A thorn between two roses

Since leaving Scotland almost exactly a month ago I’ve been enjoying spending some time in my home town of Todmorden, a small Valley town sitting right on the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire. At eighteen I felt justly claustrophobic in this small place, having attended the only high School there and creating many relationships in a relatively small radius it was inevitable that lives and business became somewhat intertwined. I can now see the great advantages of this, great friendships, familiarity and a sense of belonging I guess. But I no longer live in Todmorden or am thinking of returning to live there for any serious length of time due to some of the disadvantages of living in a small town. The disadvantages that were so prevalent in my out-look at 18; the small town mentality to sometimes be blinkered to the opportunities around, the inevitable gossiping and the lack of choice to anonymity that you get in much bigger towns and cities.

(Todmorden: Stuck between two Counties)

In February time I think, I was visiting sarah and Luce in Manchester and a crisp winters day walk was suggested. Being so close to the peak district I assumed we would almost certainly  take in some sights around the Roaches or some other impressive and craggy terrain. Instead the girls advocated a visit to ‘Tod’. I was a bit perturbed and then dismissive of my hometown in the back water between Yorkshire and Lancashire but saw the logic since I could also pop in on my old man and say hello and have a brew.

It was this day that tipped the balance to me wanting to spend some time back home before flying out to Canada. Obviously I had always thought it would be great to get to spend a good bit of time with my dad before I left the country indefinitely and catch up with some other family and old friends, but realizing how much the hills around Tod had to offer as a playground amongst this time really swayed it and I realized I had been wrongly discerning about the towns favourable attributes to someone with my interests. Trail running, wild swimming, cross country mountain biking, gritstone bouldering and trad climbing not to mention offering close proximity to friends, family and fun times in Manchester made being unemployed in Tod ,chilling out at my dads gaff a pretty affable plan.

(View from the Golf course of Todmorden, a valley town with stunning hills_courtesy of  wikipedia…I do my research well!)

Although I thought this a fun prospect it had been a while since I had the foresight of having NOTHING to do and I had anticipated needing to be slightly creative to fill my time. That’s why when friends suggested they’d come visit I jumped on their offers like hot cakes.
As I should have realized as is often the case I was actually much busier that I had suspected and fitting everything and everyone in became a challenging task.

Nevertheless, I’ve come away feeling like I managed to do an OK job and had a great and memorable time in this small chapter. Mostly due to my Pop being such a chilled out and easy guy to be around but also to all my other awesome friends and family who got involved.

One significant adventure came quite early on as Ross and Duncan voyaged down from Scotland for us to get a pretty sweet trip in North Wales. As usual me and my fellow guidebook geek Ross had a pretty extensive wish list for the area but as is also becoming gladly usual we proved to be a pretty effective team at getting it ticked! Poor Duncan’s shoulder was still not fixed properly and being fairly fresh to trad techniques, despite being a TCA strongman he sat out the epic adventure that Ross and I managed to have on ‘dream of white horses at Gogarth, a climb that must be on every British trad climbers wish list no matter what grade they climb. The climbing is fairly straightforward for even someone only just getting to grips with HVS but the way-finding, exposure and incredibly improbable looking terrain make it an enticing and exciting route for even confident extreme leaders. Being comfortable seconding and leading traverses and down climbs, abseiling above sea and not loosing the plot when belay stations and line directions are not where you were hoping are pretty desirable attributes for success on the route. Thanks to our injured personal photographer there are some pretty cool shots to prove how cool the route is. Go do it!

(Traversing the last and most awesome pitch of DOWH)

(A long first pitch – that’s because I missed the first belay and built one halfway up pitch 3 instead!oops.)

(Team bright colours strike again – another successful top-out of a british classic!)
Over the next couple of days we managed to clean up our wish lists on the Cromlech. I had a pump fest on Cenotaph Corner and enjoyed the huge jugs on steep terrain on cemetery gates. Ross proved himself ready for trying some E3s in my mind by sending Left Wall, a pretty seminal E2 in any aspiring trad climbers eyes and a route I hope I get the chance to come back and lead one day.

(Cenotaph corner – the route that keeps on giving!)

Between blistering in the afternoon heat of the Cromlech and drinking bowel movement inducing coffee at Pete’s eats we also managed to introduce Dunc’ to trad by means of some routes on the slate, go for a cooling swim in Vivian quarry and avoiding the midges at the Vaynol campsite by for-going cooking nutritional dinners for eating chips in the Heights pub instead (this is what happens when you don’t come away Jules!)

(Duncan experiencing the delights of slate and trad climbing in Bus stop quarry)

Post wales I realised I didn’t actually have any free weekends left before I went and I panicked a bit about getting my portfolio prepped for hopeful interviews in Vancouver and getting on top of the job hunt. In my time away from the computer screen I managed to have some outdoors fun by sweltering in the unusual sun on awesome trail runs up to Stoodley Pike, jumping in Gaddings dam for a relieving cold swim, solo’d some routes at Summit quarry (a local gem if ever there was one!), effectively making use of the wren soloist Stocksy lent me (which I was quite pleased about), got spanked on the sweaty problems at Todmorden’s infamous Bridestones boulders and managed a few finger board sessions when the weather was crap too.

This may sound like I was the picture of good health and productivity but in order to keep the balance I also enjoyed a few boozy nights out too; an early and unexpected booze-up in Manchester with Mike and Cass visiting for a Goldfrapp concert saw me get carried away with old friends and end the night with little memory despite apparently causing lots to remember! I also got schooled in the art of mid-week ale drinking with some of my mums old friends and had a fantastic time with Uncles and Aunts on both sides trying to fatten me up. I visited my Dads brother and his wife in the dirty South for an enjoyable weekend of eating and relaxing and a goodbye meal with my Aunty Tessy and the Ambrose clan in Cheadle saw me ad Meggers eat five courses of chinese at the imperial.

After all that eating and drinking I was uber stoked that Rosie, Cass and Erin’s visit for a weekend of outdoor activity was still to come. I treated them to the delights of the Pike trail run, Gaddings dip and we even attempted a group road ride. Lets just say that 2 inner tubes, only ten miles and a lot of faff-ing later we sacked it off for a pub lunch with Sam at the Stubbings Wharf! Who says girls cant deal with punctures?

Rosie and I even managed to fit in an intimidation session at the mighty steep walls of Heptonstall quarry. The HVS graded ‘Bull’s crack’ was quite enough for that day, giving us both a good challenge and extrapolating a few swear words from our usually very lady-like vocabularies! Other must do’s at the crag include the awesomely wandering line of ‘Fairy-steps’ a classic HS and props to Rosie for handling the intimidating second so cooly! Would love to go back for forked lightening crack and thin Red Line one day if I’m in the area with time.

(The UK’s highest beach!…As reported by the Yorkshire evening post… and conveniently along the route of the run for a cooling dip…don’t mind if we do!)

Despite all this busy-ness i was really stoked to have gotten to spend some time with my Dad, just hanging out chilling together. I was grateful to him for having me stay for a month and hoped that the ‘free to a good home’ (thanks Tommy Gun!) bike I sourced and made road worthy for him, scaffolding I helped build plus donning my rope access hat and abb-ing off his roof to take some render off the outside wall gave a little pay back to show my appreciation. Sometimes I feel like the Son he never had!

(Dad proud to have re-found his cycling skills!)

So after all this excitement in the last UK chapter for a while it was kinda sad to leave. A ten hour flight certainly gave me head-space to once again think about all the good things I would be leaving behind, despite looking forward to my Canadian adventure. I hoped the people who made it so special have a chance to read this and realize how grateful I am.

Canadian episode to follow…stay tuned!!

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