Alex paused his steady stride along Britain’s most iconic historical cross-country landmark and peered through his dripping hood towards the ground. Rain sodden, we were following a narrow but well-worn track guided by an old, correction, very old stone wall on the right and a steep pine covered slope on the left. Along the dolerite cliffs at the eastern end of Crag Lough in Northumberland a tiny flag of bright green nestling amongst the usual debris and litter of the forest floor under partially sheltering pines had caught attention. Wood Sorrell he says, taste this. For such a miniscule sample the effect was surprising. A sharp apple / lemon tang hit the taste buds inviting a second and third nibble to repeat the effect. I’ll have a bag of that!
Paul from North East Guides had organised a Mountain Training cpd day almost in my back garden. Too close to miss this opportunity to update and expand my outdoor skills repertoire. It was great to see such good attendance and folk travelling from far and wide and furthermore a range of capabilities and ages added to the mix.
Luckily Alex’s two hour session wasn’t overly scientific so no unpronouncable latin names to remember more an eye-opening tour to stimulate further interest in flora and fauna and promote further investigation. We picked up on lichen and moss, grasses and rush, not to forget the find of the day, the tasty Wood Sorrell. Birds were in short supply apart from a pair of swans feeding and nest sitting on the lough untroubled by tufted ducks but a jackdaw / kestrel squabble livened things up briefly. Then there was the famous Sycamore Gap in the Wall. Now what kind of tree was that again?
Returning to our meeting place for a lunch break through sleet turning to thick wet snow was somewhat surreal as my memories of these crags are of summer evenings climbing clean rock routes on fine grained rock offering little friction and parallel jamming cracks. Weirder still was bumping into a small film crew bemused by the snow and hoping to film two axe weilding heathens in mortal combat. Goodness knows how they’re going to deal with continuity from those shots! Whilst we had been out and about Heather had been astute in holding the geology session partly under cover of her 4×4 and for an amateur she certainly knows her stuff. More stimulus for future investigation!
Soon the ground had an obliterating cover of wet snow. Having returned from Chamonix the day before I thought my skis would have been called for again but security on steep ground work was to be on foot with Nick Pilling. His morning session was well attended working up and down the slippery screes and steep grass under Peel Crags. Three of us got to grips with Nick’s succinct run-through of what we need to know as Mountain Leaders. Tania got the short straw. In for assessment in a few weeks she wanted bringing up to speed. A maths teacher from Lancaster, Tania was under the cosh with the expert Nick plus Paul Mitchinson and I, two Experienced ML’s, on hand there was plenty of input, discussion and feedback. A really good session which demonstrated the advantage of small ratios in teaching. Short roping, close control, belaying, belay selection, rope care, group management, knots, obstacle handling and route choice were all covered very comprehensively. Tania survived the experience. Willing to ,earn and with a great attitude she will make an expert ML I’m sure. Personally I found it satisfying that my own knowledge was in line with current thinking and best practice and hugely appreciated Nick’s calm expertise and advice. There’s always something to learn.
Thanks to Paul for organising the day, Alex, Nick, Heather and MT’s Belinda Fear for their professional competence and work in organising the cpd and also to those who I worked with John, Mick, Dan and Tania.