Driving in the North of England, on the narrow, winding roads is as anticipated–magical. The countryside has seemingly not changed for hundreds of years. Small villages with quaint roadside shops. Dark forests. Roads so narrow it is amazing cars are even allowed, let alone parked or passing. Fog banks rolling across the stone walled farm lands and sheep dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see.
Having checked the prices of B&Bs over local pubs, Fulden and I determined we could purchase a tent, sleeping bag, foam mat, and spork (spoon-fork) from a shop just across the street from The Outside Place in Hathersage for half the price of two nights in the least expensive accommodations. (Certainly subject for another blog entry is the ludicrous cost of everything in this country)
We camped at the Stanage National Forest campground, just below the Plantation. It was beautiful. Past a cattle guard, a single-lane blacktop road takes you twisting down, down along one of the countless thousands of hand built stone walls through a gate and into the open, grassy terrace of the campground. The manager was very accommodating, offering the loan of a map, books, and climbing information. Steaming hot showers are available as well.
At dawn of Saturday morning, the wind was so fierce the tent temporarily collapsed (inverted) and I had to press it back to its upright position, from the inside.
We took the trail from the campground through the forest and to the Plantation, soon climbing in what were most certainly gusts over 50MPH driving sideways mist and debris. But the temperature was tolerable due to the cloud cover, the rock remaining dry on the leeward side of the boulders. By evening, the wind died down and the sun came out. The final two hours of climbing were incredible.
Although colder, Sunday was mostly sunny and replete with what seemed to be half of England at this popular destination. Entire families on ropes, toddlers bundled up and bound at the base of the crags; eager kids in bright red helmets crawled over warm-up boulders like ants over a fallen bowl of icecream; proper boulderer without helmelts but with pads, and those who were just out for a hike along the few miles of trail that run the length of the gritstone ridge.
True to its reputation, gristone may just be the most perfect substance on the planet for climbing. It is neither too sharp nor too smooth, a contiguous surface of friction. It offers decent crimps, incredible slopers, bomber ridge lines and finger pockets that hold from all directions. It is possible to just walk up nearly vertical surfaces without so much as a grain coming loose from beneath the rubber of the climbing shoe. Amazing.
In all, an incredible adventure.