Dave Gregory - A Life Lived to the Full

Chris Craggs reflects on the life of prolific climber Dave Gregory, who passed away last week.

It might be an age thing, but I can't for the life of me remember when I first met Dave Gregory. Whenever it was, I was already well aware of some of his epic feats including his and Jack Soper's return to the UK from a soggy Chamonix - "Cloggy will be dry" - and making early repeats of rock and ice classics like Llithrig and White Slab in the late 1950s. Their ascents were fundamental in dispelling the intimidating aura surrounding these routes at the time.

Two of the UK's most dedicated guidebook writers - Chris Craggs and Dave Gregory - together in the Costa Blanca.  © Chris Craggs
Two of the UK's most dedicated guidebook writers - Chris Craggs and Dave Gregory - together in the Costa Blanca.
© Chris Craggs

I was also knew of Dave's prodigious work on guidebook production for the Peak District for the BMC, he was (I believe) Chairman of the Guidebook Committee and oversaw the production of a long series of quality guidebooks to the Peak over a long period. His years and years of climbing on his beloved gritstone edges were put to good use. I have also had a strong interest - OK, obsession - with climbing guidebooks, so we got along well from the beginning.

Dave Gregory tells all a tale of Stanage past  © Mick Ryan
Dave Gregory was a dedicated contributor to BMC politics as well as guidebooks over many years. Photo: Mick Ryan

Dave worked at Lady Manners School in Bakewell (I think for his whole teaching career) ending up as Head of Physics - he was always very well respected. I was climbing with Jim Rubery at the time, who was also working there, and along with Dave and several others (almost all teachers!) we formed a loose association of climbers who hit the grit evenings and weekends throughout the year. Many years later, whenever I went for a walk in the Peak with Dave, we would always end up bumping into someone (often several folks) who knew him from his teaching career, perhaps a pupil from years before, or a satisfied parent - they always wanted to talk. Many a good walk was made easier by these continuous interruptions.

Dave Gregory on Trident Arete at Harborough.  © Chris Craggs
Dave Gregory on Trident Arete at Harborough.
© Chris Craggs

It turned out he was a true son of Yorkshire and a proper old-fashioned gentleman too, with a streak of eccentricity that was normally charming and occasionally mildly irritating. He was brought up in WW2 and of Methodist stock, this combined with his Yorkshireness goes someway to explain at least some of his eccentricity; he didn't drink, never wasted food, and picked up almost anything he found when we were out and about - "that will come in" - I suspect his wife Mary had long since ceased to be surprised at the stuff he brought home. He always wore his oldest clothes for climbing, and I once mentioned that a heavily patched denim jacket was nearing the end of its useful life - he commented that he would be sad to see it go, it was the last one of three he had bought in Sheffield market over 40 years earlier.

Dave Gregory examining the fallen flake below Valkyrie.  © Chris Craggs
Dave in some of his fine old clothes

In the 1990s myself and my wife Sherri started visiting America during the long school summer holidays for extended climbing trips and I suggested that Dave might want to join us - he jumped at the chance, he had always wanted to go but family and work commitment had got in the way.

I lost track of how many years we went - maybe eight. We would fly into one airport, pick up a van and head off into the West, flying out of somewhere different six weeks later. Yosemite, Tuolomne, Squamish, Skaha, Devils Tower, City of Rock, Veedawoo, Boulder, Little Cottonwood, Smith Rock, great routes and great company - every trip a 'once in a lifetime.'

Dave Gregory on Via Lara at Nissedal in Norway  © Chris Craggs
Dave Gregory on Via Lara at Nissedal in Norway
© Chris Craggs

On the very first trip we flew in to Chicago O'Hare ready for an onward flight a few hours later. Dave wandered off and didn't come back - the time ticked away and we began to panic - I couldn't figure where he could possibly be - then the flight was called. I set off at a gallop and checked the terminal, eventually spotting him in a bookshop, nose buried in a novel and completely oblivious to the passage of time - words were had!

On one occasion we ended up with an odd number of climbers, which was a little awkward. I surreptitiously scribbled a note on a paper plate and stuck it on the notice board at Tuolomne Meadow campsite - "Aged English Eccentric seeks partner for classic - apply Site 63". Totally unperturbed, Californian Robert (Bob) Walton turned up at camp looking for said eccentric. It turned out they had loads in common; both were teachers, with young families, a love of literature and of course climbing. They became the best of friends and Dave continued to visit Bob in America long after we had stopped going over there - becoming one of the family.

Dave Gregory still swinging leads at 77 on a 10 pitch route at Handegg.  © Chris Craggs
Dave Gregory still swinging leads at 77 on a 10 pitch route at Handegg.
© Chris Craggs, Sep 2011

We also climbed together in Ireland, Spain, France, Switzerland, Norway Italy and Greece - on one trip to Kalymnos he was well pleased to do 75 routes in three weeks in his 75th year - as keen as ever!

Dave finally hung up his boots after his 80th birthday, through he continued to wander the Peak checking out his old stomping ground. He passed away peacefully in early January after a short illness. Rest easy Dave - you will be missed.

Below is a small selection of many, many comments from people who were touched by Dave's kindness down the years taken from UKClimbing and Facebook.

I remember him as a really nice guy, and he was extremely helpful with some of the history in my Peak book. I also remember him at BMC meetings and seeing him soloing quite often at the Roaches. (Gordon Stainforth)

Very sad news.
Dave was one of those teachers who are both liked and immensely respected. I never got lucky and had him as my teacher in my seven years of physics at Lady Manners, but the anecdotes of his witticisms and scathing put-downs of class comedians were legion. I was also never in the school climbing club, which I very much regret, but I know that it produced scores of enthusiastic (and a few very good) climbers. He radiated enthusiasm for the sport and the landscape, and was a very likeable guy; he was definitely indirectly responsible for getting me started on Grit. After I'd left school I bumped into him a few times at Chatsworth and Baslow, we had some good chats, and I realised what a tremendous contribution he'd made to the Peak guide books.
I loved his "Necklace of Slings"; unpretentious, funny and thoughtful, like the man himself. RIP Dave, you were one of the best. ("McHeath")

Loved him dearly. A great loss to climbing. RIP my friend. (Gary Gibson)

Ah what a fine man he was. Good luck Dave x. (Niall Grimes)

Ah that's so sad. I too had many happy days climbing with him and also 20 years working with him on the BMC Guidebook Committee. (Dave Farrant)

Hand jamming the cracks to heaven. One of the great old timers. A sad day. (John Addy)

Sad news about a top man. Shared many great days on the grit, a very knowledgeable man and true gent. RIP. (Graham Parkes)

Sad times! Dave was a great colleague, a superb Head of Department and an even better friend. Some of the finest days I have ever had climbing and in the mountains have been with Dave. He will be greatly missed but leaves some fabulous memories. (Jim Rubery)

He was one of the teachers I drew inspiration from in my teaching career. He 'gave' me and my friends a non-working mass spectrometer to dismantle. We stayed in at lunchtimes for ages reducing it to component form (Chris Prior)

A wonderful Gentleman. I first met him in the late 70s and worked with him for over 20 years on the BMC Peak Guidebooks. So friendly, enthusiastic and with a calm, measured approach. It was a pleasure and privilege to have known him. (Graham Hoey)

Sad to hear this. He helped introduce me to guidebook work was always an inspiring and knowledgeable person to discuss climbing politics with, as well as being genuinely friendly and pleasant company at the crag. Dave was also the only person to have climbed with my father and me independently with around 50 years in between - with me at the wall and on some routes in the Costa Blanca, but with my father many times but a memorable ascent of Vember on Cloggy when it was a really big tick in the late 50s was a highlight. (Alan James)

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16 Jan, 2019
   Thanks, Chris, a well-deserved tribute to Dave.  From the archives - before our time?    p.28 'Still more of Arfon'



16 Jan, 2019

Great - a fitting tribute to Dave. A true stalwart.

16 Jan, 2019

Great write up Chris, even more of a legend now in my mind.

16 Jan, 2019

A lovely tribute, Chris. I so wish I'd known him. My partner met him at a Spanish class, quite a few years ago. She really liked him.

I particularly loved John Addy's comment: 'Hand jamming the cracks to heaven.'

Yes, indeed!


16 Jan, 2019

Nice tribute, Dave was my physics teacher at Lady Manners and for a loan of the School's climbing gear he asked us to help check his script for Tegness Pinnacle and I never looked back after that.

Is there any news on his funeral arrangements please?


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