14th - 17th September 2018

Day 1

“Munch, munch, munch” could just about be made out above the sound of Dire Straits soothingly and reassuringly emanating from the speakers in Rob’s bright red T4 camper van. We were speeding down the M1, anticipating an exciting three days of sea cliff climbing on Lundy and Baggy Point. Only twenty miles of water stood between us and one of the top fifty climbs in the UK, which photographs told us stood proudly carved out of granite and towered some 450 feet above the sea and faced the most southern tip of Ireland. Dire Straits is absolutely mandatory for DPC trips away, at least when Rob is driving. At times, Rob requires less chilled out auditory encouragement to flatten the accelerator. As Rob, Mike, Ed and guest Ben were enjoying a surprisingly wide range of different crisp varieties that were kindly provided by Ed, we realised that we might not get to the Beaver Inn in Appledore before last orders. Bending, rather than breaking, with the mandatory Dire Straits jukeboxification, onto the sound system went a recording of Mark Knopfler’s car alarm – Teckno music, do they call it? Vegetarian Ben, was enjoying his packet of chicken flavoured crisps. Ed tried out the camper’s sleeping arrangements. Mike absorbed calories. I sat in the front and attended to small adjustments to the van seats, windows, vents, etc., where noises, imperceptible to most non-canines, were disturbing Rob from his driving. “Can you just move your seat back one click to stop that clunking noise? No, that’s two clicks, you’ll get a tapping noise; move it forward.” Mike then rested. I was starting to develop an idea of how Mike manages to achieve his rock climbing performances. The drive was largely uneventful, except for a small mistake by the navigator that led to us going through the M6 toll. What a ridiculous idea that road was.

In inky darkness, we finally arrived at the Beaver Inn and found that Appledore is constructed entirely of tiny terraced streets and double yellow lines. Undeterred, we parked up and enjoyed our first beer of the weekend. We managed to consume two pints before heading to our lodgings. Accommodation at Skern Lodge was 6 star compared to most DPC meets I had previously attended. On this occasion I would not have the usual climbing warm-up: scaling onto a bed several feet in the air, within a three bunk high bed-cum-climbing frame system. Or have to wriggle between ladder and ceiling before using all of my very limited caving skills to descend the bed, to the ground below.

Day 2

Lundy was our planned destination for Saturday, following a hearty fry-up. The Peppits took on vast amounts of water and we set off. Driving along in the minibus, we realised we were being followed by a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) that was backed down into the sea. I frantically tried to plastic-bag up my clothes and rucksack so that they might not get wet. Holding everyone up, I gave in this pursuit, donned lifejacket, climbed into the RIB and we set off. I am not keen on boats and I was initially apprehensive about the crossing. Luckily, I looked at the Skern Lodge website before booking into the meet and noticed that small children are taken out in the RIB and so I was quite certain there was nothing to worry about. The RIB interior was composed of three rows of seats, each recycled from a 1970s Raleigh Chopper bicycle. There were precisely half the number of seats than people in the boat. The lucky half of the group got a back rest and a person sitting in their lap, as protection from the elements. My confidence, from the photo of the children in the RIB, quickly evaporated as we glided over the first six-foot-high wave and crashed down into its trough, with a bang that began in the base of the RIB and flowed up through the seat and into our spines. Up. “Oh my god.” BANG! Followed by: Up. “Jesus Christ.” BANG! Russ, sitting next to me, looked very relaxed and I assumed that this spine shattering experience was normal for excursions to Lundy. He began explaining the coastal features and interesting facts about the local area as my mind concatenated his words with rhythmic unmentionable expletives for every wave we crashed into. Some of the more mentionables were: “To the right is [‘Christ!’ BANG!] Baggy Point. Over there on the [‘Jesus Bloody’ BANG!] right is the Maritime Museum. It’s only possible to get past the [‘oh my bloody Christ’ BANG! ‘ouch my back!’] sand bank at low tide” And so on. Following some of my questions, it started to become clear that taking the RIB to Lundy was highly unusual and doing so in this weather was venturing into unknown territory. What, on earth, would the return trip be like? Given the ferry alternative, we were very lucky to be able to take the RIB and I should enjoy it; I told myself as I was hurled through the air and slammed down into my seat. I also started to realise that my climbing muscles were beginning to become pumped up and my bladder was starting to stretch and move around like a water-balloon bouncing down a set of stairs. In the interests of fuel conservation and boat structural integrity, we slowed. The driver – Alex – showed considerable skills and concentration. Holding the controls in this sea was clearly causing him some discomfort. Out into open waters, he stopped the boat to ask if we were OK, at which point the crashing, swollen waves started tossing us about like a rubber duck in a bath with a grumpy toddler. It was clearly touch-and-go if we would reach our destination or have to turn back. I sensed that Rob, having donned his climbing helmet, was hoping for a retreat to an afternoon at Baggy Point. This thought crossed my mind as I realised how close I was to knocking myself out on the metal bracket in front of me. Yet, on we went with all the speed and power of a sit-on lawnmower on a Mogul Ski slope. I found it fascinating that when the RIB’s engine was cut, it felt as though we were in waters as one might experience whilst swimming. However, the corollary was that when the boat moved, the water took on a frozen-in-time quality and the visceral expectation of water being soft was replaced with a feeling of it being as forgiving on impact as concrete. Alex had remarkable powers of concentration: A whine from the engines…quickly onto the wave…engine note dropped…slowly over the wave…. A whine from the engines…too quickly onto the wave…engine note dropped…breath held…slowly over the wave…. A whine from the engines…quickly into the wave…engine note dropped…BANG!….’Oh my back!’ ‘Oh my bladder!’ A whine from the engines…quickly into the wave…SPLASH in the face...contact lenses migrate to back of head…engine note dropped. 

Lundy appeared out of the gloomy horizon and stubbornly resisted getting any bigger until suddenly, it did. The landmass reduced the choppiness of the water as Alex expansively stretched out his arm, revealing his wrist-watch, upon which point he realised we had been in transit for more than double the expected crossing time. He floored the throttle and my bladder was grateful as potential relief was becoming more than a distant dream. We tied onto the jetty and climbed out of the boat. It gave me a chance to test out the balance and climbing muscles, which reported to my brain that they were fatigued but OK. Perhaps, the same could not be said for Mike J., who fell over a few moments after reaching land, just as we had all walked off and left him. I was wet down to my jumper, through two waterproof coats. The old saying ‘port-side out, starboard home’ was apt. Unfortunately, on this crossing, the POSH people like me were the ones to take the full force of the sea-spray and I was the furthest forward. Russ, Mike J., Jason and Martin were the lucky ones. My planning was impeccable, though my execution was not so good. I had planned to take, but forgotten to bring, waterproof trousers, a change of underwear and a towel. After the dawning realisation that I had forgotten these had set in, I allowed myself two more fruitless searches through my rucksack before consigning myself to their loss. The bin liner I had taken for my rucksack was too small and blew off into Mike P. after a couple of minutes. I dried myself with a towel that had spent the previous ten years in my climbing bag and was used for cleaning water and soil from my rock boots, before a climb. This is how people get nasty fungal infections, I thought to myself, as I gently rubbed the towel over sensitive areas; as though the probability of infection was eliminated by not applying too much pressure. I put my, mercifully, dry climbing trousers on, gave my mind a few moments to adjust to the feeling of wearing them without underwear and the potential climbing-chafing consequences and then set off. Any normal person would have abandoned ideas of climbing, stopped for coffee in Lundy’s sole pub, relaxed, recovered and recuperated both the body and the mind. This was the DPC, though. So we were off. No time to stop and look at the cute seal pup that was being shooed off the end of the jetty. If it were not for the Peppit bladder, I would have been left behind whilst I emptied my own with unimaginable relief that, somehow, reset my mind and allowed me to think about the climb ahead. We scaled the side of Lundy on fairly steep footpaths. I am fairly fit at the moment and so this was not a problem. We passed walkers Russ, Mike J. and Martin at the top. Russ gave us really good directions to our prize: Devil’s Slide, which we then, following some debate, ignored. Once we found the sea cliffs at the far western side of the island, we set about scampering hither and thither in order to find the Slide that would have been readily visible from the path we were advised to use. The island is approximately 3 miles long, by 0.6 miles wide. It is a big lump of granite with surprisingly well maintained buildings, a pub, a shop and a barn full of Chorus Singers that sound, from a distance, like cows being milked. It feels a little surreal because it is so well maintained and comparatively busy for such a small island, presumably by National Trust and tourist income.

There were only about ten or twenty minutes of searching required before Rob found the Slide summit. Rob advised that I wear rock boots for the descent to the base of the slide, which made me a little apprehensive. We entered a slippery, grassy gully to the southern side of the Slide. Ben was my guest at the meet. His climbing is better than mine, though his experience has mostly come from bouldering. He only had a small amount of ‘Trad’ experience, much of which came this year, with just three leads, all at grade ‘Severe’. Ben is a colleague in a research group closely connected to my own. He is a valued employee and I can imagine how unhappy my other colleagues would be with me if he did not return unscathed. Imagine, therefore, my surprise and apprehension, when he followed Mike P. and Jason down what appeared to me to be a more difficult climb than Devil’s Slide, with no rope! “Ben has just the right amount of fear” Rob was later to comment. “Bloody Crazy” was closer to my perspective, as I insisted that Rob (kindly – thank god) belayed me down to the water’s edge. After an interesting game of miss-the-wave that repeatedly swept across the rock we needed to cross, we reached the base of the Slide.  

I was, again, surprised when Ben said he was happy to join Mike on the VS 4c of Albion, next to the HS 4a of Devil’s Slide. Rob set off up the Slide, whilst I belayed and Jason tied onto a second rope for me to carry up. Several meters in the air, and with no runners in the rock, my diligent belaying was only useful for a fall that would otherwise see Rob being swept out to sea. After a couple of minutes standing Johnny Dawes esque, to check his text messages, Rob finally put a runner in the rock and continued up toward the first belay position. Something of a race with Mike P. and Ben developed (more with allowing time for a visit to the pub for a pint of Puffin in mind, as opposed to a real competition). Judging rope length to perfection, Rob climbed two pitches in one and, already one step up the rock to give the belay sufficient rope, I started to climb. It was fine, easy climbing – my first on granite. I was able to flow up the rock, without taking too much care to find the holds, with so many being available and there was excellent friction at an easy angle. Once at the belay position, I could see that we should have attached ourselves to this point earlier and abseiled down the slide, as opposed to the treacherous down-climb. Jason followed me, finely attired in garb that the Peppits assured dated back to Glam Rock. There were two options for the second pitch and Rob took the more difficult line in a shallow scoop, as opposed to the easier edge of the Slide. I was beginning to realise that the plaudits for this climb were potentially due to an ever increasing level of difficulty through the rise up the slab. In places there were no holds to be seen and I needed to learn that the angle and friction meant that only ripples in the rock were needed for easy crimp holds to be useable. To my left I could see that Mike P. was so worried about Ben’s reputation for not being able to retrieve cams from the rock that he had talked Ben into leading the second pitch. Given the price of these devices, I could perfectly understand Mike’s logic. Ben had signed President Martin’s Terms and Conditions absolving any responsibility for not being talked into climbing VS pitches and the tome H&S document was shamefully lacking in any clauses pertaining to compensation payable upon lost, dropped or unretrieved camming devices. Though, what would my colleagues think of me for letting this happen? What would his girlfriend think of me? I did, however, take it as a personal compliment from Mike P. that he trusted my expert runner and belay coaching of Ben. Indeed, Ben climbed the pitch expertly and our race was still neck-and-neck. The third belay was a narrow ledge that required some organisation for the three of us to occupy simultaneously. Rob and I were impressed with Jason’s endurance ‘stress position’ stance. Uneventfully, Rob climbed straight up to the 4a crux that joins Devil’s slide to Avalon. Sweat noticeably dripping from his brow, you could see that Rob did not fancy the steep traverse above the 400 foot precipice. Nervously hugging the rock with feet dangerously close to slipping off **** OK, none of this is true. After commenting that the climb had suddenly become much steeper, Rob expertly made his way across, with excellent balance and confidence. It was later shown in photographs that it was I who hugged the rock, making a bad situation worse because my harness leg loops had become detached from the back of the belt section, leaving me at risk of swinging upside-down somewhere in the vicinity of Mike P., who was belaying Ben at the point where the two climbs joined. That event did not materialise and the five of us followed Ben’s lead up the vertical, but short, final pitch that was something akin to a VDiff at Birchen Edge. The Peppits marked their territory and we headed along the middle of the island and down to the pub. The exasperated barmaid confirmed that they did not, and never have had, a Puffin beer. An inquest demonstrated this was a myth Geoff had started, which led to several requests for a pint of Puffin Ale that day, with the orders coming from apparently, entirely unrelated customers. There was some suggestion that such a brew could be found there at some point in the late 70s. With bladder related trepidation, I began to sip my pint of beer; Mike P. had sensibly opted not to take on liquids before the return journey and I wondered if I would regret not following his lead. After a slightly longer walk down than I expected, we mounted the boat in much lower lying water than before. This was via a rusty old ladder. We regained our original positions within the boat and set off. Alex described an entertaining afternoon helping someone on the island rescue a skip that had blown into the water near the jetty. The return journey transpired to be much less deleterious to the boat and humans alike. There was only a slight scare that the engine was not properly drinking its fuel, leading to the unimaginable idea of having to wait for a rescue whilst being tossed about adrift in the waters. However, the engine soldiered on. I was now fairly well protected from the prevailing spray (port side home) and Russ very kindly lent me some waterproof trousers. The sailing over the lesser waves at reasonable speed, with my empty bladder, proved to be very entertaining and we arrived at the mainland in under an hour. Some waiting around was needed before the water became deep enough for a landing – directly onto the trailer, which was reversed down and into the sea.

We were unexpectedly back in time for dinner and a very pleasant evening ensued of eating good food, drinking nice, kindly donated wine and interesting conversation.

Day 3

I had a lovely ‘rest-day’ on Sunday. We set off for Baggy Point with equipment for both climbing and bodyboarding. I had absolutely no intention of doing the latter due to incompatibility between the sea and contact lenses. I was apprehensive about sea cliff climbing in the wet and so I was happy with the decision to pull up at a seaside car park. Mike P. munched calories and I dreamt of finding a nice coffee shop within which I could listen to an audiobook. Mike P. was impressively focused for the meet. Eat, sleep, exercise; or in some cases: sleep, eat, exercise. On occasions, there was even: exercise, eat, sleep. However, there was never, on any occasion: exercise, sleep, eat; imagine how disastrous that would be for the glycogen in the muscles! The constant stream of calories and peak levels of alertness led to perfectly executed hard rock climbing. I have since tried to emulate Mike’s approach with various permutations of contiguous: eat, sleep, sit at computer; in the hope that I will be at peak performance at work.

After wandering about Croyde, scouting out the five coffee houses, I settled upon “The Stores”, which was an up-market village shop, with the ability to conjure a paragon of the Americano. I learnt a lot about the gene, from The Gene audio book. After about two hours, I met a rather wet Rob, Mike P. and Ben. The weather had held and they had a good time being swept about in the waves.

After dinner in the evening we patronised two of Appledore’s pubs. I returned fairly early in anticipation of more climbing the next day, whilst many others remained for games of pool, whilst having their ear drums blown out by a live band.

Day 4

The next morning began the homeward day. Following breakfast, packing and fond farewells, we set off for Croyde. The great thing about climbing above tidal waters was the need to wait in a coffee shop: “The Stores”, for the waters to retreat. We approached Baggy Point from the car park, with a twenty minute, or so, walk ahead. There were many different aches from the RIB ride throughout my body. As I write this, the idea of climbing at Baggy is really appealing; however, at the time, neither the mind or body were really willing.

We arrived at a footpath above our target of Shangri-La, a severe and another of the top fifty climbs. It was typically the sort of foot path that climbers use. The type of path that requires a metal post and backup hook embedded in the ground, from which to attach a rope. We half climbed, half abseiled down. Just as the rope ran out, a rock jutted across the path and forced a shuffle round it, with a 40 m cliff on the other side. I did not like it, though Ben, Ed, Mike and Rob were un-phased. Indeed, Rob skipped round it a number of times to set up a sling over the rock that I could clip into. To this day, I don’t know if it is them or me. Does no one else say to themselves “what if…”?

We all abseiled down the sheer face next to, and set back from, Shangri-La. It felt just like a caving abseil, so steep was the wall. To be extra safe, I fashioned different length slings into cow’s tails. I had been a little apprehensive about the abseil, though the caving experience had made it feel familiar and straightforward. At the base of the climb, Ben was already belaying Rob climbing back up. He moved up and round the corner to the right and then out of sight. The crux is getting round the corner and Ben made it very difficult for himself by tackling it much higher than Rob had; though he moved round without difficulty. I climbed up and followed Rob’s line round the corner, leading with my right foot and planting it into a crack that I could only just see, which felt a little airy above the crashing waves. The climb was steep, fairly long and a particular favourite of earwigs and woodlice. A little like Devil’s Slide, there was sufficient technical difficulty to keep one interested, with sufficient easy climbing to make the movements flow nicely. 

Once at the top of the climb, I felt as though I had enough of pushing myself outside my comfort zone. It seemed to me that, in just the same way as if I had been unfit, my muscles would not have let me climb for three successive days, equally, my mind was untrained to be scared witless for more than a short period. Even the anticipation of being scared witless over a significant period of time seemed to use up a reservoir in my brain of tolerance to further witless scariness. I lay in the sun listening to my book, whilst the others climbed the more difficult Urizen, Lost Horizon and Twinkle Toes. As the Peppits marked their territory and the climbs they had surmounted, Ben mused: “I’ve never seen anyone pee so much.”

Somehow, the time reached 4pm and we descended to the van. The others went for a swim for just long enough for me to answer the day’s emails from my phone, whilst sitting on the beach – wonders of modern technology. We then went to the pub for dinner and arrived home about midnight. Just as I was drifting off to sleep that night, my daughter came into the bedroom and jumped on me shouting “Daddy you’re home!” at which point, I knew life had returned to normal.