As far as I know it was Doug Scott, back in the 1970s, who valiantly forged his way through the vegetation and pigeons to establish the first climbs on the crags below the castle in Nottingham. The dank sandstone cliffs then slumbered in vegetated obscurity for 30 years only to suffer enforced deforestation during work to repair and strengthen the castle terrace.
When Paul Ramsden and I climbed a reinforcement rod ridden crack in 2008 I had suspected that we were taking advantage of a lull in the vegetated nature of the place and the crag would soon return to its natural state. But I had underestimated the passionate enthusiasm of Nottingham City Council.
Over the last year or so, during regular lunchtime strolls from my nearby office, I have been able to monitor an ongoing thorough cleaning process and feel a sense of excitement building as more and more climbing possibilities have been revealed.
Most of the possibilities looked rounded and serious as they lacked good cracks which might afford protection. But one line in particular attracted my attention such that another Nottingham castle adventure was deemed necessary. As ever Paul Ramsden was keen and last week saw an early start with the two of us roping up beneath the crag at 5.30am. Adventure climbing of this type appeals to us as something different – a unique opportunity with the spice of challenge and uncertainty thrown in.
Soon I was ensconced deep in an overhanging slot fumbling above my head to place protection where the crack narrowed to a convenient hand jam size. I noted that, even after the Council’s sterling efforts, there was still plenty of loose sand falling uncomfortably into my eyes.
At 50 feet a ledge beckoned, above which the Council had kindly left a threaded rod sticking out of the rock It was a little too far to one side to make an ideal belay but their efforts were appreciated all the same. Paul came up and led off up pitch two which continued in much the same vein – an awkward off width crack followed by a traverse leading to the remains of a recently felled tree. Again we welcomed the Council’s efforts to remove the sheltering foliage and reveal the crag in its full glory.
Pitch three was unique in my 41 years of climbing. After proceeding carefully past a window (providing light to a hidden tunnel within) the clean looking rock above turned out to be completely covered with a thin film of fibreglass. It was devoid of protection and climbing it felt bold and sounded hollow; a bit like climbing thin ice detached from the rock – but with rock shoes on.
I was glad to leave the hollow fibreglass and pleased to find that the drainage holes on the blank terrace wall offered an excellent belay. They were just the right diameter for a secure camming device.
A sign on the terrace announced ‘Dangerous Behaviour will lead to Prosecution.’ Having reassured ourselves that our behaviour was indeed very safe an exit abseil down the ramparts completed the morning’s adventure. We were back at Paul’s for tea and toast by 7.30am.
It’s always good to have a memorable outing before breakfast.