Loading Notifications...

The Early Climbing Years: The First Saddleworth - Chew Valley Guidebook, 1965

© Tony Howard Collection

Tony Howard takes us back to the post-war explosion of rock climbing, taking a look at the gear, the climbers and the climbs, with a particular focus on the Saddleworth - Chew region and the first guidebook to the area.


The Gear

In the late 1940s and through the '50s, climbing in Britain was undergoing a major revolution in both participants and techniques. The post-war population explosion unleashed unprecedented numbers of ragged rebels into the hills to take up a sport that, traditionally, had been the privileged domain of the wealthier upper classes. Full of the vigour and aggressiveness of youth, old standards of climbing difficulty were surpassed by increasing numbers of people and the old gear was seen to be totally inadequate for the new techniques and situations. Hemp ropes disappeared rapidly from the scene after nylon ropes were used on Everest in 1953 and the clink of tricouni on rock was ringing its death knell. Plimsolls, then kletterschuhe took over to be replaced by PAs in the late '50s. Hemp, then nylon waistlines and steel carabiners (heavy, and often with sharp, thumb-cutting gates and of unknown strength) were in common use, whilst lightweight alloy carabiners only became available in the early '60s.

The first guide to Saddleworth - Chew Valley, 1965.  © Tony Howard Collection
The first guide to Saddleworth - Chew Valley, 1965.
© Tony Howard Collection

Until the late fifties, protection was from rope slings, jamming their knots in cracks or threading the slings round inserted pebbles in cracks or round natural chockstones or spikes. This was soon improved to include the use of assorted sizes of hexagon nuts threaded on slings which gave much greater protection possibilities. It was 1963 before the waistline was replaced by a waist belt, one design being made in Sheffield by Brian 'Tanky' Stokes, and the other (later known as the Troll Mark 2) by me in Greenfield. Meanwhile, two other lads from Saddleworth's recently formed Rimmon Mountaineering Club, Alan Waterhouse and Paul Seddon were soon independently making what were amongst the first ever ranges of alloy nuts. Alan and I later joined forces after the Rimmon ascent of the Troll Wall in Norway in 1965, to form Troll Climbing Equipment and Paul Seddon joined a few years later with his Parba Equipment which now also included T chocks for wider cracks.

The founders of Troll climbing equipment  © Tony Howard Collection
The founders of Troll climbing equipment. L to R, Alan Waterhouse, Tony Howard & Paul Seddon

The next big gear revolution came in 1970 when Troll (then based in Diggle but soon moving to Uppermill) invented the world's first sit-harness – the Whillans – in conjunction with the man himself, Don Whillans, who requested it for for the Annapurna expedition. Thus inspired, Troll went on to create the Mark 5 climbing sit-harness in 1979, a design which has been used as the basis for just about every harness around the world ever since; it was also Troll that made the climbing world's first sewn slings around this time. Prior to these developments, falling off, often with sparse and dubious protection and no harness wasn't much fun. The tenet of the day was "The leader never falls", though I took a couple of big ones both on loose rock (we always climbed ground-up, no pre-inspection or cleaning). The first was on what became known as Tony's Terror, having a laugh at my expense for falling to within inches of the deck together with a detached overhang. The other route was Delilah (a fickle lover) where I repeated the performance and Tony Jones grabbed the lead and finished it off, so I missed my chance. Such is life. Which reminds me, back in 1957 I think, whilst aid climbing on wedges I fell from close to the top of Calamity Crack and landed safely in a snowdrift. 'Oward's luck, as Bruce Mills, was fond of saying!

The waistbelt designed in 1963 that was used on the Troll Wall climb in 1965 and became the Troll Mk2 in 1966.   © Tony Howard Collection
The waistbelt designed in 1963 that was used on the Troll Wall climb in 1965 and became the Troll Mk2 in 1966. Replaced by the Troll-Whillans in 1970 and the Troll Mk5 in 1979, the prototype for virtually all climbing sit harnesses ever since.

Early Troll T, Wedge and hexagon nuts on a Troll T shirt designed by Bruce Mills, another Rimmon lad.  © Tony Howard Collection
Early Troll T, Wedge and hexagon nuts on a Troll T shirt designed by Bruce Mills, another Rimmon lad.

The Climbers

Then, as now, only the bold ventured far into the unknown, but standards were soaring: as far back as the late 1940s, Joe Brown, Don Whillans, 'Slim' Sorrel, Wilf White, Nat Allen, and others from Manchester were pushing the boundaries of the possible. They were frequent early visitors to Chew, originally operating as The Valkyrie but destined to become the Rock and Ice in 1951. Their best contributions in Chew are the awesome Hanging Crack on Dovestones Edge and a superb collection of climbs on Wimberry, though the Dovestones Quarry Girdle "one of the hardest undertakings on gritstone" was equally notorious. Sadly the latter has now been lost in oblivion as much of the quarry – now often referred to as Death Quarry – is no longer in the guidebook and has fallen out of favour (a pity, it was a great place).

Olly Whitehead. First ascent of  Hangover Edge, Pule Hill.  © Tony Howard Collection
Olly Whitehead. First ascent of Hangover Edge, Pule Hill.
© Tony Howard Collection

Hanging Crack, Dovestones. Tony Howard on a photo session for the Troll Mk5, 1980.  © Di Taylor
Hanging Crack, Dovestones. Tony Howard on a photo session for the Troll Mk5, 1980.
© Di Taylor

Barry Kershaw on his Double Overhangs, Den Lane.  © Tony Howard Collection
Barry Kershaw on his Double Overhangs, Den Lane.
© Tony Howard Collection

Other early Chew regulars included the Chew Valley Cragsmen such as Gray West, Mick Roberts, Jimmy Curtis, Stan Wroe and Roy Brown were also adding new routes on the crags, but even so, climbers were still rarely seen when a younger group of Saddleworth lads who were to form The Rimmon Mountaineering Club began to explore easy ways up their local cliffs such as Alderman and Dovestones in the early '50s. It was on one such escapade that 'Olly' Whitehead and I found a Laddow guidebook at Alderman and discovered that Saddleworth actually had 'real' climbs. We didn't even know there were such things as climbing guidebooks, but much to our surprise, we discovered we had actually done some of the easier routes. This inspired Barry Kershaw, a friend of Olly's, to 'borrow' a rope off the back of a wagon, and they were ready to climb! Paul Seddon, Brian Hodgkinson, and the inseparable trio of Tony Jones, Jeff Sykes and Brian 'Smiler' Woods soon joined the scene as did Alan Waterhouse and Frank Whitehead who lived at weekends in an old glider body adjacent to the now long-gone Buckley's Café not far from Wimberry and just above 'Forty Row'.

Brian Hodgkinson with Alan Baker on Candlestickmaker, Dovestones Quarry.  © Tony Howard Collection
Brian Hodgkinson with Alan Baker on Candlestickmaker, Dovestones Quarry.
© Tony Howard Collection

They soon got to know the Chew Valley Cragsmen who were their initial inspiration. Roy Brown in particular soon became a lifelong friend and mentor. At the time, Roy lived in a converted hen hut at Fernlea, before moving to a nearby cottage at Whitelea, costing ten bob (50p) a week. By the late 1950s, the Rimmon Mountaineering Club had been formed and with little money to be had for transport, hitching being the only regular option, new routes were soon being done around Saddleworth. A glance through the first ascent lists shows a surge of activity from the mid-'50s through to the mid-'60s. Almost all the new routes were done by the Rimmon and the Chew Valley Cragsmen, the latter soon becoming the Manchester Gritstone, though Graham West and Mick Roberts, two of the decade's greatest Moorland Grit pioneers were tragically killed in a huge, unprecedented avalanche in Wilderness Gully in January 1963, ironically one of the best winters of that period for snow and ice climbing.

photo
Brian Hodgkinson, Dovestones Quarry Girdle
© Tony Howard Collection

Roy Brown, Adrian Garlick & Dave Crilly  © Tony Howard Collection
Roy Brown, Adrian Garlick & Dave Crilly
© Tony Howard Collection

Jeff Sykes on Nosey, Rob’s Rocks  © Tony Howard Collection
Jeff Sykes on Nosey, Rob’s Rocks
© Tony Howard Collection

Others active in Chew during the early '60s included the Alpha and the 'Tans' climbing clubs from further south in the Peak District, with climbers such as Richard McHardy, Al Parker and Pete Bamfield leaving their mark. Malc Baxter, Dave Crilly, Stan Wroe and other members of the Manchester Grit were also now climbing in Chew and on the Longdendale cliffs, sometimes with the Rimmon lads which now included it's own new hotshots such as Tony Nicholls, Bill Tweedale, Rob Holt and, later, Adrian Garlick, Brian Roberts and his younger brother, 'Speedy', a real ace on rock.

The Climbs

New routes were being discovered regularly in what was still – as it is today - a comparatively quiet part of the Peak. Wilderness and Dovestones Lower Left were Chew Valley Cragsmen/Manchester Grit terrain, but the climbs on Alderman, Pots and Pans, Den Lane and Pule Hill were almost completely Rimmon routes, whilst Dovestones Main Quarry, Standing Stones and Charnel Stones became Rimmon playgrounds. One day in 1963, the Rimmon put up fifty-two new routes on Ravenstones – as the 1988 guide said, "Beat that". Dave Cook later wrote in his article True Grit in Games Climbers Play, "There was a time in the late 'sixties when it looked as if the ethos and traditions of gritstone were taking over everywhere. The big jamming fists, and the big jammed mouths of the Rock and Ice, the Alpha, the Black and Tans, the YMC and the Rimmon, (he forgot the Manchester Grit) proselytised by word and deed all over Britain, brainwashing everyone else into an acceptance of inferiority". Testosterone years indeed!

Brian (Smiler) Woods belayed by Paul Seddon on Dovestones Quarry Girdle  © Tony Howard Collection
Brian (Smiler) Woods belayed by Paul Seddon on Dovestones Quarry Girdle
© Tony Howard Collection

First ascent of Rimmon Wall, Ravenstones, Tony Howard,   © Tony Howard Collection
First ascent of Rimmon Wall, Ravenstones, Tony Howard,
© Tony Howard Collection

A few of the best routes in the upper grades in the 1965 guide to Saddleworth - Chew

1923 Waterfall Climb VD George Bower

Dovestones Quarry

Pre-1924 Nasal Buttress HS 4b George Bower Dovestones
1924 Wedgewood Crack VS 4c George Bower, Albert Wood Ravenstones
1937 Routes 1 & 2 HS 4b & VS 5a L Kiernan & F Hewitt Wimberry
1938 Pulpit Ridge E1 5a Arthur Birtwistle Ravenstones
1948 Freddie's Finale HVS 5b Joe Brown Wimberry
1948 The Trident HVS 5b Joe Brown & Rock & Ice team Wimberry
1948 Blue Lights HVS 5b Don Whillans &/or Joe Brown Wimberry
Pre-1950 Ornithologists Corner VS 5a Joe Brown & Rock & Ice team Wimberry
Pre-1950 Coffin Crack VS 4c

Joe Brown & Rock & Ice team

Wimberry
1950 Nameless One VS 4b Roy Brown, Jimmy Curtis Rob's Rocks
Early 1950s Camel's Arete HVS 5a Graham West Wilderness
1950s Hanging Crack E2 5b Joe Brown Dovestones
1950s Mike's Meander VS 4c Rock & Ice Dovestones Quarry
1956 Great Slab VS 4b Tony Howard Alderman
1957 Ace of Spades HVS 5a Joe Brown

Dovestones Quarry

1957 Tiny Tim VS 4c Joe Brown

Dovestones Quarry

1957 Sweatyman HVS 5a Graham West Shooters Nab
1957 Temptation Crack VS 4c Tony Howard

Charnel Stones

1957 Three Notch Slab VS 4c Barry Kershaw

Den Lane

1957 Double Overhangs VS 4c Barry Kershaw

Den Lane

1958 Tartarus VS 4c Tony Howard

Den Lane

1958 'Odges 'Orror HVS 5b Brian Hodgkinson

Den Lane

1958 Womanless Wall VS 4c Tony Howard Standing Stones
1959 Epitaph Corner VS 4c Al Parker/R A Brayshaw Dovestones Quarry
1959 Midgebite Crack HVS 5a Tony Howard Den Lane
Pre 1960 Dovestones Quarry Girdle HVS 5a Rock & Ice Dovestones Quarry
1960 Fairy Nuff VS 4c Paul Seddon

Standing Stones

1960 Ocean Wall E1 5b Malc Baxter

Standing Stones

1960 Slipoff Slab HVS 4c Tony Howard Dovestones
1960 Mammoth Slab HVS 4c Graham West

Dovestones

1960 Delilah E1 5b Tony Jones

Pule Hill

1960 Maggie HVS 5a Tony Jones Dovestones
1960 Feb VS 4b, 5a Brian Hodgkinson, Howard & Seddon

Dovestones Quarry

Early 1960s Cuspidor VS 5a/b Tony Howard Shooters Nab
Early 1960s Jericho Wall Direct HVS 5a Tony Howard/Paul Seddon Dovestones Quarry
1961 Rizla HVS 5a Paul Seddon/Tony Howard Ravenstones
1961 The Nose HVS 5b Tony Howard

Rob's Rocks

1961 Wall & Bulge E2 5b Malc Baxter Wimberry
1962 The Popple HVS 5a Malc Baxter

Den Lane

1962 The Ratcher HVS 5b Malc Baxter

Pule Hill

1962 Scoop Arete E1 5a Paul Seddon

Den Lane

1963 The Wilter E1 5b Howard, Jones & Sykes

Den Lane

1963 Trinnacle West E1 5b Paul Seddon Ravenstones
1963 Rimmon Wall HVS 4c Tony Howard Ravenstones
1963 The Tombstone HVS 5a Tony Jones

Charnel Stones

Pre 1965 Kvick Chimney VS 4c Probably Malc Baxter Wimberry
Pre 1965 Scoop Wall VS 4c Tony Jones Pule Hill
Pre 1965 Square Buttress VS 4c Tony Howard Pule Hill

and I will include one after the '65 guide as some doubted it's ascent, but I was there:

1966 Overlapping Wall E1 6b Tony (Nick) Nicholls Pule Hill

As a matter of interest, Nick also did the second ascent of Arthur Dolphin's Wall of Horrors at Almscliffe a few years previously. He also came within inches of doing the first ascent of White Slab Direct on Cloggy before falling the full length of the pitch - I know as I was belaying! And in 1965 he led one of the hardest pitches on the Troll Wall (The Nick) but was unable to join the final ascent as his hands were trashed.

Tony Howard on Fairy Nuff, Standing Stones   © Tony Howard Collection
Tony Howard on Fairy Nuff, Standing Stones
© Tony Howard Collection

Tony Howard on the first ascent of The Minotaur, Pule Hill. No cams for wide cracks back then!  © Tony Howard Collection
Tony Howard on the first ascent of The Minotaur, Pule Hill. No cams for wide cracks back then!
© Tony Howard Collection

Chew Pano  © Tony Howard Collection
A view of the entrance to Chew Valley. Before 1965 there was no Dovestones Reservoir, just a quiet pastoral valley guarded by the dramatic mountain crag of Alderman on it's left and the foreboding walls of Dovestones Quarry in shadow on the right. Beyond it, the dark battlements of Dovestones Edge rim the moor. In a hidden valley behind, the remote cliffs of Standing Stones and Ravenstones stand over the confluence of Holme and Birchens Cloughs, whilst Charnel Stones are hidden in shadow to the right. Unseen from here but further up Chew Valley are more crags including Rob's Rocks. Almost opposite them, the well named cliffs of Wilderness loom darkly above the upper canyon of Chew Brook. Finally, and not far from this viewpoint, but off-shot to the right, the ominously jutting prows of Wimberry, perhaps the most dramatic crag in the Peak District, dominate the skyline.


Tony Howard is the author of 'Troll Wall' and 'Quest into the Unknown', both from Vertebrate. Also climbing and trekking guidebooks to the Peak District, Norway, Jordan and Palestine.

UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by tony howard



Support UKC

We need your help.

UKClimbing is a vibrant web site with rich content and an amazing community. So far, all we've asked of you is that you visit and interact with the site but we are in uncertain times. We need to look at ways to keep the site moving forward whilst maintaining our key aim of allowing free access to everyone to our main content. The site will continue to be mainly funded by a subtle level of outdoor-only advertising but we now need extra support to ensure we can continue to provide the UKC that we all know and love.

You can help us by becoming a UKC Supporter. This can be in a small way or in a larger package that includes discounted products from our sister-publishing company Rockfax.

If you appreciate UKClimbing then please help us by becoming a UKC Supporter.

UKC Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Show your support UKC Supporter badge on your profile and forum posts

21 Sep

Arthur Dolphin didn’t do the first ascent of Wall of Horrors. That was down to one Alan Austin.

21 Sep
I would imagine even a whole dolphin would have struggled with a first ascent.....

I’ll get my coat

22 Sep

Superb article! Thanks for taking the time to write it Tony, would love to see more decent historical stuff on UKC.

22 Sep

This was one of the first guidebooks I bought in the late 1960's. Took me climbing to Dovestones Quarry, Standing Stones, and a general nosey round other crags. I though it was one of the old ones I had kept for nostalgic reasons but a quick search has failed to find it.

John Gresty

22 Sep

Loved the article really great to know the history behind all these areas where o climb.

More Comments
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest