It started with door frames. I can remember my poor mother walking into the room, a look of horror spreading across her face as she witnessed her seven year old literally climbing the walls – feet flat against each side of the frame, scurrying up like a creature from The Exorcist. I’ve always had a bit of a thing about climbing stuff. I’m not sure if I’ve inherited my father’s fighter-pilot-adrenaline-junkie tendencies or if I’m more squirrel than human but since I can remember I’ve looked at things and thought “How can I climb that?”
Ironically, I spent most of my teenage life in the flattest place in the UK – namely Lincolnshire, so opportunities for climbing anything bigger than a handy tree were few and far between, and with an intense after-school rota of ballet, piano, choir, singing lessons and any productions I could do, I was left with little time to pursue my more outdoorsy hobby. It wasn’t until my brother went to university in Sheffield that I even knew ‘climbing’ was a real thing. As soon as I heard him talk about it, that was it, I knew when I got to university that I would be signing up for the club. And so three years later, I did. I swiftly located the climbing stall at The Freshers’ Fair, stuck my name down and less than twelve hours later I was on my first slackline.
Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with climbing groups, they can be very insular. Picture putting your life in the hands of the same people day in, day out as they quite literally support your weight when you fall. It creates a certain bond which can sometimes mean that when you’re in, you’re in and when you’re out, you’re definitely out. Point made and proven when, after six months of climber romance, the boyfriend I’d been head over heels with broke up with me and got all our climbing pals in the “divorce”. I went from carrying chalk in my hand bag and watching endless videos of Johnny Dawes and Chris Sharma, to having no-one to belay me or spot me if I slipped. I found it hard to climb alone and so it faded into the background of my life and became one of those things I used to do at uni, like living off toast for six weeks straight and clubbing on weeknights.
After a recent heartache (doesn’t it always seem to work this way) I decided to focus on the things that I wanted to do more, re-evaluating certain parts of my life and re-taking up things I’d let slip. After a meeting with a friend who runs an outdoor climbing school I was invited on one of his two-day excursions and I tentatively signed up. Two days would be fine, right? Totally fine.
Halfway through the first day I was staring up at a flat slab of rock, not a hand hold in sight, and cursing myself for how flippantly I’d said that. It’ll be just like riding a bike, right? Wrong. It would appear that I’ve developed one major hindrance in the past four or five years, namely – fear. Fear of falling, of hurting myself, of being in pain and potentially doing some real damage. When I was nineteen I was totally fine with throwing myself up and off things and the only fear I had was whether my helmet was giving me hat hair or not.
But fear, swearing and sweating aside, the course I went on was fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone who’s ever thought about climbing but hasn’t got started yet. Hosted by Beyond the Edge, it’s the brainchild of the two most outdoorsy men I’ve ever met, Alex and Chris. Between them they have many years’ experience of trekking the great outdoors and expertly guiding those who haven’t but want to. My course was run by Alex, possibly the most patient man on the planet, who took us through the basic do’s and don’t’s and gently led us to climbs all over The Peaks. He kept a careful eye on us, made sure the routes were set up properly, and were just challenging enough so that we weren’t bored but not so hard that I gave up and threw a strop (there may have been one minor strop). I’d forgotten how motivating it is to physically challenge myself, how much I adore being outside, especially in the sun, and how focusing on hauling yourself up a cliff can make you forget about the woes and worries you left back in the city. It was exactly what I needed after a tricky month and I couldn’t be more grateful to Beyond the Edge for inviting me.
They keep the groups small so that everyone receives one-on-one time with the tutor and is given personal feedback. We established pretty quickly that I have twiglets for arms and very little upper body strength so my climbs focused much more on technique and using my legs and core strength to get me to the top. Instead of focusing on the things I couldn’t do and letting them overwhelm me, Alex focused on picking out the bits I did well, just like all good teachers do.
Alex and Chris don’t just run climbing courses either, they run a whole range of outdoorsy pursuits, including orienteering, leadership, mountaineering, hill walking and trekking. There’s something to satisfy everyone’s countryside needs. So instead of asking for the usual *Insert your favourite shop here* voucher, why not ask for a voucher for something a bit more individual, different and fun? I guarantee you will not regret it.
Words: Erin Lawlor