North-East Bouldering: a re-reintroduction
Settling down to the prospect of little-to-no international travel for the rest of the year, but excited for getting out and about in the homeland.
Isolating alone for 8 weeks, I swore lockdown would be train, train, train. Two full wine bottles became light weights… and then lighter weights… until I filled them back up with water. At one point, I even improvised a pinch block with a yoga block, a sling and heavy books. It then sat proudly in the corner, the pinnacle of my quarantine creativity, and collected dust.
To my sheer amazement, I didn’t exactly emerge from lockdown as the beast I had envisioned.
Regardless, since restrictions lifted, I’ve been out and subsequently humbled on the local sandstone. I’m incredibly fortunate to reside in Newcastle and have the Northumberland boulders on my doorstep – and I count my rocky blessings each day. Ironically though, after ‘living at the crag’ in Laos and watching the aptly named ‘TV Boulder’ from the guesthouse sofa in India, ‘on the doorstep’ now refers to a minimum 35minute drive and 15minute approach…
…But I’m not complaining. The car journey becomes part of the outing. Watching the grey monotony of the city gradually succumb to a rich tapestry of green and gold brings about a gentle high, accompanied by the low buzz of adventure. On my own, it’s almost a meditation.
Plus, a long approach justifies immediately opening the crag snacks; one must obviously refuel for the day of hard climbing ahead.
Except, this is England. Notably, the North of England. We checked the forecast a week ago. We checked the forecast last night. We checked the forecast this morning.
It’s now noon and we’re huddled in the van in a layby while the rain lashes down and I sigh at the little sun/cloud hovering above ‘12pm’ on MetOffice.com. We crack a beer and toast to the solid attempt at a day out on the pebbles. We barely touched the rock and ate all the snacks. Overall, still a good time.
I’ve cowered behind a crashpad as an improvised windbreak on the exposed face of Ravensheugh crag, insufferable midges have forced us to run from the sunburnt rock in Yorkshire and, in just one short evening session, I’ve been subject to all the elements one after another.
When the weather does behave (and has done for at least 36 hours prior, given the fragility of northern sandstone), I am practising sloping crimps, sloping footholds, and… well, most things sloping. It’s a relatively new technique for me, partly due to an active avoidance thus far. Sticking a slap for a top-out is mad satisfying though – I’m hooked.
Bouldering in the County is hard and fulfilling, and the sunsets make for some epic scenes. But climbing aside, Northumberland gifts tranquillity and a strange feeling of safety. Maybe it’s the supporting mattress of bell heather, or the soft haze rolling over the Cheviots. Maybe it’s just me.
Maybe it’s just not having to worry about snakes and scorpions under rocks or in pockets (I won’t spoil the idyllic by mentioning ticks).
Having decided to stay put for a while, I’m looking forward to seeing the progress by starting my own project list and setting targets. I won’t list them here; my fear of admitting failure is second only to my fear of ticks. But follow mine or Dirtbags’ Instagram for when they’re smashed and I can claim success (shameless self-promotion).
Thank you to the poor souls with whom I get to share these outings, who lend me pads and guidebooks, and who are making UK life a little less intimidating than I had anticipated.
Photo credits include: (Instagram) @smupwalton @corndawg_25 @micky_j_p
Zoe Allin is Dirtbags’ resident writer, adventurer and boulderer. She does an alright job.
Follow her on Instagram for up to date antics: @zoallin
Zoe goes all over the place and is kind enough to write some stuff. If you have any questions or queries about said adventures and locations, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pass it on.