Lancashire Rock
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'Quarries, where climbers try new pegging ideas, climb the obvious routes and peg the unobvious; where lines are altered, either by design or mistake. The hagglings and arguments about whether a climb goes free, or with a peg; are now down in black and white ...

... One cannot help wondering whether Lancashire has more to offer than people think.'
Leo Dickinson, Mountain magazine, November 1969

Right up until the early 1960s Lancashire was essentially regarded as a through route for the majority of climbers who were either going northwards to the mountain crags of the Lake District and Scotland, or southwards for Wales. Very few of them diverted to investigate the local crags. Indeed despite protestations at intervals by the local activists, who insisted that there really was some good climbing to be had, for many years the red rose county was virtually a backwater visited only by a relatively few outsiders.

One of the first references to Lancashire climbing (other than on the crags of the southern Lake District fells) was in 1937 when Allan Allsopp wrote an article on Cadshaw Rocks for the Mountaineering Journal. Brownstones Quarry also got a mention in the Lancashire Caving and Climbing Club Journal in 1949 with an article by E Parr. Later, Allsopp enthusiastically introduced Cadshaw into the Kinder, Roches guidebook of 1951 to draw attention to the possibilities in Lancashire. By 1960 Edward Pyatt's book 'Where to Climb in the British Isles' was eagerly received by climbers in many areas, especially where no guidebook was available. In the Lancashire area it included several small outcrops such as Quernmore Crag, Hugencroft and Wolf Hole Crag, and there was mention of a small limestone crag, Fairy Steps. The rather tantalising news however was that there was a large quarry somewhere between Preston and Blackburn called Hoghton Quarry and that this had yielded some hard artificial climbs as well some free routes in the late-Fifties. Another surprise came in 1964 when The Climber magazine carried a front cover picture of an imposing aid route up the Main Wall of Wilton Quarry.

What actually happened next is known to very few climbers. Early in 1966 an enthusiastic young student, Les Ainsworth, the Meets Secretary of the Blackburn Student Climbing Group (B.S.C.G.), wrote a letter to the Peak Committee of the BMC. The letter, which was a request for a sponsor for an envisaged guidebook to Lancashire, was received by Dave Gregory who read:

'It seems that Lancashire has been somewhat shelved away by the guidebook writers in preference to Yorkshire and Derbyshire, though I don't know why, because it is highly populated with climbers (Brown and Whillans for instance) and it has got many worthwhile routes of all standards from 100 foot XSs at Hoghton, to 25-foot problems at Brownstones, or from easy peg routes (some now going free), to a difficult 15-foot overhang on bolts at Hoghton, or from coarse natural gritstone at Cadshaw to limestone at Clitheroe. There would be about 250 routes.'

Dave Gregory, probably rather cautious about such a request from a 'young' unknown climber, replied asking for more detail then passed on the problem to Eric Byne the guidebook Editor of the Peak District asking him to evaluate the material. Byne was curious to know if the guidebook was to stand in its own right or would join the Peak District empire. He wrote:

'Do you wish this guidebook to be one of the series of 'Rock Climbs in the Peak'? - (I suppose that we could stretch the Peak that far north for an odd volume).'

Byne was also cautious and referred back to Jack Longland who (as chairman of the Peak Area Committee) according to Byne ruled over the Guidebook Editor. Longland was a man of decision and promptly suggested that they should encourage Ainsworth to get on with the work subject to 'discovery if the B.S.C.G. is competent to produce the guidebook'! Longland commented that they might be in trouble later on if any other group proposed a guidebook to mid- or North Lancashire and pondered the point. Somewhat undecided he commented that:

'They sound sensible enough but I don't know much about them.'

After further communications between Ainsworth and Byne, the former offered to donate all royalties from the sales of the guidebook to the Mountain Rescue Committee - a noble gesture. In one letter Ainsworth demonstrated his faith in Byne when he wrote:

'We were getting a little desperate about managing to get a guidebook published and had decided not to go ahead until we had a definite chance of getting it published ...

'A guidebook can be made or broken by the Editor, and so we would like you to edit the guidebook.'

Ainsworth was starting to get enthusiastic by then and estimated that there were about 500 routes in the area (double his estimate to Dave Gregory!). He was also getting 'visions of grandeur' as he said that he was contemplating including Heptonstall Quarry which had an out-of-date typescript guide and as one of the best quarries in Britain ('barring Dovestones and Hoghton'!) it needed publicity. But in the Lancashire guidebook? By June, Byne was told that the team was starting work in earnest and that they aimed to have a finished script ready within twelve months. In addition to working on the guidebook Ainsworth also took on the task of editing the new trendy magazine Rocksport early in 1968. The first edition included an 'Interim Guide to Hoghton Quarry' attributed to Paul Hamer, but mostly written by Ainsworth - to whet people's appetites. There was also an article by Bill Lounds in May 1969, which described a few routes at Warton Crags and Trowbarrow Quarry. Lounds dangled a carrot:

'Unknown to most Lakeland climbers who travel via the M6 there are extensive limestone crags close to Carnforth. Indeed one of the biggest quarries in the area is plainly visible from a car travelling over the last miles of the motorway.'

As soon as the magazine came out there were climbers wandering all over the road while craning out of their cars looking for big limestone crags.

Unfortunately by1969 after the death of the Editor Eric Byne, the Peak District guidebook team was starting to have problems with publishing its own guidebooks and with a backlog of guidebooks waiting to be published, there would have been a long delay before the Lancashire guidebook could be printed. Les Ainsworth was faced with a big decision. Finally, he took a deep breath and decided to publish his guidebook under the Rocksport banner. He went for a streamlined factual volume and pruned the text to the bone by omitting Geology, Natural History, and even the climbing History section. The guidebook was reviewed by Leo Dickinson in Mountain magazine in November 1969 and there was a mouth-watering picture of Mandarin to lure the masses.

As a result of the publicity, early in 1970, Dave Gregory and I (as two typical Sheffield climbers who alternated between the Lake District and Wales at weekends) decided to see what Lancashire climbing was all about. Having already swerved all over the motorway while scanning the landscape keenly for large limestone crags, we decided to have a look at some of the local delights starting with Trowbarrow Quarry. Standing under the great blank wall which had not then been rent by cracks caused by explosive charges we stared in amazement at the face wondering what protection could be obtained and after doing Jomo, a nominal tick, we decided that there was a lot of potential - but that the crag was far too loose for our liking. Warton crag was also quickly dismissed, but after raving about Farleton Crag we headed south and ended up at Wilton. After a couple of routes in Wilton Three we walked along the length of Wilton One and we were IMPRESSED! Some of the harder routes looked suicidal, protection seemed to be minimal, rock in places was dangerous and the finishes were mainly loose, vegetated and filthy. Where were all the nice wide jamming cracks? Commenting that only Dukes Quarry near Matlock had impressed us as much we promptly left for home. The crag - and Lancashire - could wait' There were bigger fish to fry.

In the 1970s the grading of many of the routes was regarded with some suspicion as outside Lancashire rumours circulated about parties having epics on routes which should have been well within their capabilities. A feeling was abroad that Lancashire climbing meant having fights with horrendously loose rock and jungle-like vegetation, or dubious pegging in dank underground quarries and so the locals had things more or less to themselves. Which is largely what they wanted, for although between 1968 and 1972 Rocksport carried details about new routes all over the country, they gave away virtually nothing about what they were doing on their home patch. Gradually though, the word spread abroad that there were some gems to be had The splendid Golden Tower of Anglezarke was on people's lips, as was an exceptional route called Mandarin at Hoghton Quarry. Once the cracks appeared at Trowbarrow then classics such as Jean Jeanie and Aladdinsane were put on the itinerary of visiting climbers. Denham meant Mohammed the Mad Monk, while in Wilton One Quarry Wombat threw down the gauntlet.

Eventually the crowds realized that there was a lot of potential and over the next twenty years the tally of routes became ever bigger, especially as new crags were opened up. With the co-operation of Walt Unsworth, the guidebook went to a fourth edition and two supplements were need to keep pace with the development. The impetus for all of this effort came largely from Dave Cronshaw, Phil Kelly and of course Ainsworth himself. For some reason though, whether modesty or merely space saving, the complete history of the area was not recorded for posterity. A project was started in the Peak District in the 1980s when the Peak Guidebook Editor pleaded with Les Ainsworth to do a similar bit of research (for both historical sections as well as first ascent lists) but the Lancashire lads could not be prevailed upon to deliver the goods.

By 1994 when the Peak District Guidebook Committee was approached in a similar vein to that of over twenty-five years earlier the idea of including Lancashire into the Peak District series was welcomed with open arms. After all, despite the fact that the Peak District lies in the centre of the country, Lancashire is perhaps really the warm red heart of Britain. The Lancashire 'triangle' has the Lake District to the North-West, Wales to the south-west and Yorkshire (strategically separated by the Pennines) to the east. The red rose county is also midway between Scotland and the South-West of England. As a wet weather alternative to the mountains it is ideally situated for mobile climbers from all of the great northern cities: Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, etc. and bearing in mind that the weather on the two sides of the Pennines is often markedly different, the choice of either Lancashire or Yorkshire is often very handy. With a mix of limestone and gritstone, there is now a great variety of climbing especially in the great quarries of Wilton, Anglezarke, Hoghton and Trowbarrow as well as several relatively new discoveries. With greatly cleaned rock and much improved access, Lancashire is now an 'in' place.

Lancashire and the Peak District have always been close neighbours, and in the past many of the crags such as Shooters Nab and Pule Hill have appeared (by agreement) in the guidebooks of both areas. In addition many climbers from Lancashire who climb regularly in the Peak District have contributed towards writing the Peak District's guidebooks. It is thus appropriate that the BMC Guidebook Funds should be used to float a new Lancashire guidebook. Nothing but the best will do. It is to this end that we have worked for the last few months.

Geoff Milburn (Series Editor) April 1998

p.s. The editing for this guidebook was mainly done in an almost continuous concentrated spell over the Easter period during the World Snooker Championships. It was a record year for century breaks and the Editor's loyalties were at times divided and on more than one occasion his concentration 'went to pot'. As John Higgins completed the match with yet another big century-plus break the final corrections were made to the script. If any slight errors remain ...

Charlie Vigano

The 1983 edition of the Lancashire Area guidebook was dedicated to Allan Allsopp as 'Father of Lancashire Climbing'. Since then there has been a feeling that this accolade should pass to Charlie Vigano for his unstinting support and enthusiasm for Lancashire climbing. Therefore, although we know that Charlie would find such recognition a little embarrassing, we intend to dedicate this guidebook to him.

Sadly, Charlie was killed in a climbing accident in Spain as the final work on the guidebook was being completed and so this dedication has become a more poignant tribute to a friend who will be missed by many climbers both in Lancashire and farther afield.

Charlie's climbing started just after the war in Scotland. He made many first ascents, particularly in the Glencoe Area and was a prominent member of the Creagh Dhu. He was also involved in many epics, the most notable of which was when he was benighted during an early winter attempt on Raven's Gully with Hamish MacInnes.

However, in 1958 he ran out of patience with the Scottish winter weather and moved down to Lancashire. Shortly afterwards, he joined the Rock and Ice when members such as Joe Brown and Don Whillans were pushing the limits of climbing.

Charlie played an active role on the Lancashire and Cheshire Area Committee of the BMC and made some valuable contributions over several years. He spent a lot of time on the crags of his adopted Lancashire and obtained an immense amount of pleasure from all his climbing, whether it was on a crag that he had not previously visited, or a route that he had soloed countless times before. Many of us will have seen him in recent years climbing with his wife Sheilgh at Warton Small Quarry, which he considered to be his favourite crag. His unquenchable enthusiasm for climbing and climbers should be an inspiration for all climbers in the area, for by his example he demonstrated very effectively that with a little effort and dedication, age need not be a barrier to enjoying the crags. Furthermore, he also showed that it is possible to maintain a reasonable standard of climbing during retirement - he was hoping to climb Cenotaph Corner on his seventieth birthday. It is to be hoped that many of the climbers reading this guide will follow Charlie's example and will get a lifetime of enjoyment from the crags and the mountains.

Lancashire and Cheshire Area Committee of the BMC








Copyright 2003-2019 BMC NW Area Commitee / Les Ainsworth & Carl Spencer