The greatness of Yorkshire has been getting serious recognition recently. In August, Yorkshire was bestowed the accolade of being Europe’s Leading Destination 2013 at the World Travel Awards. Yorkshire will host the opening stages of the 2014 Tour de France and the route through this iconic English region was announced in October. October also saw Lonely Planet declaring Yorkshire the third best region in the world to visit. For me, a big part of Yorkshire’s greatness is the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, with their wealth of amazing walking and climbing. It was a nice coincidence that in the week that Lonely Planet declared Yorkshire a better destination than Texas, Victoria Falls and the West Coast of New Zealand, I went to Yorkshire to climb some rock.
Part of the reason that I have warm feeling about the crags of Yorkshire is that I climbed a lot of Yorkshire gritstone when I was as a student at Leeds University. The crags of Ilkely, Almscliff and Caley were my neighbourhood, with classic, fantastic climbs that a poor student like me could get to fairly easily by train or bus. It was there that I learned the quintessential and essential gritstone climbing technique of hand-jamming, practised my leading skills and put in enough time on rock to climb better than I have ever been able to since. I also spent more time climbing in the cold than I’ve ever done. My climbing year started with the academic year in September and ended in June and so didn’t involve much summer. It didn’t put me off climbing, but I spent a lot of my time belaying wishing I had enough money to afford a down jacket.
Some fifteen years later and I stuffed a belay jacket into my rucksack on a very cold, grey Saturday morning in a campsite near Appletreewick in the Yorkshire Dales. The unpromising weather forecast meant we were going to a crag to try and get as much climbing in as we could before the rain arrived and forced us off. We headed for Brimham Rocks as somewhere relatively nearby that had a variety of climbing and bouldering as well as easy access by car.
Brimham Rocks are a wonderfully weird collection of stacked and balanced gritstone blocks and edge hidden in moorland and trees a short drive from Pateley Bridge. Some of the rocks look like they defy gravity (a good omen for climbing) and are worth a look even if you aren’t climbing them. Kids love the scrambling playground and maze of Brimham and even on the cold day I visited there were kids clambering about.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a playground for me for long that day. I only managed to get one route done before the rain arrived (and I had only intended that route as a warm-up). I then optimistically waited for it to stop before the puddle that had formed on my rope bag and the water dribbling down the rock convinced me to give up and go for a walk instead.
It was frustrating to have to give up on climbing so quickly, but not quite as frustrating as the bright, golden autumn sun that came out as I got close to the campsite. I wondered if I had just sheltered under a rock for a while longer, I might have got another route or two in. But, I was committed to walking now and I did a quick, pleasant walk up to Simon’s Seat. This is the mass of rocks that rise out of Barden Fell and gives views of the rolling dales and rugged moor. There’s climbing on Simon’s Seat and I was seriously tempted to go scrambling. However, Simon’s Seat sticks up relatively high and is very exposed and the wind, followed by the rain, whipped in as I stood on the summit. The walk back was in torrential rain.
The next day was cold, but it was sunny and we made another try to climb. This time we headed for Caley, where boulders and a crag hide in the woods on the hill above the Otley to Leeds road. The trees kept most of the wind off and the sun shone in the valley, if not actually on us. As I sat belaying at the top of the first of the two routes we climbed that day, it felt like the Yorkshire climbing I’d done at university. I was sniffing hard in order to stop my nose dripping and was trying to not get blood from the jamming grazes on my hands smeared on my gear or clothes. But the climb had been a brilliant mix of cracks and rounded holds that ended with a bold sequence of moves that involved hand-jamming a diagonal crack while smearing with my feet. Pulling myself on top of the crag gave me a sweet feeling of achievement and a sense that this was what raw, real climbing felt like.
This was Yorkshire climbing and it’s another reason for all the awards.