On 16th June 2017, the North York Moors saw the start of its first ever walking and climbing festival. As with all new things, there were a few shadows of doubt: would anyone turn up? Would the weather hold? Would everything run smoothly? Was there anything to even organise?! These little niggles were soon blasted towards the horizon as the sun first began to out-poke in a glorious sunset on the Friday evening.
Even at this early stage, Park Nab had local resident Mike Conlon welcoming people onto the crag; folk from Northumberland were on Twin Cracks (Severe 4b), there were southerners bouldering out Lion King (HVS 5c), and a chap from Devon taking photos. As darkness fell, these eager beavers joined folk who had been out elsewhere in the Moors that day and they all descended upon the Royal Oak in Great Ayton for a swift half (or five).
The Saturday morning was like one of those days camping in Chamonix – the tent, an undiluted mass of sweaty ming, with temperatures touching 30 degrees. A growing sea of nylon and vans had popped up overnight and people were up early, trawling the guidebooks and central information desk, with a vague waft of bacon undulating its way through excited nostrils. The Wainstones was chosen as the main venue for the Saturday for those climbers who couldn't decide. We'd secured funding for free trad climbing tuition and DMM had brought some demo gear for people to have a look at.
The atmosphere was how I imagine it is in that soloing place in Siberia – a mixture of picnic, relaxed leading and the odd act of boldness. People tried things they wouldn't usually try, revisited old classics, or went off for a little walk by themselves. Some highlights were seeing Si bring about 23 people (including one youth who dynoed the crux!) up Lemming Slab (E4 5c), Andi Turner unpicking the complex crux of Chop Yat Ridge Direct (HVS 5b), Ash weaving her way up Groove and Crack (HVD) and Charlotte cruise West Sphinx Direct (E3 5c). If the sun became too much, people nipped over the hill to have an explore of Raven's Scar. There must have been 100 people pass through both these crags during the day.
Elsewhere in the Moors, the rarely repeated Highcliffe Nab routes Moonflower (E5 6b) and Desperate Den (E6 6c) saw 5 and 2 ascents respectively – possibly as many as they've seen in their whole existence! Another half dozen or so folk went up to Ingleby Incline, enjoying routes like Coumartin Slab (E1 5b), Top Gun (HVS 5a) and Geronimo (E2 6a). There was not an insignificant amount of sunburn, heatstroke and lethargy on return to Basecamp at Fletcher's Farm – good job there was a bar and free food on the horizon!
The Saturday night promised to be an entertaining affair, with a free buffet, quiz prizes, a raffle for Mountain Rescue generously supported once again by DMM Wales, and lectures from Ben Bransby and Sam Marks. Ben's talk was a well-illustrated tale of his journey from geeky teen to rock god; an understated description of the captivating and outrageous lines that had occupied and inspired his life. I think a few people sitting around may have put some of his "top 5 routes" on their own mental ticklists. Sam Marks is a local activist who is renowned for his unique delivery of deadpan stories; firmly rooted in the ridiculous and not without a touch of controversy. The two talks were the perfect mix of broad international interest and local yokel madness.
By 11PM everyone was falling asleep and I think there were very few up by midnight.
Day 2: Scugdale and Whitestone Cliffe!
Another blisteringly hot day and everyone made a surprisingly quick getaway to Scugdale. People enjoyed the sunny classics, with 'Young Sam' in particular making very light work of some of the area's harder offerings. At Whitestone Cliffe, climber after climber remarked on the unparalleled splendour of The Nitchwatch (VS 4b). The Whitestone legends Chris Woodall and Dave Richards were back climbing at the crag and Tom Barr sauntered up Frigg (HS 4b). Ben Bransby fired off more very rare ascents of The Claw (E4 5c) and Jurassic Scarp (E3 5c), and Si Litchfield took on the terrifying line of Black Mamba (E3 5c). A small group then elected for a swim in lake Goremire.
We'd like to thank the BMC and DMM for supporting this event – it would have just been a load of people sitting in a field without them. Ben Bransby and Sam Marks were both exceptional orators (only the latter being a surprise in that fact) and gave a hilarious face to the entertainment. I think everyone finished the weekend feeling like they'd been on holiday. There was energy and it was warm in every sense of the word. Thanks goes too to every single person who came and made it such a great weekend – I think the 2nd BMC North York Moors festival has now become inevitable.
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