A Lesson in Checking the Guidebook

On the hottest day of the day 2022 heatwave, we escaped to the Yorkshire moors to go bouldering. I thought that there was sure to be a breeze, maybe even a cool one, on high, open ground. I was right and we did get relief from the smothering heat. However, I also got a lesson in why in pays to check how old your guidebook is before setting out.

Me climbing Grip (3) at Roundhill.

There were three reasons I suggested that we go to Roundhill that day. The first was that it sounded like it would hit that sweet spot of being high and wild enough to get a good breeze, while not being too long a walk-in. The second was that we were out of practice and the climbing didn’t look too hard. The third reason was the description of Roundhill in the most up-to-date edition of the Yorkshire Gritstone; Volume 1 guidebook – 

“An extensive boulder field high on Ilton Moor and a wonderful contrast to the neighbouring Slipstones. Great for families; all bilberries and no ferns. Nice and flat. Yorkshire’s answer to the child-friendly bouldering in Derbyshire’s Burbage Valley…Very pleasant on a summer’s day…”

Nicholson, R. (ed.) (2012) Yorkshire Gritstone; Volume 1, Almscliff to Slipstones, Yorkshire Mountaineering Club, p.624.

It sounded perfect for my wife, eight-year-old son, and I. 

In many respects, Roundhill was perfect. Roundhill is a spread-out collection of gritstone boulders just below the edge of Ilton Moor that has a fantastic view of Roundhill Reservoir and the surrounding moors. The rock is good quality and the climbing interesting. There was a gentle wind on the day we visited that made it pleasantly warm. It is also the quietest bouldering location I have ever been to – we didn’t see another person all day.

The pictures in the guidebook showed bouldering above a gentle landscape of short grass and bilberry bushes. The unpleasant surprise was that in the ten years since the guidebook had been published this landscape had largely disappeared under a sea of bracken. While some of the bilberry bushes poked out here and there, most of them seemed to have been subsumed by the bracken and probably eaten by these veracious ferns. As I stood on the path, looking around the moor side, I wondered whether I had the right place. I then wondered how to actually get to the climbing. In retrospect, the sensible thing might have been to give up and go find an ice-cream. However, I can be stubborn, I wanted to get some climbing done after investing the time to get there, and I optimistically thought that it couldn’t be that bad. I therefore ploughed on, quite literally, through the bracken.

The Slab boulder (on the right) at Roundhill, with Roundhill Reservoir in the distance.

If you are not familiar with the invasive evil of bracken, then it’s worth reading this excellent article on UKClimbing – The Trouble With Bracken. Bracken is a native UK plant; the problem is not that it shouldn’t be in the countryside. The problem is with its spread and the difficulties this creates. These include making it much harder to get between A and B if there is a deep wall of bracken in the way. It’s such a problem at some bouldering venues that the best approach is to only climb at those venues in winter when the bracken has died down. However, coming back in five months was not for me that day, and I ploughed on.

It didn’t look very far from the path to the boulders. However, it felt longer and longer the more I pushed and stomped forward, sometimes using the largest bouldering pad like an icebreaker. Despite the heat, I did wonder if wearing shorts and sandals (albeit ones with enclosed toes) had been a good idea. However, with some fern-whacking effort and a bit of scrambling over rocks, we got to the boulders we wanted to climb on.

My son puts on his rock shoes at Roundhill.

The bouldering was fun and interesting. I also felt proud of my son for bold attempts at some tricky problems. Having to stand on the bouldering pads to crush the bracken underneath enough for the pads to lay at least flat-ish was a first for me. 

How we escaped through the bracken is another story. However, that one is probably best told by my wife, who takes the credit for navigating us back to the car. 

Me climbing Jugs (Font 3) at Roundhill.

It was a good day in many ways, but I feel some regret that I didn’t go to Roundhill ten or more years ago so that I could have a fun day bouldering in an idle of bilberry bushes and soft grass. I also regret not checking how old my guidebook was as I might have gone somewhere else that day if I had known what I was letting us in for. I would then know to visit Roundhill in winter, when it would be at its best.

5 thoughts on “A Lesson in Checking the Guidebook

  1. I always suspect adders lurking in thick bracken too! Spreading bracken is a huge problem as is spreading gorse bushes. I tried an old route on Carrock Fell which I originally did years ago last year – I spent 20 minutes crawling on hands and knees through the base of a thick wad of gorse bushes uphill and then picking the thorns out later! The path reappeared above the gorse but isn’t really passable any more unfortunately.

    You could have escaped the heat wave by coming to North Cumbria – we had a 3-day one and a 2-day one and that was all. The rest of the summer was cold, windy and wet!

    1. I hadn’t thought about adders before. I probably will next time though.

      I’ve had fewer issues with gorse in the past, but that’s probably just been luck. That route on Carrock Fell sounds like a lot of painful effort and it’s a shame it’s gone.

      1. I think if you make a lot of noise crashing through the bracken, adders should slide away. Only trouble is if they’re asleep – but then they generally sleep in the sun out in the open. I’ve nearly trodden on a few basking adders.

  2. Ticks could be more of a problem than adders in those ferns.
    I know quite a few crags in the Lakes where going before the bracken grows is advisable. Walking through head high bracken is vrtually impossible if not hilarious.

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