The second lockdown is upon us here in England. This means quiet times and fewer opportunities for exploring new places. I never felt like we really got out of the first lockdown as I did not get to travel at all. It has been a year of near-here exploration.
Yesterday was a lovely day, I happened to have a day off and that day happened to be the last day before I added another year to my age. So I took my old mountain bike for a ride. I cycled to a local woodland area and climbing crag nearby where I live – nearby meaning a 10 mile cycle journey each way, but it is all relative isn’t it.
Armathwaite is a lovely village in Cumbria. The River Eden flows through the village and the east side of the river is reserved for recreational use. It is a freehold woodland which means that the public has access to it on foot in perpetuity. That’s a pretty good deal.
Coombs woods is not a huge area, but nice enough for little walks. Big beeches bend over the path in one area and raspberry bushes line the path in another. Good place to pick raspberries in the summer and blackberries in the autumn. The river is a good, but cold, swimming spot when the days are not too chilly.
For the delight of all the climbers, brilliant, red sandstone cliffs rise from the riverbank. The bottom half of the cliff is quarried, but the top half remains in its natural shape. Dog walkers and passers-by are likely to see people bouldering or trad-climbing on the rocks on dry days. But only on dry days.
It is not good practice to climb on damp sandstone because sandstone is very soft and breaks easily. It literally turns into sand and the features of the rock, that are crucial for climbing, get destroyed. You can see how vulnerable the rock is if you take a closer look at the cliffs. People have carved pictures and left all sorts of signatures on the rock. It doesn’t require any tools to write your name on soft sandstone, just a little bit of scratching. But better not to try that near a climbing route or you’ll get angry climbers after you.
Armathwaite is the crag where I led my first E grade, an E1 called Barnacle Bill. This happy event happened as recently as last autumn, and although I haven’t climbed many E grades since then, it was a nice step forward. E1 is the first Extreme grade on British traditional climbing, they go all the way to E11 so I’m still a baby on that ladder.
The crag has trad climbing and bouldering routes for different abilities. However, some of the low-grade boulders are especially difficult, and I have gotten properly annoyed with them. My latest attempts to climb some easy 6a and 6a+ at the sandy cove ended up in dark gloominess and sandy hair. Even the beautiful autumnal sunshine didn’t help me climb betters. So, I need to go back soon.
Yesterday I just walked in the woods before I cycled back. Quiet country roads took me back to Carlisle over the hills that were rather painful on my heavy mountain bike. But the sunshine and chilly air made it all enjoyable.
- What: Coombs wood, freehold woodland
- Where: Armathwaite, Cumbria, England
- Why: Walking, swimming, bouldering, trad climbing