Valley of Rocks, Exmoor National Park, England


Valley of Rocks, Exmoor National Park, England (Jake Graham Photography)

Up the eastern flank of the turreted ridge, we scrambled, without thought, for the moon. Yet, upon arrival, and far from lunar discovery, we fell once more in love with the Earth –  ocean before us, moorland behind, and a slab of rock, strong and definite,  beneath our feet.

Climb into the Cave – Santorini, Greece

Climb into the cave

Climb into the cave, Santorini, Greece

We climbed to the cave in the midday heat, appreciative of the shade as its vault eclipsed the sun. Fifty metres separated its base from its roof. We cut off the steep path and scrambled between two crags, pausing to catch our breaths as the ground beneath our feet became loose. For all its height the cave was relatively shallow, and our hands were soon upon the dusty surface of the back wall.

A hundred metres below lay the flatlands of Santorini’s south-eastern coastal plains. Lethargic waves rolled onto the island’s black volcanic sands, pushing the scent of sea salt and plant resin into my airways.

Waking me from my reverie, a flock of turtle doves winged into the cave, dislodging a bank of debris as they came to rest somewhere in the cavity’s upper reaches. Landing not far from my person, part of me wished I’d been beneath the rockfall; I could think of no greater souvenir from our adventure than an abrasion from a dove in a cave.

Climbing through the fog – Snowdonia National Park

The buttress of Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia National ParkThe buttress of Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia National Park

The south-western aspect of Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia National Park

Having read several hours earlier that the weekend’s weather was set to comprise torrential rain and gale force winds, we were pleasantly surprised as we arrived into Snowdonia National Park to instead be greeted by heavy rain and strong winds. It was, in the light of perspective, a beautiful day.

‘Just to remind you Johnny,’ I said as we closed the boot of the car, ‘I’ve never climbed before and the only footwear I have is my walking boots.’

‘You’ll be fine,’ he reassured, passing me a harness and throwing a sling around my neck.

Route finding in Snowdonia National Park

Route finding in Snowdonia National Park

Leaving the road in our wake, we clambered over a dry-stone wall and onto an odorous bog dotted with large slabs of granite. We traversed the uneven ground for an hour or two, stopping momentarily to test our footing on an angled rock face just south of the park’s Glyderau Range. Having slipped from a hold after several metres of climbing, I then watched on as both Johnny and Phil scrambled to the top of the encampment with what appeared to be relative ease.

Phil and Johnny free climbing in the Glyderau Range

Phil and Johnny free climbing in the Glyderau Range

By the time we reached the buttressed scree slopes of Glyder Fawr, a 1,000-metre-high ridgeline hidden by a thick blanket of mist, my feet were sodden and my cheeks numb from the wind and rain. Johnny, a seasoned climber with an almost flawless safety record, knotted a rope around my harness before pulling himself up onto the rock. He fixed a piece of gear into a narrow crack and disappeared into the fog.

‘Unclip from the safety as you go,’ Phil said. ‘And if you hear someone shouting ‘rock’, get close to the wall.

Some minutes passed before Johnny called down: ‘Safe, climb when ready!’

Grabbing the wall, I hauled myself up, slipping on the small patches of snow that populated the exposed footholds. For 30 metres I climbed, feeling my fingers weaken and my mental strength fade, eventually concluding, as I reached Johnny on the safety of a narrow ledge, that I was incurably inflexible.

Half a dozen pitches later snow began to fleck the air and, when we eventually reached the crest of the mountain four hours later, visibility had reduced to just five metres. Feeling my heart rate slow to more familiar pace, I took in the morose scene of translucence and jagged rock.

‘It’s type II fun sometimes,’ Johnny said through deep breathes: ‘You may not like it at the time, but you’ll love it in retrospect.’

Glyder Fawr summit, Snowdonia National Park

Glyder Fawr summit, Snowdonia National Park

Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia National Park

Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia National Park