INTERVIEW: Andy Pollitt & 'Big' Ron Fawcett

by Andy Pollitt 19/Jun/2017
This article has been read 7,404 times

Ron Fawcett, 87 kbRon Fawcett
© Ron Fawcett / Vertebrate
Andy Pollitt passes the microphone to one of Britain's biggest climbing legends - 'Big' Ron Fawcett


Na' then thee, 'ow's it going 'Big' Ron?

We'd never have believed all those years ago that we'd be sharing shelf-space in book shops and libraries all around the world one day would we, with Jerry's there and Ben Moon and Johnny D's too, so we're in great company.

I read a review of mine which was most complimentary and the reviewer commented that he thought it was the 2nd best climbing autobiography ever written – "2nd only to Ron Fawcett's 'Rock Athlete"! Nice one Ron, grumble, grumble…

You kindly contributed to my book and wrote that the first time you recall meeting us two lads [Jerry Moffatt & me] it was in Eric's barn at Tremadog. Amazed you recalled that.

photo
Big Ron and AP amongst literary giants
© Charlie Creese c/- The Lactic Factory, Melbourne

Well, Jerry remembers seeing you at Craig y Forwyn earlier yarding up Great Wall and asking your then wife Gill 'What's for tea love?' half way up! He was star-struck and you became his hero. Peter Livesey had been my boyhood hero as a 14yr old young 'un under the tutelage of my schoolmaster Andy Boorman and if your good self and I first met at Tremadog, I have absolutely no recollection as I would've undoubtedly been speechless with nerves. "Ron Fawcett just spoke to us Andy"; "See the size of 'is 'ands" Jerry probably said.

Ron Fawcett surveys his legendary hands at ShAFF 2009, 87 kbRon Fawcett surveys his legendary hands at ShAFF 2009
© Alan James

I guess it would've been the 'Strawberries' time where you and JR [John Redhead] were competing for the first ascent. Now much has been documented about the blurry ethics of the day so no need to re-visit – 'cept to say it was a monumental and highly significant achievement. Jeremy and I were trying to repeat it and he did (sort of). If I'd tried once or twice more I would've too I'm sure as my foot had slipped off on that move out left near the top.

RF: Andy, you have a great memory, I can't remember what I did last week never mind all those years ago. Of course, there was no social media back then, news was passed round by word of mouth or the print media. Crags mag was undoubtedly the best but it would be considered rather non-pc today. The routes you mention were not what I would consider my hardest, nowhere near. I started out so long ago on the Yorkshire grit and what we did back then was hard and scary with archaic footwear and gear, or lack of it. We even tried to free those big aid routes on Yorkshire limestone and many of them had fixed gear that would barely hold body weight. What stands out is camaraderie, mates. Sharing what we had (nothing) and having fun.

photo
Young Ron Fawcett (circa 1970's) stretching out at Crookrise
© Al Evans, Jun 2015

I think (probably Geoff Birtles or Steve 'Ash tree' in the mags) referred to you as 'The Peak Raider' what with your frequent forays down to North Wales. You also 'raided' my home turf of Craig y Forwyn and grabbed Imminent Crisis that Trevor 'Carlos' Hodgson and I had both speared into the deck off! Most unsettling coz I repeated it the next day and was only about 18. I made the 4th ascent of The Cad around this time too after Pete Whillance and Redhead.

Blink and the next thing we know I'm sharing the back seat of a coach through France with you – yeah, the one, the only, you, as we'd been invited on one of those BMC foreign exchange meetings where we shared that terrifying epic on Chrysalis in the Verdon Gorge, where positively the worst thunder and lightning show struck us and was lashing the cliff and we were three abseils down, hanging on a shared bolt and we'd forgotten to bring the quickdraws! Now, dear readers, please pardon the blatant plug for my book 'Punk in the Gym' (Twenty four quids from all good book shops) but the entire epic is recounted in detail. To this day, Ron, I scratch my head how the heck you got us out alive wi' nay kit man!

RF: Happy days which led to lots of climbing with French and German climbers I met on those early trips.

Of course, I had been to the Verdon and lots of other French limestone crags before this trip with Pete Livesey and other Yorkshire mates like Chris Gibb. These early trips were always full of laughs and hard climbing. We often had no idea what we were doing, no topos or guides, just a desire to climb.

1983 and PW [Paul Williams] and I are on 'Pen Trwyn patrol'. You joined the fun and we all dossed at Paul's in Penisarwaun and did daily trips to the Great Orme. Amazing isn't it that we'd just amble along the Marine Drive, choose stunning unclimbed lines and just rattle them off between free ice creams and teas down at Parisella's café.

photo
Ron Fawcett on the first ascent of Lord of the Flies
Paul Williams, Jun 1979 © Welsh Rock

I'll remind and enlighten the readership that on one occasion you were cranking your way up yet another first ascent when a little old Mancunian chap with a flat cap wandered by. He goes to Paul "Is 'e as good as Mallory?" and PW fires back – quick as a flash – "Don't you realise who that is sir? That's Charlton Chestwig - the world's finest climber". You were trembling with laughter hearing the banter and barely completed the route through watery eyes.

On the old chappie's return walk he paused for a moment and approached you most cordially. "Blimey Mr Chestwig you are better than Mallory aren't you?" and went on his merry way. I think that was the first time I literally wet myself and cried tears of laughter. The other one is the PW and Roland Foster episode but you need to read 'Punk...' to see that one. Sadly Charlton's out of bounds these days as the buttress is in danger of falling down.

RF: As always, what really stands out is the fun we had. Happy days, I have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time at the birth of modern climbing. Training, improvements in equipment, rather than a lack of it, the emergence of sport climbing, bouldering and latterly, brilliant bouldering walls.

photo
Ron Fawcett climbing Wrong Hand Route, Bamford
© S11

The Peak was next where I was about good enough to (just) start snapping at your heels along with Jerry, Chris Gore, Basher, 'quiet' Dougie Hall, Leachy and Hamper (plus others) and the competition was on!

Another first ascent on Raven Tor, may still be Hubris?, 168 kbAnother first ascent on Raven Tor, may still be Hubris?
© Al Evans

I repeated every single one of your limestone routes and nothing later than 6th ascent. Eye of the Tiger on Ilam Rock and Roadrunner at High Tor were particularly memorable as both were reet hard and potentially pretty dangerous. I often wondered why you didn't bother with Arch Enemies, Thormen's Moth and The Spider though as they were right up your street?

RF: Of course the Peak gained all the media attention, but I was also climbing all over the World back then. As my old mate Pete Livesey used to say, 'It's dead easy to be a hero in your own back yard'.

Oh, and Yosemite Wall at Malham and both Cave Routes in Gordale were great, I loved them.

photo
Andy Pollitt on an early repeat of Eye of the Tiger
© Glenn Robbins
photo
Andy on Scritto's Republic, the 4th ascent
© Al Rouse

Yes, you were also well known - and highly respected on the wider global stage, and climbed with other such luminaries as Kauk and Bachar in America, Edlinger in France and Gullich & Albert in Germany. Doubtless doing way more than just 'holding your own'. Any particular stand-outs with those other legends Ron?

RF: It's scary to think most of the folk you mention, and many more are now no longer with us. Great memories of climbing with John Long, Wolfgang and Kurt and many, many more. Of course I still climb, well potter outdoors when it's fit and at The Climbing Works when it isn't. I just love it, even after all these years.

photo
Fancy dress...and yes, that is Ron Fawcett (with the Fawcettes)
© The Climbing Works

OK, so to wrap up here's a few 'starters for ten' and lets pick this up in the early eighties eh?

Raven Tor and all the other Derbyshire Dales aid climbs going begging so '1st in best dressed' – usually yourself.

Master's Edge.

Careless Torque.

You repeated my E9 'Knockin on Heaven's Door' on Curbar after 6 months in a plaster cast and said it was only E6. Thanks for that mate!

You say you're still "doing a bit" and from what someone posted a while back on UKC you still have the charm, modesty and 'time of day' to be nice to strangers as you wander along under Froggatt Edge: 'Psst, do you know who that nice guy was'? 'No, who'? 'Only THE Ron Fawcett', 'No way'.

RF: As I said above, I have seen 'em come [in to vogue] and seen 'em go. Routes, styles and people, what I love is hanging out down The Works when the rain is hammering down, as per today, with a group of mates, drinking endless cups of tea, good craic, oh, and a bit of climbing thrown in. Seems like a lifetime ago I started on this journey, it was. As for pictures, I am sorry I don't have any of these modern digital shots and I can't send any of my old stuff,

Ron.

photo
My mate Charlie Creese asked if the voucher is still valid Ron?
© G. Birtles/Crags magazine.

You were always the perfect gentleman Mr Fawcett and it was an absolute honour, privilege and pleasure to be your peer, contemporary and mate.

Thanks for taking the time for this chat.

Best,

Andy.

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