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The Birds and Saint Bees

Image for article The Birds and Saint Bees

With Two bouldering shoots completed it was time to get in gear and start motoring with some shots of routes on higher crags. For routes of E3 and above one of the best crags in the Lakes (apparently as I’ve never climbed that hard ! )  is Raven Crag, Threshthwaite. So why wait. A plan was hatched with climber Duncan Campbell, who as well as being a handy climber is also handy at making hands. Prosthetic hands and feet, and legs, and arms. And as I’d had designs on shooting some female climbers doing E grade routes is was handy that he arrived with designer Clare Waring. At this rate we were going to kill two birds with one stone.

To quote the Wired Guides Lake District Rock guidebook “The rock is solid, compact and steep, providing tremendous, athletic climbing. A great days climbing is assured.”
It was arranged that all concerned would meet Sunday morning at the car park in the hamlet of Hartsop at 10.30am. After an unexpected delay I was able step on the gas and head up to the crag to meet Duncan and Clare. I was carrying the camera in the excellent F-stop Shinn a huge 80L camera pack that the Instanto fits in to perfectly, meanwhile Simon was carrying the dark slides in another F-stop pack along with the tripod. Murray Walker would have been proud of the pace we set, and we arrived to find D and C warming up on the three star E3 5c ‘Grand Prix’.

One of the reasons I’d chosen Raven Crag to shoot at was because the climbing is adjacent to the slope of the hill, meaning the Instanto could be set up with a grandstand view of the action. So while we set up the camera in pole position, Duncan and Clare had a refuelling pit stop before Clare set off to lead ‘Redex’ a two star 30m E2 5c. As Clare arrived at the mid point of the route we exposed the first sheet of film.

One down and two to go. Having climbed the route, abseiled back down and pulled the ropes through, it was time for the main event. In fact there was a time when it was several million peoples main event on a Sunday. Top Gear.

A classic E4 6a route, put up in 1981 by Whillance and Armstrong, Top Gear climbs a wall, crack and groove before trending left across a shield. This would be the point when we’d take two shots of Duncan. One thing that had been learned from the earlier shoots, was that when viewed in black and white a climber clad in dark clothes was difficult to make out against the rock. So I’d ask Mr Campbell to bring some light clothes, he dually obliged. Looking like a medical technician on his day off he stood out perfectly. Winner.

The other climbing shoot of the week was to be at St. Bees. And having linked up with the ever enthusiastic and extremely talented Chris Fisher, a man who in 2014 climbed his first 8A boulder problem, and therefore has climbed an 'eighth grade' route in every discipline available in the Lake District; trad climbing, sport climbing, winter climbing and bouldering. And he’s modest.

So a plan was made for some evening bouldering on the sandstone south of Whitehaven. We met up at Tarnflatt Hall carpark, and as we left a couple of people with binoculars also arrived. They were obviously going bird watching, it turned out Chris knew them. They were Will Sim's parents. As we headed towards the lighthouse and down the cliff path I enjoyed a conversation about photography and darkroom practice with Pa Sim. It’s a small world is climbing.

We couldn’t have chosen a better evening to be down by the seaside, beside the sea, as it gently lapped on the barnacle covered rocks a few feet below us. There was a time when it was a locals only place, and not only climbers but birders, fishermen, locals, and local youths who’d carve their names in the rock. Ah yes our Mr Fisher is a local and came here when he was a youth. That said there are many in the climbing world who’d still call him youth.

Over recent years though St. Bees has become recognised and renowned as one of the best bouldering locations in the UK. The boulders are situated on sandstone platforms below the sea cliffs, with blocks offering a range of arete, face and occasional crack climbs, all on fine grained sandstone.
After setting up, and warming up we shot three plates of Chris on ‘Clash of the Titans’ 7a+ / V7 with spotting provided by Pete Apps, who it turned out remembered me from my previous life as a bigger hitter in the domestic cycling world. It’s a small world is cycling.

As we finished and packed away, with barely a breeze, and the Irish Sea like a mill pond, the sun said it’s farewell and slid below the horizon as we scrambled up the cliffs and buzzed off towards the pub.


22 August 2016 by Henry Iddon

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