'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Monday, February 26, 2007

Beghan Bouldering

To Fleswick Bay on a warm winter's afternoon, V & I for the sheer exercise and pleasure, Younger Step-Daughter with her box of water-colours to try to capture the light. For those who don't know it, Fleswick Bay is the great secret of the Cumbrian coast, a sharp declivity between the sandstone stacks of the north and south St Bees Head, where a tiny stream trickles into the sea. Only accessible on foot by the coastal path, its cliffs are the haunt of seabird colonies, its sands the legendary resting place of gemstone fragments. A famous holiday jaunt for face-workers from Haig Pit and the Marchon anhydrite workings, whose shafts and levels pass far beneath it, the Bay has the feel of both a refuge and an exposed speck of wilderness caught between the mayhem of the Irish Sea and the monumental geology of the sandstone cliffs. It was also a favourite expedition for schoolterm Sundays when the boredom of boarding at the nearby school drove teenage lassitude into the urge for intrepid scrambling. We arrived to find Fleswick transformed: a broad sandstone pavement, perhaps unseen for centuries, had been exposed, the gem-bearing sands being carried away massively by the storms of winter. Just how catastrophic this change in the landscape had been only became obvious when a solitary wanderer arrived, bearing what looked like a cross between a gymn-mat and an orthopaedic cushion. He laid down his load, looked up to the cliffs, scratched his head, and consulted a lavishly illustrated booklet. Then he came over and asked us - was this Fleswick Bay? Yes, we assured him, this was. He pointed to photographs of the cliffs, which clearly suggested otherwise. The source of his confusion soon became apparent. He was a boulderer,and this was his first expedition to the route-rich cliffs of the Bay. For those unfamiliar with it, bouldering is a kind of semi-domesticated offspring of mountaineering and gymnastics, a smallscale but hugely demanding variation that values dexterity and intensity over exposure, altitude or inaccessibility. I was pleasantly surprised to find from his book that the sites of teenage free-scrambling (which on at least one occasion almost ended very badly indeed) were now themselves formalised into named routes, starred ticklists and recommended starting points. Except they no longer were. Nature had rendered our boulderer's guidebook obsolete. Each route now began in mid-air, a good 6 feet above the sandstone pavement - the forgiving sands upon which they had once begun having gone with the storm-tides of winter. Every route now had not only a new start of extreme difficulty, but a distinctly uncushioned decking-out below. Our boulderer went off to study further some of the lines and then announced that there would, after all, be no Beghan bouldering that day, a choice which I silently aplauded. On reflection, the addition of those feet of bare rock at the bottom of the cliffs could be said to alter the nature of most of the routes substantially, so I would imagine that enthusiasts are already forming orderly queues to claim fresh first ascents . . .


Anonymous Lex said...

Here in North Carolina, we have no seaside cliffs (nor anything close), but we do have barrier islands that come and go with the tides and hurricanes.

Not that that hasn't prevented us from building entire towns on them.

Sometimes two generations go by and nothing much happens. Sometimes, 12 hours go by and the second row of houses on a 3-mile long island has become the first row.

It's humbling, for those paying attention.

Don't get me wrong: The opportunity to walk out of the door, down a flight of stairs, across 30 meters of sand and into the Atlantic Ocean is divine. And as long as my tax dollars aren't spent to perpetuate it, I'm perfectly OK with it.

But it's not a gift from God, merely a loan.

26/2/07 4:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

Fleswick Bay sounds cool we were going to go climbing up there in the summer as my mate has been and said it was really cool.

27/2/07 3:25 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Lex, that sounds like very heaven, whoever's tax dollars are involved (I could bang on in another post about rural underdevelopment in Cumbria & the Lake District Special Planning Board or whatever they now call themselves).
James - you ought to give it a go. The sandstone's demanding but fantastic

1/3/07 9:03 am  
Anonymous Lex said...

Complicated story, Nick, but it boils down to the feds subsidizing the cost of insurance for those who could easily afford it themselves. Fairness issues aside, this has the perverse economic incentive of encouraging people to build on land that won't be there within a couple of decades.

Seems to me a nutso thing to spend private money on, let alone the public purse, but then I'm neither in government nor a wealthy coastal landowner with government in my pocket, so I'm probably simply lacking in vision, don't you see.

1/3/07 4:25 pm  
Blogger Arthur Clewley said...

lex, we have that same debate over the pennines from Nick. In Yorkshire the North sea has taken whole villages because we have soft muddy cliffs that aren't up to much in a storm and whether the government should pay millions for sea defences to protect either a community or someone's sea view depending on your point of view is a hot topic.

7/3/07 11:05 am  

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