Crag Notes: An Eve on Strange Midland Stones (1998 – 2019)

© Nikki Clayton

Leicestershire's Beacon Hill sports a deeply ancient & location-unique rock called Beacon Hill Hornstone. I say it 'sports' because, like an impertinent goat, that's just what the hilltop does ... it sports strange stone horns, that will poke fun at you. For indeed (and talking of creatures!) even that toughest of beasts, the one known as the Bullock, even he once broke a part of his hoof here. For this vitreous-hard creamy coloured stone although often sharp-edged is overall extremely slippery-&-wrongly-angled. And the landings are jaggedly bad. Yessss , , , one can almost get a window-cleaner's squeak out of the stone if you wipe it fast in the wrong way. It is as if the crags here have been polished by countless rockshoes, all over, and yet this cruel-frictioned snaky skin is the very same the stone was born in ...

... way way back on some unimaginable Precambrian day when volcanic ash transformed to rock ...

Crag Notes: An Eve on Strange Midland Stones (1998 – 2019)  © Nikki Clayton
© Nikki Clayton

... By now, over the years, I've actually made friends with this stone, which is saying something for someone who prefers the comfort-rough of grit. It took many repeated visits before this rock's gloss yielded its strange angles of grab to me. And it does, in the right kind of light, as sun just skids West's edge ... it does ...


like some giant shattered goat's skull's being
uncovered here;
the archaeologists are wind, rain, and Time itself.

Crag Notes: An Eve on Strange Midland Stones (1998 – 2019)  © Nikki Clayton
© Nikki Clayton

Look closely – you'll notice
chalked holds & fingerprints.

Beacon's dwarf oaks & stunted birches hint
Bonsai-feelings; as if some wild gardener's made
delicate suggestions to them. Sometimes

the grasses & bracken hiss. Sniff

the stone-riddled earth & wiry tussocks, really breathe
in their musk untamed mood –

you'll feel

why the farmers' only lasting marks
are drystone walls; why cultivation stays

in the fields & pastures below. The only

true stranger to here's the trig-point; a squat
concrete-robed monk. Kids clamber

over him ... whilst kites, mischievous angels, excite
or frighten dogs, and thrum
their strings conducting children's glee. Stand

next to the summit's monk, look,

when it's clear enough, towards the West –
there's Bardon Hill;
its ugly radio-mast crown, its quarry-gash hidden –

Leicestershire's granite guts have given

London its kerbstones, and now give
England's highways their aggregate. But

Hornstone's too strange for road builders – so
this hill's core will stay untouched.
Beacon Hill will not be eaten; will

remain a reminder of Eden.

Crag Notes: An Eve on Strange Midland Stones (1998 – 2019)  © Nikki Clayton
© Nikki Clayton

Note: Allegedly (please dispute at will!), Leicestershire's Beacon Hill commands the largest uninterrupted landmass view in Europe. There is an interesting graphic here.

Acknowledgements: A version of the verse section of this piece was commissioned by BBC Radio Leicester & Leicester's Arts & Leisure Services, and was first radio broadcast (read by Mark Goodwin) in October 1998. The poem – Beacon Hill – was also first published by the literary magazine The Coffee House.

Mark Goodwin  © Mark Goodwin
Mark Goodwin is a poet-sound-artist. He lives on a boat in Leicestershire with his photographer partner, Nikki Clayton. Mark has been making poetry for over three decades. He has published six full-length books & seven chapbooks with various poetry houses, including Sheffield-based Longbarrow Press, & Bristol-based Shearsman Books. Both Mark's books with Longbarrow Press – Steps (2014) & Rock as Gloss (2019) – were category finalists in the Banff Mountain Book Competition.

Mark (in collaboration with photographer Nikki Clayton) has also published a recent cragging-related blog piece with Longbarrow Press, which can be found here. He will be reading from Rock as Gloss at the Carlisle Poetry Symposium on Saturday November 16th 2019 (free entry and all welcome):

Twitter: @kramawoodgin
Bandcamp: Mark Goodwin

UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Mark Goodwin

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14 Oct, 2019

Mark, I dispute your comment about the extensive view from Beacon Hill - according to the Leicestershire Climbs guidebook (1993), it is actually Bardon Hill, the highest in Leicestershire, that commands such a view!

15 Oct, 2019


I was a local (Markfield) for a couple of years, early Eighties, and eventually got the hang of the strange rock which required strong fingers, perfect footwork and great confidence (terrible landings). Going back nowadays I find it hard to believe some of the problems and variants that got done at that time, all solo and no mats. As PP says, the older I get, the better I was....

Thanks for the memories!

15 Oct, 2019

I climbed there a bit in the mid 80s, whilst at college nearby. Never less than strange, slippery and spiky at the same time. Moonshot felt like a decent tick above a beermat. The pics make it look tiny now. Sister rock to the even odder Forest Rock nearby, home to some truly big grades these days.

15 Oct, 2019

Thank you, Pete! :)

Here is a memory of mine: When I was about sixteen, Ken Vickers, one of Leicestershire's early activists, gave me a waist belay from the top of the buttress shown in the first pic, there is nothing to anchor to up there - but he told me he was just back from Yosemite, and his arms were huge, so it felt safe enough!

15 Oct, 2019

Steve, the pics make it look tiny now because I think it always was a wee bit tiny! :) Having said that - the shot of the climber above the bouldering mat with shadow figures - that's my lad, and he is 6 foot 3, so I guess it makes the 'crag' look just a little bit more tiny than it really is!

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