Once, some time ago, there was a wall. A wall of fossils; untarnished, un-blasted, inviolate. A wall for climbing, years ahead of its time. This was the Great Wall at Trowbarrow. It was 1965 and we used to gaze at its vast untappable potential. This wall was for climbing in 2001, 100ft of space, a space oddity.
It was climbable; we knew that, we could boulder on the fossils, features millions of years old, sea lilies, crinoids, a beautiful experience: rare features even on most limestone.
Ten feet up finger strength was shot, it was too high and there was no chance of protection, truly a wall for 2001. David Bowies 'Space Oddity' was a hit for the first time around.
At the time I was a photography student at Blackpool College, we climbed with the college climbing club every Wednesday afternoon, at Denham, Houghton, Wilton, Farleton and Warton, but mostly at Trowbarrow. At weekends, and in our holidays, we would work as 'smudgers' in Morecambe. A smudger is a photographer who takes pictures of 'grockels' (holidaymakers) with some sort of gimmick. Our gimmick was monkeys! Squirrel Monkeys.
We, my then girlfriend Jean Horsfall and myself, worked four monkeys for the local smudger. We had to dress them, feed them and put nappies on them before we took them out to foist them on the unsuspecting public (wouldn't do to have them pissing on the punters or even worse).
One slow and boring day I found that if you took one off your shoulder and just chucked it at a wall, any wall, brick or stone, it would just stick! It would then proceed to climb upwards to the limit of their leads.
My mind turned to the Wall of Fossils, The Great Wall at Trowbarrow. Weeks of training ensued. They did all the boulder problems now being claimed as first ascents on the huge boulder at the foot of Trowbarrow with ease. One monkey in particular became our star, ironically he was already called Joe (Joe Brown became only the second best climber I have ever known). Jean was Joe's favourite person in the world and would go to her instantly at a call of his name and the wave of a banana. Joe was persuaded to climb the boulders with a fishing line tired around his waist. We gradually made the routes longer and longer. Joe secretly joined us on the first ascent of 'Pigfall', but on that occasion I led.
The plan was simple. I would stand at the foot of the wall with Joe attached to his fishing line rope, Jean would go to the top and call him while waving a banana. Joe would lead the wall on 100ft of fishing line to Jean and the banana and then she would pull up a climbing rope which I had attached to the line and belay me up it. The first ascent was to be on sight 'Joe Monkey, Al Evans'. It would undoubtedly be the hardest route in the country (possibly the world) at the time, truly a route for 2001, a Space Oddity.
One night, a day or so before we were due to let loose Joe onto the wall, Jean, Dave Parker and myself were sitting in the 'Blue Room', the student's pub in Blackpool. Ed Grindley, then unknown but already a great climber and by chance an itinerant lecturer at the college crashed through the door.
“Bloody Tarmac have blasted the main wall at Trowbarrow.”
“It's to deter climbers.”
“There's some bloody brilliant cracklines, but the whole thing is just about to fall down." (as it still is some 35 years later).
We decided to go and look the next day. Lectures forgotten we drove up to Carnforth and walked into the quarry. It was stunning. I'm not sure which emotion was predominant at the time, outrage at the vandalism by Tarmac, sadness, or exaltation at the superb lines which had opened, all virgin.
I have despised Tarmac for the rest of my life, this is not the only atrocity they have committed, but it was the most personal for me. But that day they gave me the chance to do two famous new routes, 'Cracked Actor' but more importantly 'Jean Jeanie', a classic VS, a rarity to find even in those days. It was no longer valid to call it 2001, but we stuck with Bowie anyhow, Jean got a climb named after her and sadly Joe never got his 15 minutes of fame!
Thank you to Jean Horsfall for the photographs of Joe the monkey
Al Evans has been climbing since the sport was invented. He's had enough of work now and is a full time climber based in the Costa Blanca, still climbing hard and establishing new routes. He was part of the Yorkshire/Peak Scene in the 1970's and 80's and climbed with all the greats, Fawcett, Reagan, Livesey....a list too numerous to list. He has always been an avid new router (Jean Jeanie at Trowbarrow is one of his greatest hits) and was involved with Crags magazine and the climbing media baron Geoff Birtles. His last article for UKClimbing.com was the controversial "A SLIPPERY SLOPE (Confessions of a climbing alcoholic)".