"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Cyclists vs. HGVs in London

I've cycled to work on-and-off for over 10 years, and I've never had a serious accident. I've come off the bike twice in all that time. On each occasion it was entirely my own fault. I cycled off a high kerb on a pitch-black night in an unlit park. The other time I was riding too close to the back of a London bus, then, when it braked, I cut out right only to find a stationary car in lane 2. Oops. On both occasions I escaped with nothing more than a bruise or two.

A couple of scrapes is nothing in 10 years. Perhaps that's why it was a shock to hear that three London cyclists have died already in 2010, in collisions with Heavy Goods Vehicles. The great Real Cycling blog provides stats, links, and some perspective.

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Rachel and I took the dog for a walk along the beach at Covehithe near Southwold this weekend. This part of the east coast is under constant attack by the sea. A section of the cliff-top path has disappeared off the cliff.

The old medieval church at Covehithe was always too big for the number of souls in the parish. The old church fell into ruin as a consequence, and now has a much smaller church built inside the ruins. There can't be more than 5 houses there now.

On the wall of the church is a memorial plaque for James Gilbert who "put it out" in 1672.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Day 7: Stac Pollaidh

Mindful of the recent heavy snowfall and high risk of avalanche, we set off next morning to try December Grooves (IV, 6) a mixed route on the northeast buttress of Stac Pollaidh. The climbing was technically quite hard (for us) but very well-protected. In winter I'm much happier on ice than on rock, so Nick led both main pitches before I finished up an easy section. The view from the top is among the best in Britain.

If Nick looks knackered in that clip, that's because he was.

After packing the ropes we traversed the summit (not so much a ridge traverse as a scramble over and around wierd, eroded formations of ancient Torridonian Sandstone) before dropping back down to the car. We were pleased to get back. Stac Polly isn't a big mountain but it punches above its weight.

Another good day.

Days 5 & 6: around Dundonnell

Once back at the car after descending Creag Meagaidh, we recharged with Red Bull, nuts and raisins, then drove northwest through atrocious conditions to the coast of Wester Ross. We got to Dundonnell and the Sail Mhor Croft Hostel just in time: that night the road from Inverness was closed by drifting snow, and stayed closed for 3 days.

The next day was still snowing and windy to boot so we rested, with a short trip to Ullapool for some R & R.
On the way we spotted an icefall across the river from the Dundonnell Road, and the next morning we decided to have a closer look. After a mercifully short walk-in we found the base of the icefall. Although a bit wet it gave very good climbing for 2 full pitches after a short ice step.
It was a fun day, and the climbing felt more adventurous for not being in the Guide Book.

That night at the Ceilidh Place we logged onto UKClimbing.com and found that the route had been climbed before (Fain Falls IV, 5).

Day 4: Creag Meagaidh

As we left the Bank Street Lodge at 0600 next morning, cloud cover signalled a return of normal Scottish weather. But the forecast was reasonably good, so we had no real inkling of what was in store.

Near the end of a longer walk-in, of just over 2 hours, slowly the huge "Meggy" crags loomed up out of the mist and cloud. As we geared up in the shelter of boulders another team passed us, heading toward the easy gully leading to the base of Smith's Gully, our chosen objective. Nick threw his gear on and set off in pursuit, eventually overtaking the pair who confirmed they'd been intent on the same climb. They decided to do another route rather than follow us up Smith's and risk being hit by the falling ice we dislodged.

The route felt more serious and committing than anything we'd done on the trip so far: for one thing, at V, 5 Smith's Gully is one of the harder Scottish gully routes. The wind, cloud and spindrift snow blowing in our faces certainly added to the atmosphere in this remote and wild place.

The climbing was continuously varied and interesting for 3 long pitches. I led the 2nd, eventually belaying with ice screws at the very end of the 60m ropes. The 3rd pitch was supposedly the crux of the climb but the gully held plenty of ice and it felt pretty straightforward.
At the top, the buffeting winds blew snow hard into our faces.
The low cloud created a "white-out" with next to zero visibility, so Nick sat down with map and compass to take a bearing. Fifteen minutes later, as we slowly followed the bearing, Nick disappeared with a yelp. He'd dropped through a cornice - which had been completely invisible to us - luckily falling onto an easy snow slope. He climbed back up, waited a moment or two to collect himself, then we promptly put 50m distance between us and the edge, before turning again to follow our original bearing.

Lesson 1. Take a 1:25,000 map if possible rather than a 1:50,000
Lesson 2. Give yourself very generous leeway from a cliff-edge in a white-out
Lesson 3: take the forecast with a big pinch of salt!