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Crag Notes: Going Local

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?

Burbage Valley  © Hati Whiteley
Burbage Valley
© Hati Whiteley

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.

Grouse Attack  © Harry Waller
Grouse Attack
© Harry Waller

Millipedes  © Hati Whiteley
© Hati Whiteley

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.

Higgar Tor  © Hati Whiteley
Higgar Tor
© Hati Whiteley

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.

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Lovely article, thanks. I have fond memories of exploring round all the nooks and crannies of that valley. Local is always the best!

30 Mar

A nice piece, thanks. I feel similarly about my local crags - places like Warton, Fairy Steps and Trowbarrow. They're where I started out; when I visit them, sometimes I can still tune in to how it felt during those first times that I was invited out climbing by friends. Summer evenings, cycling to the crags, apprehensive about whether I'd be able to follow their leads. Sun playing across the short limestone buttresses, through the leaves of the trees, as we felt the sharp, thin starting holds of climbs above our grade in disbelief. Or the jackdaws circling on a cold damp day at the start or close of the year, when that peculiar smell of mouldering leaf-mulch and the clamminess of the rock compounded the dread of some ambitious plan.

These crags and climbs now feel as familiar as my own memories or stories I've told a few times too many. But, still, each time I visit, there's something new: a climb I've overlooked for being "too hard"; a lost buttress, deep in the thicket; or simply the joy of seeing orchids, butterflies, wild strawberries and peregrines. There's something about returning to a place again and again that allows you to develop a very different relationship with it. You notice the passing of the seasons, those things that change and those that remain - trees grown or cut down, rockfall, bushes that always rustle when you pass, friendships that develop or fade - as well as the ways in which you yourself have altered with time. Thoreau once wrote, teasingly, of the small town where he lived: "I have traveled much in Concord." Sometimes I feel as though I have travelled much in these strange little nooks that I know and love so well.

1 Apr

Nice. I love the Burbage Valley. As a time-poor climber it's the quickest access for me - I can be pad-out and bouldering on the Bridge blocks in about 10mins from the door, and climb North, South, West and Higgar year round. Still so much to do there that I never get bored. I run around and through the valley, mountain bike down it, explore it with my kids, occasionally put a rope on and do some trad... I want my ashes scattered there if possible :)

1 Apr

Surely to fully appreciate the Burbage Valley one has to have done Offwidth's masterpiece, 'The Troglodytes Tour' . And for the doubters out there, Yes I have been done it.


3 Apr

Thanks Hati - what an evocative piece, such a treat to read while I'm locked up and missing the crags! I love the way you capture all the different layers of a climber's relationship with a crag, combining your own memories and experiences with other peoples. Your writing gives a real sense of the richness of our local crag culture.

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