Behind The Scenes At Cliffhanger

© JayH

Due to regularly working twelve hour days doing what I love, I will not be returning to the forums; however I am inspired to write a little about this weekend's Cliffhanger Outdoor Festival, as I believe it has the potential to be the UK's biggest and best outdoor adventure sports festival.

The Inspiring and the Inspired
© Jude Calvert-Toulmin Collection

For those climbers not familiar with Sheffield (ha ha ha, that's like saying 'For you luvvies out there not familiar with the West End',) it is not only half an hour by public transport or mountain bike from The Peak District, it is also renowned as Europe's greenest city, containing over one hundred and fifty woodland spaces and fifty public parks.

 Last year, Cliffhanger was held at the largest of those parks, S8's own Graves Park; due to the inclement pissing-it-down weather the festival did not draw in huge crowds, but nevertheless everyone who attended  looked like they were enjoying it. Watching the dyno competition and taking part in the pull-up competition even inspired Arron, the father of my grandson, to try climbing for the first time. Arron works out at the gym anyway but had never climbed before. The day after Cliffhanger we took him to The Foundry, and on his third route he pissed up a 6b, mantling, smearing, watching for holds and dynoing, all by gut instinct. People were watching him in slack-jawed astonishment, the general consensus being, 'Bugger. It's taken me years to climb like that!'

All due to being inspired by people at Cliffhanger (When Arron returned to Manc he went straight out and bought his own shoes and harness.) And that is only the climbing part of Cliffhanger, because this year it is featuring a mountain biking timber trail, kayaking, kite flying, a film and lecture marquee, climbing walls and yes, another pull up competition with a prize of a hundred grand quid! (this isn't The Gadget Show you know.)

The festival is taking place three miles out of the city centre in Millhouses Park, a beautiful park next to the river Sheaf, a park which was my old stomping ground as a young girl. It used to house Millhouses Lido, one of the best outdoor swimming pools in the UK but sadly  long since demolished and the land sold for housing, and the tennis courts were one of my favourite places to play girly 'hit and giggle' as women's tennis is sometimes called (there was also a giant checkers set, which was fun.)  

Millhouses Lido
© Jude Calvert-Toulmin Collection

Millhouses Park is, one would think, a perfect location for this year's Cliffhanger Outdoor Festival. Check out the website Best-selling author Joe Simpson, patron to the event, has been quoted as saying 'It is really appropriate that Sheffield is hosting such a major event, as it is ideally placed to become the outdoor activities capital of this country, with a significant part of the city being within the Peak District National Park'. Well, that seems reasonable enough, doesn't it?

But a handful of NIMBYs don't agree. Yes, backstage there has been a huge furore going on about the festival, with a small group of 'Not In My Back Yard' objectors, led by the president of Millhouses Park Bowling Club, organising a spurious petition to get the festival banned. Here it is in full:

'We the undersigned being Sheffield residents object to an event planned for the weekend of 12th and 13th July 2008. being held in Millhouses Park. We are not against it per se but feel that Millhouses Park is not large enough to cope with the anticipated crowd of 10,000 plus per day. In addition, loud music played through speakers from hours quoted in the application from Mary Bagley i.e. 8am to 10pm will be an intrusion on local households and the general public who use the park daily. It will particularly jar on a Sunday morning.'  

8am to 10pm isn't quite the same as the actual festival times of 10.30am to 6.30pm and as far as I'm aware, this year no bands are playing.  

So, with the petition duly signed by a few dozen of the misled, the resulting effect was that a right hullabaloo was created, a storm in a teacup, and the losers ended up being the reputable CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) whose plans to have their usual well-stocked, well-organised and well-manned bar, were scuppered. The local press had a field day with headlines screaming 'Festival's Booze Ban' citing the Bowling Club's petition as the reason, although once the facts were known promises were made behind the scenes that no more inflammatory headlines would be forthcoming. Meanwhile on the local Sheffield Forum, forum members were angry at having the beer tent option removed, but are vowing not to be put off by the do-badders.  

Ooooh, what a scandal. And such a shame that a small handful of trouble-makers who don't want 'offcomers' on their turf, managed to cause so much trouble by deluding others.    

Cliffhanger  represents something very important in our society, it demonstrates to people, old and young, that there are many ways to get out and enjoy yourself in the open air that don't involve staggering down town centre drinking strips completely off your face, but involve interacting with the environment, developing bodily, mental and spiritual health in the pursuit of various outdoor sports, and, most importantly for young people, finding focuses for all that excess adrenaline that don't involve drink or drugs. Hence the supreme irony that a hornet's nest teeming with territorial old farts abused the public's fear of 'The Scourge of Britain's Binge-Drinking Youth' in an attempt to scupper a festival which promotes young people finding direction and meaning in their lives through the pursuit of healthy outdoor activity.  

For all that I may take the piss in the various articles I've had published in climbing magazines (On The Edge, High) I believe that climbing, especially outdoors on crags, is a beautiful focus of energy for people of any age, and is something that enhances the well-being of individuals and communities alike.  

My partner Brian and I will be there this weekend with my twelve year old son Jasper, who has been a keen climber since he was a tot, whether it pisses it down or it's sunny.

JCT meets another Rocktalk regular
© JayH
Jude Calvert-Toulmin's debut novel, Mother-in-Law, Son-in-Law is due for publication in Spring 2009 but will be available to buy late Summer 2008. See her art and music blog at for details.

Her live online interviews for UKC with the world class climbers John Dunne, Johnny Dawes and John Redhead, along with her articles for the climbing press, can be found at

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