St Bees Head is a special place. For me, it is a place which has remained a constant throughout my life – particularly my teenage years. An escape from the outside world with a friend, family or alone. It was a place to be able to switch off from the stresses of life and to be with nature.
One of the last times I saw my Dad before he passed away, we spent a summer evening sat on the bank over the barrier of the observation point. Encompassed in the tall grass rustling in the warm breeze, with the calls of the sea birds, in an almost meditative state. Only a few words were exchanged as we enjoyed each other's company, our sandwiches and a flask of tea.
I long for this again.
It was mesmerising watching the Cormorants and Guillemots, circling above us, as they waited for a chance to dive. When their time came, they plummeted, with their eyes on the prize. Disappearing momentarily behind a white curtain of whipped water. A few moments later, they returned with their catch of the day like a courtesy to their performance. I remember feeling wildly exposed as I crept towards the edge looking at the sea crashing beneath the red cliffs. I felt nauseous. This feeling of nausea quickly turned into awe as I saw my first puffin. This dumpy, exotic looking bird waddling within a world of its own
This was before I discovered climbing, before I could comprehend what also lay at the bottom of this same band of coastline.
A few months later, with my now husband, my world was opened to the joys of climbing outside. With bouldering mat strapped to my back I made my way down the steep path, which crumbled away under foot, aided by the fixed ropes. The smell of sea salt thick in the air. I recall the same sick, excited feeling, exposed but I was soon rewarded with the gems which lay below.
Heading down to the wave cut platform, to the same blue Irish sea, and red sandstone cliffs that I know so well. This was a stark reminder of the last time I was here. Bittersweet. The waves lapped on the edge of the boulder field enticingly, like nature's own infinity pool. I became completely immersed within the rugged beauty of St Bees and it's martian blocs. This nature is what heals my soul.
These striking boulders lie sleepily in a hidden bay of West Cumbria and wouldn't look out of place in Indian Creek, or in an American bouldering film. A secret tucked away from most of the world - even to those above - the problems are uniquely aesthetic; intimidating, yet incising. I took comfort in the good, flat landings and an attentive spotter. I climbed higher and higher clinging onto the small textures and features I could find on what felt like a blank wall. I felt wild.
Topping out of one problem onto the next. It was easy to get lost among the maze of boulders and problems, to lose track of where you were and what time it was. A lifetime of climbing surrounded me. I placed my fingers on the questionably small holds on some hard classic boulder problems and the athletic, dynamic moves of Hueco Crack. These were beyond me, but I aspire to climb one day.
Some days are for trying hard, getting a project ticked, and to achieve a personal best. Some are not. Days like these are pure enjoyment. Not to worry about a grade or how many problems you have climbed. A day at St Bees will never be wasted trip.
Retiring for the day with sore skin and tender muscles, we chatted along the familiar path back to the farm, past the white lighthouse. Elated from my day out, I had a smile from ear-to-ear. "When can I come back next?"
At this moment whole new meaning to this place began.
Forever I'll be Dreaming of Red Rocks…