The Under'grade'uate: Climbing at University Article

© Oli Grounsell

Former student Oli Grounsell shares his experience of university life and climbing in Bangor. DISCLAIMER: To future students - do your own research and take some of Oli's advice with a pinch of salt...

Any youth who grows up with the delights of climbing will no doubt leave school wondering how they can live the life of a rockstar, that is - climbing full time.

Jack Lawledge warming up for The Diamond  © Oli Grounsell
Jack Lawledge warming up for The Diamond
© Oli Grounsell

In the 80s Jerry Moffatt did this by knuckling down in the Stoney bunkhouse and signing on. Whilst this was perhaps not the most respectable way of climbing full time, it did the job for Jerry, who went on to be quite good. At the opposite end of the spectrum, these days if you happen to be super talented you might actually get paid to climb and therefore truly live the life of a rockstar.

However, for many these options aren't feasible or particularly desirable. Sitting in the middle though is the life of a student, a life which many drag out for years with PHDs and the like. Other than having a genuine interest in what they study, this must surely be for the access to climbing...

Whilst you don't exactly get paid to be a student, leaving 30,000 in debt (future you can worry about that), at the time you do get money without actually having to do anything, so to the keen climber and carefree youth it feels close enough.

My Uni Experience - Bangor

Having grown up in Sheffield, I began to take climbing and access to climbing like I take everything else in life which is good; for granted. With or without a car I could access Stanage every night after school and enjoyed making average days just a little better. I never considered that this may not become the norm, or why this wouldn't be the norm when it came to furthering my education. Obviously I considered staying in Sheffield, then Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh also entered my radar. There was also Bangor, but its reputation for being a bit of a dive put me off.

Then I went to an open day, I was immediately unimpressed.

Bangor seemed to lack any of the substance and excitement that anywhere where people would want to live should have. The main university building is nice, but I would not have my lectures here, apparently. The town centre is without a centre, the clubs are like converted scout huts and local success is measured on the diameter of your exhaust.

I obviously then went on to apply for Bangor.

Fast forward a few months and I was now a fresher (first year student), and after enjoying a nice school disco in Academi, Bangor's second best night club - its only competition being Peep - I awoke to glorious blue skies. Friendless, I thought I'd go for a boulder. Part of me felt I shouldn't be going out climbing, and that my status as 'friendless' should in fact be compelling me to make an effort with my new housemates. In the end, I decided that the latter could wait for round two of sampling the bright lights of Bangor and I headed to the Pass. In the following months this decision did not have any negative social repercussions, you will be pleased to hear.

Pete Robins on Hang 'em High  © Oli Grounsell
Pete Robins on Hang 'em High
© Oli Grounsell

With a single mat and a few hours to play with, I headed for non-other than Jerry's Roof. As I would later learn is the case, there is always a small group here and I promptly added my mat to the pile and got stuck in. Not long after, I came away after quite aptly ticking Jerry's Roof from the tourist's start.

For the rest of the week I got fully involved in what makes North Wales so great; the variety. I'd check the weather and always be able to get out climbing, as is often the case in times other than deepest winter. I negotiated my way between the pockets of Right Wall, balanced my way along the The Rainbow of Recalcitrance, got scared at Gogarth and got pumped at LPT. I even had time to go back and tick Jerry's Roof from the local start. The rest of September and October provided further opportunities. It was clear now that Bangor was a mere blemish on what North Wales had to offer.

As I became comfortable with my new surroundings I was more than happy with my decisions the year before, and soon found that even Bangor itself had some sort of charm. It's hard to explain what this charm is, but it's there somewhere, you just have to find it. Bangor and its surroundings seem to contrast yet they live in harmony. There is something novel about being able to live somewhere so tacky, yet also have world class climbing on your doorstep.

Nathan Lee on King Wad E5, Scimitar Ridge
© Oli Grounsell

It's not just the climbing which is varied in North Wales, the weather has its fair share of variety. It definitely does rain in North Wales. When the time comes for Jona Lewie to spread Christmas misery down the High Street it is more than possible that you have forgotten the feel of rock. At this point in winter one must firstly remember how good summer can be and secondly - the Llyn Peninsular.

It was still cold, but most importantly on this particular winter's day it wasnt wet. We were on our way to Craig Dorys, it would be my first time and Rob and Callum were raving about what lay ahead. I was psyched as we parked up in a little field, big waves rolling into the boulder beach below. As we approached the crag in a stiff breeze I was a little sceptical of the promised t-shirt conditions, but as we dropped into the grass bank and began to descend, the wind became a memory. Before I knew it I was on Tonight at Noon, a brilliant pitch to the right of Nightstalker's intimidating roof and it was obviously now too hot on this otherwise crisp winter's day. After a bold start I found myself on more solid rock higher up, a bit of pump in my arms, the sun on my back and lots of good kit. I topped out and then we drove back into the real world, which brought with it more rain.

I have just left Bangor and would happily do it all again. In the UK we didn't have the greatest start to the summer, but again I made the most of it in North Wales. Whilst the winters can be terrible (depressing), once spring arrives there is often dry rock to be found courtesy of the all the micro climates and this can also be the case in the drier winters. I have certainly enjoyed my last few months, with good days in the mountains, and by the sea.

Go or no Go?

If you are in the process of choosing a university I would wholeheartedly recommend Bangor, and if you are in the process of deciding whether or not to go to University - it's certainly not for everyone, but it has a lot of perks as a climber. It will probably be fun, and your climbing will benefit from it. If you manage your time well you can still excel in your studies, partying and get lots of climbing in.

Someone who is boring might tell you that you shouldn't base which university you go to on something like climbing, which is a mere pastime. My opinion would be that they are wrong and that for many people, climbing isn't just a mere pastime and three years is a long time to spend wishing you were somewhere else. Obviously, choose a course which interests you and a university which provides the best course for you, as spending 3 years doing a course you hate could be equally as difficult - I guess you need to find a balance (which is skewed towards climbing)...

Here is a little list of Universities which I could suggest:

Bangor - easy access to a variety of world class climbing.
Sheffield - very easy access to Gritstone and Peak lime (if the weather plays ball this can provide excellent climbing all year round).
Leeds - Yorkshire Limestone and Grit, close to Lakes, and Scotland isn't that bad a drive. Along with Sheffield probably best bet for rock climbing in winter, given access to grit.
Manchester - quite central, easy access to Lancashire, Lakes, Peak and Wales, but not quite Sheffield.
Bristol - easy access to Cheddar and Avon. Pembroke is a short drive as is the South Coast.
Edinburgh - out of all the Unis Edinburgh obviously has the easiest access to Scotland, and if you are keen on your winter stuff this is also probably the place to be. No easily accessible post lecture cragging though.

This was my preference when it came to choosing, but I'm sure if you were to find an ex-student from any of these, they could argue it out for the first place.

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14 Sep, 2016
"Edinburgh - out of all the Uni’s Edinburgh obviously has the easiest access to Scotland," Eh?
14 Sep, 2016
I'm pretty confident that that's quite clear to everyone else, but for your benefit: 'Scotland' is here used metonymically to refer to 'worthwhile climbing areas in Scotland', i.e. all of the stuff that's far, far north of Edinburgh. Nice pedantism though. I found Manchester to be pretty crap as a climber - struggled to find partners for trad (although there are plenty of indoor climbers), and having to navigate the M60 to get anywhere means that, while you're relatively close to all kinds of great places for full days and longer, the options for quick hits are quite limited. Hobson Moor and Wilton were the two places I found that were a good balance between 'close' and 'not shit', and were still half an hour away if the traffic was entirely cooperative, tending more towards an hour.
14 Sep, 2016
No - it still doesn't make sense. Why Edinburgh over, say, Glasgow?
14 Sep, 2016
Oli is obviously unaware that Edinburgh isn't the only University in Scotland. If I was thinking about recommendations in Scotland places like Aberdeen, Glasgow, Strathclyde or Stirling would be well ahead of Edinburgh. Not to mention the various campus options at the University of the Highlands and Islands.
14 Sep, 2016
If you're going to uni just to go climbing, you might as well drop £30k on 5 years climbing around the world.
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