Lancashire Rock
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Historial Information

Often when talking to climbers I am asked about the early days of Lancashire climbing. Therefore, I felt that it might be appropriate to include a short description of my recollections of that period.

When I started climbing in the early 1960s there were virtually no details available of any climbing in the old county of Lancashire (which then also included Merseyside, Greater Manchester and South Cumbria). In fact the only area within the old county, that was covered in a readily available climbing guidebook, was the F&RCC Dow Crag guidebook. The headmaster at Blackburn Grammar School, Brian Kemball-Cook, had duplicated some descriptions of the routes at Cadshaw Rocks by Allan Allsopp, but apart from that, little was generally known about the other crags dotted about the county that local activists were exploring.

This, added to the poor transport situation at the time, meant that it could be inordinately difficult to get to any crag. For instance, the next crag covered by a guidebook that I visited after I started climbing at Cadshaw, was Dovestones (an hour on a train to Manchester, well over an hour by bus to Greenfield, then about fifty minutes walk). Laddow was out of the question for a day visit without a car, and the only other crag that we could reach for a day's climbing was Widdop, which took just less than three hours each way, provided that the connections worked out.

However, it soon became evident that there were crags closer at hand, though these were only known to local activists. For myself, the first I learned about these other crags was when I met Ray Evans at Cadshaw. He told me of a quarry up to eighty feet high and over half a mile long, split by steep cracks and corners. It seemed a million miles from the short V Diffs at Cadshaw. The next weekend my partner failed to arrive at Cadshaw, but though he had impressed on me that quarry climbing was unsafe, Ray's tales spurred me on and I just could not resist the lure of Cadshaw Quarry. I soloed two climbs that day, but on both, progress was slow, because there was a lot of grass and soil that had to be removed whilst climbing. I soon learned that a peg hammer could greatly improve route cleaning, but at the time it was not really on to abseil down a route first, unless it was in a really bad state. Certainly, if any pegs were fixed, this was virtually always done by the leader. Later that day I met some other climbers from Blackburn and the next weekend we all set off for Hoghton Quarry. I was told that Hoghton was over a hundred feet high and was so steep that it could only be climbed with pegs. Amongst the four of us we had a selection of six pegs and though we only had one 80-foot hemp rope and no idea about where any of the routes went, we felt that we could manage somehow. Anyway, I was sure that the claims about the quarry's height were a gross exaggeration. As we came out of the muddy cutting and first saw the rock, I was amazed - the quarry was every bit as high as I had been told and, even with pegs, it looked an intimidating prospect. We picked an easier line at the left side of the Main Amphitheatre, which later turned out to be Speech Impediment, followed by Easy Route. I then learned that this was to be the first aid route that any of us had done and also that none of us had even led anything before, but the most worrying aspect of our adventure was the pair of wooden étriers that we were using. It was a good job that we picked such an easy line, because it took us most of the day to reach the top in about five pitches, by which time at least one of the étrier steps had broken.

It was a couple of weeks before I could try to reach Ray's quarry (Wilton One) and in the meantime I had read a book on climbing and had bought three spliced slings and some heavy steel ex-War Department krabs, so I then knew about belays and runners. Luckily, when I arrived at Wilton, Ray was already there and so we climbed together. We did quite a few routes, including, if I recall correctly, Fingernail and Great Slab. Soon I was as enthusiastic about the quarries as Ray. The routes were steep and hard, but there were often plenty of good, square-cut holds that could not be seen from below. It was obvious that there was much potential. However, the main thing that I learned that day was that if engineering nuts were threaded on to a sling, these could be jammed into a crack like a chockstone to give protection on these long, otherwise unprotected cracks. Like most climbers at the time, I soon learned which nuts fitted the cracks best and I also found that by filing down some of the faces of the nuts, they could be used in a wider range of cracks. Whilst talking about gear, it is also interesting to record that because pegs were so expensive at the time, we used to get most of our pegs made by the local blacksmith, who simply cut strips of steel of various thicknesses and drilled holes in one end.

During the next couple of years I was to discover that there were several other 'Wiltons' all over Lancashire. None of them as extensive, but each with plenty of potential, which was only known to a few local activists. At nearby Anglezarke Walt Unsworth started the ball rolling, whilst Ray Evans and Ken Powell kept Pilkington's a close-guarded secret for some time. Nearer to Blackburn, at Hoghton, it was Alan Atkinson and John Hamer who were in the know. On the eastern side of the county, Paul Horan recorded the climbing at Summit and Cow's Mouth, whilst Deeply Vale was Mick Pooler's home patch, and Roger Vickers was the Bellmanpark man. Up past Lancaster, it seemed that for some time Stew Wilson and Bill Lounds were virtually the only climbers visiting the Silverdale Crags. My own special patch was Cadshaw Quarry.

Gradually, more climbers visited these quarries, often on exploratory visits and certainly some of the quarries were 'rediscovered' several times, because many of the earliest visitors left no records of their visits, apart from the evidence of rusty pegs. However, guides (often hand-written) were produced and these were circulated amongst friends. At the time these were like gold dust, but, nevertheless, they did much to stimulate further development of many of the crags. This was especially true of Ray Evans's two typescript guides to Wilton, which were freely distributed by courtesy of Hartley's Alpine Sports in Bolton. These typescripts provided both a comprehensive record of the climbing available at Wilton and acted as an impetus to visiting climbers to find quarries nearer to their homes. Wilton became an important meeting point, and during the weekends I would often just turn up there and very soon there would always be someone to climb with. Many of us, who were just starting to climb, did not know of other climbers in our locality, but at Wilton we soon discovered that there were plenty of others eager to get out on to the rock. Many friendships and climbing partnerships were formed from meetings at Wilton, and I am pleased to say that many of these relationships are still strong at the end of the Nineties.

A particularly notable feature of the climbing in the area at that time was an almost complete lack of interest in recording first ascent details. The routes themselves were recorded and there was certainly fierce competition for the plum lines, but somehow it never seemed necessary to actually write down who had done the first ascent. After all, everyone knew who had done the good routes, so writing down your name against a particular route seemed both unnecessary and somewhat egotistical. Al Evans summed up the attitudes of the time, when he commented that:

'Everywhere else, in Wales and the Peak, climbers seem pre-occupied with claiming first ascents, even if they are only minor variations. But in Lancashire, climbers have risen above that, and their main aim is the route itself. Satisfaction comes from knowing that it is a good route. There is no need for any further glory.'

Whilst the friendly rivalry and the low-key approach to new routeing that was prevalent at that time was in many ways laudable, in retrospect it is a great pity that better records were not kept. Much of the historical record of the early days of quarry climbing in the area is based upon recollections from the activists of the time, which were not recorded until many years later, and so it is bound to include some inaccuracies. However, on the credit side, it did spare us for many years from the iniquitous practice of renaming routes after each minor aid reduction.

Before ending this brief excursion back into the Sixties, it is, I believe, interesting to look at climbing ethics at the time. On the Lancashire quarries there were two ethical issues that dominated.

The first of these was the question as to whether it was justified to abseil down a route to clean it prior to a lead. During the early days, the only acceptable form of ascent was from the ground up. If there was a loose block on a climb - and there were several - the leader either had to climb round it, or else manage to remove it whilst leading. Similarly, any soil or vegetation that was encountered on holds or ledges, was generally removed over the leader's shoulder, often whilst maintaining a somewhat precarious position. because the vital holds could not be used. Thus, new routers often finished up looking like coal miners, and on some occasions even followed blocks and debris downwards. Towards the end of the Sixties, a more enlightened attitude, or sense of self-preservation, evolved and it became acceptable to abseil down a potential new route to undertake some limited cleaning. Even so, it was frowned upon if the 'cleaning' was perceived as being mainly to check out the viability of the route, rather than to remove obviously loose blocks.

When considering the early ascents that were made in the Lancashire quarries, it is important to bear in mind that for the majority of these, a ground-up approach was taken. Often, this meant that routes became much easier after the first ascents, as additional holds were uncovered, or as small blocks fell out of the cracks. This also explains why routes that may nowadays seem relatively trivial, were considered to be breakthroughs at the time.

Undoubtedly, the main ethical issue concerned the use of pegs. In many ways the debate was similar to the current bolting concerns, but there were also important differences and it is enlightening to consider how pegs were dealt with. The traditionalists of the time generally wanted no truck with pegs. However, most of them appeared to be willing to accept the use of pegs, provided that they were not placed in traditional crags. In effect, this meant that, even to this group, pegs were acceptable on limestone and in the quarries, where there was little other protection. Remember, that at the time nuts were only just coming in to use (the first purpose-designed nuts were MOACs, which came on sale in about 1966 or 1967) and so protection was limited to rock spikes, natural chockstones and trees - none of which was in great supply in the quarries or the new limestone crags.

At the opposite end of the spectrum were those climbers who wanted to get on to the more overhanging rock that could, then, only be reached by purely artificial climbing. Often, they made their first attempts at artificial climbing on short crack climbs on the less-frequented quarries and buttresses, but these were seen as purely training exercises, which explains why details of first ascents for short peg climbs are particularly scant. Fortunately, the artificial climbers kept to areas that were more amenable to artificial climbing and so there was not a great intrusion into the free-climbers' domain. Indeed, in many cases, the insertion of pegs into previously vague cracks, soon meant that the peg routes could be freed.

In the middle of this debate were the activists of the day who were eager to attack the more difficult and less protected climbs that were characteristic of the Lancashire quarries. Their argument was, that without pegs, many of the climbs on some crags would be virtually unprotectable. Faced with this situation, most climbers agreed that the limited use of pegs for protection, was acceptable. Indeed, there was a remarkable degree of consensus as to where pegs should be used and the extent to which they should be used. Most climbers understood where the boundaries lay, and those few who were considered to have inserted too many peg runners were widely criticised.

Nowadays, when bolts spring up on established VSs, it is worth reminding every climber with strong views on the bolting issue, that climbers have managed to resolve similar issues in the past by exercising a degree of tolerance. In Lancashire in the Sixties, we all knew that to place pegs on some routes would have needlessly upset some climbers, whilst at the same time we appreciated that pegs were justified either for protection or aid, on other crags. Any self-imposed restrictions on the placement of pegs were not seen as limiting the freedom of climbers, but were seen as an acceptable compromise that all climbers could live with. It is my sincere wish, that within the area covered by this guidebook, at least, sport climbers and traditional climbers will maintain a similar degree of tolerance and understanding to that which prevailed in the area on the pegging issue in the Sixties. My personal feeling is that at present we have developed such an understanding about where it is and where it is not acceptable to use protection. However, in some cases, the placement of some bolts appears to have erred on the generous side.

Finally, I would like to end this little sojourn into the Sixties, by thanking all those who were in any way responsible for the early developments in Lancashire, for their efforts in contributing towards cultivating the unique nature of climbing in the area.

Les Ainsworth








Copyright 2003-2017 BMC NW Area Commitee / Les Ainsworth & Carl Spencer