When you can't climb within the present moment you have one of two options: think towards the future and of routes you'd wish to climb, or look towards the past and reflect on routes you've done. Within this month's Crag Notes Rob Greenwood takes a slightly different angle by looking at other memorable aspects of visiting an area that means a lot to you.
Pembroke is a place of perfect memories, but the crags themselves are just a part of that - the peripheries are just as important.
Simon's Field is a good example; on the one hand it's just a field, but on the other it's something of a safe haven, unchanging from year-to-year, constant and reliable. It is free from the trappings of more commercial campsites, where booking is essential and fees are racked up to the point that a B&B suddenly seems like the cheap option. It is simple, supplying only the very basics, the highlight of which is undoubtedly the ceramic toilet, all properly plumbed in, housed within a plastic portaloo shell - the contrast of which surprises me every time. The sound of Simon's quad coming early each morning brings with it a warm welcome, several dogs, an exchange of £3 and friendly conversation. Last time I saw him he mentioned the possibility of a shower being installed and seemed genuinely excited about this. He's someone that seems to care.
Just a short stumble away, on past the Lily Ponds and their luxurious bog blocks, lies another august institution - Ma Weston's Ye Olde Worlde Cafe. Curiously it was never a part of my own Pembroke ritual, having only been there only once, but it is important to appreciate what these places mean to people, and what the people mean to people. Ma Weston represented continuity, living to the age of 94 she was awarded an MBE in 2009 for services to the Hospitality and Tourist Industries in Pembrokeshire, having served tea since she was 17. She was the embodiment of the word 'character', with all the idiosyncrasies that the inverted commas come along with. Whilst she may have passed on in 2016, the memories - and the cafe - remain as something of a shrine.
What Ma Weston's is to the morning, the St. Govan's Inn is to the night. Cold evenings spent wrapped within its warm walls, whilst huddling around guidebooks wondering what to do next; sunny evenings savouring the taste of that first post-climb pint, grateful for both the clamour and the company. In the 15 years I've been coming here the pub has hardly changed, with each table, chair and corner reassuringly familiar. The predictability of both the bar and menu provides further comfort, as does the speed at which they process orders. Even the bull's head brings back memories, as do Carl Ryan's photographs mounted on the wall, which made an impression on me as a young climber (did Barry Durston really solo down climb The Butcher?!?).
Since then so much has changed: I am older, I am married, I have a family. There's a richness that comes from having visited an area a lot, a depth of experience and appreciation that is far from fleeting - it has a permanent affect. The same could be said for living a full life. I am unable to climb quite as much as I might have previously, but when I do I have come to appreciate these places, these rituals, these moments as much as the climbing itself.
Were there to be one positive to the current set of circumstances it is that it forces each and every one of us to pause for a moment's thought and realise just how lucky we are to be able to do this.
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