Getting home from work at about 6pm, a little invigorated from my cycle ride but still basically stupefied by the office, I ponder what to do. I could lie back with a cup of tea, or nip out and buy some beer. I could do some cooking, read my book. But the evening is young and I know what I want – I want to move over rock. Just a little, to relax. To feel like myself.
Local crags are great for this. It’s not so much training, more climbing as therapy. The need to be outdoors, feel the breeze and the sun and slip a comfy old pair of rock shoes on, and let well-rehearsed moves lead you over familiar rock. Do that for half an hour and it’s like you’re on holiday, like it’s the weekend for a few hours. The stuffy world of work is gone.
That’s why local crags are so great. I’m talking about the place you can get to on an evening, probably a bouldering spot or perhaps somewhere that has those shortish, solid solos that feel fine once you know them – like Haytor in Devon or the Eastern grit crags. For this purpose, crags like that work better than a major trad crag – good as it would be to have one close by – because you really don’t want the hassle of finding a partner in advance, or getting psyched for a lead. In fact, you don’t want ropes at all.
Having been a bit nomadic, I’ve had a few of these local crags. Water-cum-Jolly (too hard), the Pass of Llanberis (Utopia), the Dartmoor Tors (paradise). Of late I’m stuck with Salisbury Crags, a city-centre polish-fest which nevertheless is my favorite spot in Edinburgh. It at least catches the evening sun and has nice views. I know the problems ridiculously well, because there are only a few, but I enjoy it anyway. The other evening, when I was wondering what to do, I nipped up there and although I only spent about 20 minutes climbing, I knew I’d made the right decision. Despite the tourist path just a few yards from the rock, it was quiet up there and I was the only climber. Once I was done, I was ready to chill for the evening – I even grabbed some beers on the way home.
Local crags are great when you have them to yourself, especially a Dartmoor Tor in the late summer evening once the tourists and bumblers have gone (why do they always miss the best part of the day?). But what is also nice is when a mate or two show up with the same idea, without you having arranged it. Then the local crag is kind of like the local pub, somewhere where you will maybe meet like-minded people to chat with, “where everybody knows your name”, as they say. Cheers. Actually among climbers, it’s more like people ken yer mush and know a bit about your climbing history, how good you are and what your beta is on the trickier problems, but I think we all prefer it that way.
My favorite local crag ever is Hound Tor. I built up a Fontainebleau-style circuit of linked problems there that, with a bit of boulder hopping, could be done without getting your shoes damp. Not that walking on that lush Dartmoor grass would be a hardship. I often walked for miles barefoot up there.
More recently I’ve been checking out a new local (you can have more than one), somewhere steeper and a change from Salisbury crags. It has a bad reputation even though it’s in a good part of town, not so much for the boozing teens as the looseness of the rock. But it’s steep and sheltered, so Agassiz Rock has its uses, and there’s green grass to picnic on if you’re staying a while.
I always struggle on steep crags with a lot of eliminates, I somehow lack the imagination. I guess making things difficult in climbing is counter-intuitive, but as I met a mate there by chance last time, I’m starting to build a repertoire.
What’s your local crag? And what is the best local crag in Britain?