In this month's Crag Note Hati Whiteley decides to stay local and run around the Burbage Valley. Steeped in history, and familiar through experience, this personal note also explores how our relationship with a crag can change and mature over time. It is also worth noting that it was written at the beginning of the month, when the coronavirus still felt a long way away. Perhaps this makes the piece at hand all the more precious: we all have things within our life that we take for granted, but when access is removed or restricted seem infinitely precious.
I went for a run around Burbage today.
Burbage can feel like a guilty pleasure and maybe even a cop-out. You know you should be going somewhere wilder and more adventurous like the places in the magazines. Somewhere that doesn't have a carpark or a street food van or a big sandy path running right through the middle. But there's just enough time in that short drive up Ringinglow to tune into the buzz of excitement in your stomach. What does Burbage have in store for me today?
I took my friend Joan's favourite path, running parallel with the road and crossing into the valley via Winyards Nick. I think of Joan as a Burbage Oracle. Her DNA is here, so she says.
I missed the right fork by Higgar Tor as always, only realising as I stared wistfully at The Rasp when I should have been skirting above the road. Otherwise the route is different every time. One day a grouse attack might leave me lost and far from where I need to be at exactly the time I need to be there (late for work again). Or Joan and I might painstakingly pick our way through a mass migration of millipedes who arrange themselves in heaps by the upper bridge.
If you take the main path northward you can gaze at the crags from afar, but above the edges you can gallop on gritstone and conjure up the routes below. The southern edges demand respect as they recount their legends, the Johnny Dawes's and Pete Whittakers, Captain Invincible and Parthian Shot.
My own less impressive ventures come into view a little later on, beyond the huge cairn to the northern edges. Catastrophically jammed ropes on Great Crack; the horror and adrenaline-fueled relief of your first lead fall; the euphoria (and sometimes regret) of trying that soloing thing and the apprehensive excitement of watching a stranger do something bold. Every buttress summons a story, be it your own or someone else's.
There was a time when Burbage was wild and unfamiliar, before I knew why Winyards Nick was called Winyards Nick, or even where Winyard's Nick was. When finding the boulder field was somehow complicated and the sloping holds spat you off at every grade.
These days 'Higgar Tor', 'Toad's Mouth' and 'Winyard's Nick' have become common words in my vocabulary; 'Banana Finger' and 'Knight's Move' bear history and feeling. I've been arrogant and humbled at Burbage; terrified, relieved, educated and exhilarated. The valley hums with the nervous energy of watching a mate sketch their way up something far too hard for them, casts fear with its reputation for hard grit and territorial birdlife, and lures you into a summer evening climb before bombarding you with midges. Burbage welcomes one and all, from the gym boulderers taking their first steps outdoors to the Andy Joneses protecting Braille Trail with a 15p nail from the DIY shop.
That once wild valley feels familiar and accessible, but it hasn't lost its mystery. There may be a car park and a street food van and a wide sandy path running right through the middle. But no matter how many days I spend there, I'll always feel that buzz of excitement on my way up Ringinglow, and I'll never quite be sure of what Burbage has in store for me next.