Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Lliwedd...Theatre of Nightmares

The classic 'Avalanche'.
I recently caught the late Jim Curran’s 1979 film based on Menlove Edward’s Essay ‘A Great Effort’ on You-Tube.(Linked below) This short, 17 minute film shows Jim following in Menlove’s footsteps and soloing an unnamed route on Lliwedd as the essay is narrated. It appears to be a cold winter’s day with some snow on the ledges and despite Jim being swaddled in the fibre pile garments, it must have been bitter, hence I think the rope he was tied on to was not being dragged behind-as the essay suggests was the case with Menlove-but played out to an attentive off camera partner.

The sombre nature of the film captures the saturnine aspect of Lliwedd perfectly. The vast 1000‘ north east facing cliff- popular a hundred years ago-has not surprisingly fallen into the realm of the seeker of solitude and climbing esoterica. That’s not to say that people don’t still climb in any numbers on Lliwedd, but compared to somewhere like the Tremadog cliffs, its a veritable backwater these days. Lliwedd was the first cliff in the UK to have a dedicated climbing guidebook. Archer Thomson’s 1909, Climbers Club published work. A few years after completion, he committed suicide by poison. The next climber to take up the Lliwedd baton was Menlove Edwards himself. His guidebook and linked essays are of course considered classics within the genre these days.

Menlove-like his Lliwedd predecessor,-also committed suicide by poison. Enter Harold Drasdo in the late 60‘s. His 1971 guide holds the CC record for being the slowest selling guidebook in the club’s history. Taking 30 years to sell out! You’re getting the picture I presume. If you want to escape the summer bank holiday crag queues head to Lliwedd!

Thankfully Harold wasn’t driven to suicide by the task and lived on happily into old age. Kelvin Neal’s 1998 guide was the last guidebook to Lliwedd- Just four in over 100 years! With the CC rationalizing its guidebook production in light of commercial competition and the trend for climbers to buy ‘Greatest Hits’ compendiums rather than dedicated guidebooks to specific cliffs, it’s quite possible that there will never be another Lliwedd guidebook published. Instead the great sulking cliff beloved of tweedy Edwardians,will only live on cyberspace as a digital guide.

I must admit, Lliwedd is not a venue I have ever warmed to-literally! It’s always been cold there and the terrain thereabouts just doesn’t lend itself to enjoyable climbing. Loose, vegetated, long run outs and holds which always seem to run against the grain so to speak. Mind you, I’ve probably only ever climbed there about three or four times and inevitably the so called classics. Horned Crag, Avalanche, Slanting Buttress and maybe something else? It was obviously a forgettable experience.

One of my most striking memories of Lliwedd was not actually related to climbing there but visiting the crag on a dank day when our plans had to be aborted. Standing under Menlove’s Central Buttress, we plotted a course up the tumbling defile as the first spots of rain began to speckle our kags. Within a few minutes the heavens had opened and a deluge of biblical proportions fell from the black sky. Above Central Buttress, the cliff funnels into a tight amphitheatre and this feature-acting as a trap- channelled the elemental deluge down and over the rim of the hanging cwm. Totally submerging the route under a foaming torrent of water. Central Route had become a waterfall which would have put Rhaeadr Ewynnol, (Swallow Falls) to shame.

Anyone climbing the route at the time would not only have drowned but would have been dashed to pieces by the force of the maelstrom. Needless to say, shaken and not a little stirred by what might have been, we fled down the hillside to the sanctuary of the PyG and blessed the deadly sin of sloth which had led to our late start. Yes...Lliwedd; as the saying goes..’been there, done that and bought the T shirt! I'm not sure I'll ever return but never say never I guess.

Jim Curran's 1979 'A Great Effort'.

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