(proper pics to be uploaded later as I’m in Wales and I swear it has worse internet than Burma)
I had the 19th of March in the diary as a ‘do something’ date for ages, no idea why it must have looked like a gap.. I think it went in around early February when I was re-sorting the kitchen and discovered I had a ludicrous amount of booze in the house, so the original plan was probably cocktails. However, when mentioned, the ‘unless the weather is good’ statement came up. Then Gemma got the weekend free. And then the weather did look ok….
Because a) Gemma was hungover and slept in and b) I was meeting a potential lodger (who told me after being shown the house that he would be coming his Angolan wife, six month old baby and a lot of books – his words… you could not make it up)… we ended up leaving a little later than planned. Still, Gemma arrived at mine, bags and ropes were transferred into my tiny car and we headed off down the motorway.
Dorset is suprisingly easy to get to and we made excellent time arriving at a tiny National Trust car park just after midday.
When you haven’t really left London (and I’m barely on the outskirts) for a few weeks, getting out of the car and being hit by the calm, sun, smells of green and sea air, your heart lifts and it is a joy I will never stop appreciating. It’s like your chest has been opened up, your shoulders drop and weight is taken away. Just that would be enough. But there is also fun to be had!
A Fear of Falling
Now, for my level of skill I can be a relatively bold climber, I have taken falls on rock in each of the last few Sport climbing trips (where bolts are pre-placed in the rock and you are better protected) and will try moves above my clip that will mean a larger fall. However this does not mean I am not scared. Frankly I’m blinking terrified, and that seriously affects how I climb. Footwork becomes impossible, well placed toes suddenly scrabble for holds, you over grip on bent arms – becoming more strained (pumped), therefore more tired more likely to fall and more scared! It’s a self defeating prophecy. Gemma has never in the past really suffered from this, but is now. We spent considerable time discussing this, possible reasons stem from; is it climbing with me? to is she just pushing herself harder and therefore more likely to fall? We actually decided that the reason is fairly irrelevant and possibly difficult to pin point, but that it was something we were both going to need to work on.
Dancing Ledge on the south coast of Dorset is a magical place. It is an old worked quarry over a natural rock ledge that reaches out and above the sea. It is also (according to the guidebook) an area that dries out quickly after rain. It didn’t. There was a damn waterfall coming over a good section of the wall and where there were large areas of dry rock there were also streaks and puddles up nearly every route. When one is doing a lead climb in order to nail the anxiety issues early in the trip, one does not need the added challenge of knowing that every other handhold is going to be a rounded slimy thing with less grip than the proverbial eel. I had to rest on my first climb, and could only lead the first two clips on the second having to be lowered off half way. I was kicking myself soundly until Gemma also got stuck at the same point and it turned out that I’d picked an arse of an overhang to climb where the beautiful undercut hold that would swing you over the top was a greasy wet and useless pile of damp…
However, cudos to Gemma for actually making it up, and I have to remember that I finished the year climbing outdoors at a 5c, moving into easy 6a. After two months in the gym, coming back in at the same level is an ok place to be.. I want to have led an outdoor 6b by the end of the year so I’m going to have some work to do..
And as we sat down to talk all this through the training and work at the wall only takes you so far, it’s the route finding outdoors and understanding your own brain that take precedent over skill and strength.
Oh the pub… so we stayed at a plave called Tom’s field. This a primarily a campsite but we had decided to ‘splash out’ and stay in the barn/bunkhouse. This is well equipped and very comfortable even if it does look like a glorified pig pen! Tom’s field is however a 30min walk along the dark county lanes to the pub of choice. This sort of journey is where I feel wonderfully at home, and the walk only made the hot steak pasty, live band, home brewed ale and warm old oak smell even more fabulous. The mix of climbers, walkers and local old boys made for hilarious conversation.. although in honesty I must admit to a little bit of leaning back and letting it all wash over me. Listening to Gemma enthusiastically quizzing the local boys on life in the idyll, climbers comparing routes with old guys who’d gone up the walls in gym shoes but didn’t know a bolt from a crimp and the local crazy who just wanted us to try the olympic pond game… it washed over me and calmed and soothed a good pile of the stress and sadness of the previous weeks. Oh and there’s a stuffed ginger Badger in the window.
A locals story
“Came in and pointed at the window and went ‘A Ginger Badger’. An’ the old love sitting directly in front of it, I hadn’t seen her see, says ‘I’ve been ginger, but I’ve never had a ginger badger'”
After a hearty breakfast , including the first sausages I’d eaten in 11-years, Winspit and Quarrymans wall were our Sunday playground. Initially voicing the ‘well it may be raining and a day in the pub would be lovely we’ll just walk down anyway’ of the optimistic (desperate) we discovered the crag was dry and at least the first section sheltered from the icy blasting wind. I proved leading was not beyond me and remembered how joyous it is when it’s easy. We met the lovely Simon and Ben who were that perfect level of supportive, friendly and engaging without being either patronising or overbearing (something l only mention as we’ve had a gobful of it recently). And we spent a long time being scared shitless on a long 6b (Simon nearly cried when he got to the top – well he needed a minute). I did the 2nd clip for which I think we have video evidence somewhere .. but due to timing we had to ditch a mallion at clip 3 (a piece of hardware you leave so you can safely get all your gear back). It was returned to me before we’d packed up – love climbers
back in the car, back on the motorway, back to work on Monday
but with a little more grounding and Mallorca to look forward to!