Monday, 4 July 2011

Glorious Granite

“I’m in the Med right?” The sea a sweeping expanse of deep blue stretches out to the horizon to meet an equally vivid turquoise sky. Perched high on the cliff, granite rough under my fingers is glowing golden yellow in the sun, light catching on huge crystals of quartz embedded in the rock. Behind me the bay curves round protecting a beach of yellow sand nestled below the steep bluffs which tumble down from the plateau.

Below waves break against the rocky platform, sending spray crashing into the air. It’s changed since I was last here, a great V shaped incision cutting in where a third of the platform has vanished without trace into the jaws of the sea during a winter storm; a victim of the endless battle between the elements.

Sennen is the last village before the tourist horror that is Lands End, amazingly it does not suffer for this; the hordes charge past in their rush to stand at the furthest point west oblivious to the beautiful bay and small village that lurks just a mile back down the A30.

Sat at the belay I can look along the cost and spot the last house in Britain perched on its headland. The Cornish coast is some of the most spectacular we have, raw, rugged, and un-tempered, but spectacularly beautiful. The plateau a patchwork of fields and gorse thickets protected by battlements of granite cliffs and steep bluffs, a myriad of headlands, outcrops, and tide washed rocks, the graveyard of countless ships.

I’ve been coming to Cornwall to climb for over ten years, long miles through the night packed in the back of a minibus, or car. The trips blend together, memories of routes, epics, and experiences hard to differentiate; stories and jokes sat outside the Count House at Bosigran beer in hand as the sun sets over the sea, and dinner cooks on the barbecue.

Doorpost (HS 4b); perhaps my favourite and most frequented route despite a traumatic baptism of fire on first acquaintance. The delicate aerial ballet of the first pitch; traversing the line of small footholds and rising crescent of handholds which arc across the face. The brutal twin cracks of pitch two, a contrast, a battle, a joy?

The “Sentry Box” belay perched high on the wall, the fin of Porthmonia island far below rising up out the sea home to hundreds of sea birds. Then there’s the exhilaration of the final pitch, a leap of faith because the holds and line aren’t clear from the belay; the exposure, a world of sea, sky and rock.

Other snapshots stand out; the obscenely good final pitch of Little Brown Jug (VS 5a), a series of flakes just below the top which turn out to be a line of holds so brilliant, so tactile, so bombproof that you just want to carry on lay-backing for ever as you romp from one to the other. Commando Ridge (VDiff), a alpine style route from sea level, and an adventure from the start, abseiling down almost into the sea, then weaving your way from spray drenched rocks at the base to airy pinnacles at the top.

There are other routes here, reasons to return again: Bow Wall, Ghost, Anvil Chorus, Suicide Wall, Terriers Tooth, South Face Direct, Diocese, and Demo Route. In the endless battle between returning to the places you love and exploring somewhere new I don’t think I will be able to ignore Cornwall for long.


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