the safety of buildings and the enterprise that lies within them. I will try to move mountains with teaspoons for yet another year, hoping that those young people I work with won’t light the urban touch paper again soon, whilst all the time the tick, tick of the road will always be there in my head, inviting me on trips yet to be conceived. As young men waste their lives battling against knowledge, informing me how bored they are, my mind will find an even keel in the plans of the next road trip and the adventures that lie ahead.

Cheers Owen