Crag Lough - and its western extension Peel Crag - drop straight down from Hadrian's Wall. There's plenty there, especially in mid or lower grades, but the North facing location, loneliness, and scratchy plants give it a feeling of entry-level adventure. It is a taste of the esoteric, without needing an actual machete.
I've been guilty of going to the same places again and again. Slate, Peak, Slate, Peak. This summer: Cornwall is out, infection rate too high, so I casually mention to Sam that we could go to Northumberland. "... and you top out actually on Hadrian's Wall."
Sam goes intense. "I want to do that," he says. Decision made.
When we get there it is a blinding day. We have an ice-cream at the visitor centre of one of the roman forts. There are a lot of people here, some visiting the wall, others walking along it for charity. The charity walkers are pleasant to be around. Their 'guides' - incapable of talking at a normal volume - are not. I start to wonder if we have made a mistake.
Sam and I roll our eyes at each other and crack on. Further along the wall the trail is less busy, and we cut away on a faint track, away from people taking photos of the Sycamore from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Within a dozen paces we are on our own, under the cliff, from busy, orderly Rome to lonely wild Pict-land.
There are plenty of routes and lines: low-grade heaven. Most dots in the Rockfax guide are green or orange. We have no big achievements planned this weekend, just mileage and fun. There are a few harder routes I might fancy, but not today. We've been off the rock for a while, so its good just to re-learn how to place gear and run ropes. Blast away the opening nerves about being on lead again with simple climbing that we know we won't fall on.
The crag is a series of buttresses like wrecked castle towers. Big blocks perch on each other, too massive to wobble off. The rock is grippy (when dry) and interesting. This is the Whin Sill: dolerite, which is like granite but smaller crystals apparently. It makes for good satisfying climbing, in the early evening sun, prominent features, square joints to use and big ledgy rests to chill out on.
Crag Lough isn't popular. This is entry-level esoteric, with rowan trees and wood-rushes springing out of the cracks. Not enough to need actual gardening, but not that far off. As I work my way up one crack - stiffer work than its grade suggests, Welcome to Northumbria! - the inconvenient plants add to the fun. It feels like adventure, though safe and easy. Sam brandishes his nut key like a dagger, I'm ninety-nine percent sure that he is pretending we are raiding the wall as rebellious tribesmen against the arrogance of the legions. I definitely am.
We top out on the wall. "Sam, I'm going to abseil back down, get some practice in." It's a core skill that I still find scary, so it is good training to get everything nice and smooth in a low stress environment. Sam says "fine, I can't be bothered though," and simply walks back down the path. I zip happily down the rope, and he arrives at the bottom of the next climb slightly before me.
Before long, it is evening and we are growing anxious about the carpark and how long we have paid for. As we walk back along the base of the crag, rooks are coming to roost in the rocky cracks of Peel Crag, the western extension of Crag Lough. If anything, it looks even more overgrown and exciting. More trees spring out of the rock. More clumps of reeds and bushes. The rooks caw harshly and chatter to each other like teenagers sitting on a wall, but I don't care. I'll be back for more of this.
- ARTICLE: Slate Roots 2 Jul, 2020