The Back Six

Six trips. One month. Nuremberg, Portland, Lancaster, Cambridge, Coventry and Eridge. July.

A rather grainy view of the German heatwave, in a tiny town outside Nureumberg.

A rather grainy view of the German heatwave, in a tiny town outside Nureumberg.

The summer of 2013 was real. Temperatures were regularly into the ‘shorts’ region, with maximums between “ah, that’s nice” to “bloody hell, where’s the cold water?”. At Portland, the rock was practically sweating, despite deceptively chilly sea temperatures; formal jackets for a German wedding were quickly discarded post-ceremony; and there was carnage in Cambridge as every man and his dog grimly gripped poles and pushed their way down the river. August brought some relief.

An image of a man about to slide down a boulder in Brimham.

Easy grit. The pleasure of pitting skin against stone is uniquely, er, exfoliating. Or excruciating. Take your pick.

Brimham Rocks, in Yorkshire, is a wonderful place. It’s as though some demented rock-giant haphazardly slammed a bunch of pancakes and scones together in piles. And made them into rocks. Or something like that. They’re just so strange. It was my first taste of outdoor bouldering (low-height rock climbing without ropes) and I can’t think of a better place to explore as an introduction.

I also tasted bitter defeat as an Australian in the crowd on the decisive fourth day at the Durham Ashes test. It was entertaining, but not the kind of climax we’d hoped for.

Oh well. It got better. September.

Monk Mountain.

Monk Mountain.

Two weeks in Greece emphatically underlined the most active northern summer of my life. The view above was my first glimpse of the beauty I’d not really expected from this part of the world. Halkidiki was a wilderness of tiny coves, clear water and secluded beaches. Hiking the Vikos gorge and gazing across Meteora added adventure, and Santorini didn’t fail to deliver postcard-perfect sunsets.

I didn’t take any pictures in October.

The year hadn’t really been about photography for me. It was about exploring. And, well, it all came crashing to a halt in October. The days were getting shorter, my bank balance was cowering in terror every time I went near a cash machine, and I was just plain worn out. So my camera was parked on a shelf. Oh, and I started Spanish lessons. And played a heck of a lot of new board games. That was fun.

Here’s a bonus photo: finding space in the last moments of light…

November already? Where did the year go? Ah, that’s right. It went to Fontainebleau on a rock star bus with all the cool kids.

If you’d told me before I left Australia that, one day, I’d be sweating my way through a crushing crowd in a London Underground tunnel, dressed in a ski jacket and lugging a big portable crash pad, I’d probably have backed carefully away from you then called the police.

But that’s only because time travellers and prophets are dangerous.

The surging tube crowds safely (and uncomfortably) negotiated, we jumped aboard the Boulder Bus, a 15-sleeper tour bus complete with seedy LED strip lighting and actual legroom in the bunks. A French patisserie was like a beacon in the pre-dawn, and we eagerly filled up on fresh treats before entering the Magic Forest.

No, seriously. The forest is magic. This picture proves it.

No, seriously. The forest is magic. This picture proves it.

I’m really not sure what my fascination is with climbing on top of rocks in an inefficient and difficult way, but I suspect it’s a primal thing, like robot animals (that was the end of November). Anyway. December.

Slow shutter swans.

Slow shutter swans.

I’d have hated for the year to end quietly. A trip to explore the Jurassic coast near Swanage was the ideal time to unwind, cross Durdle Door off my list, eat fish and chips, drink ale and go for long walks. I didn’t even bother unpacking, because two days later I jumped on a train to Exeter, to train my second Green Steps course of the year. Bringing a switched-on group of students through major environmental and organisational issues and solutions over five intense days is a tough gig, but immensely rewarding. As my train hissed and sparked back through floodwaters late in the month, my mind was filled with big ideas.

It’s hard to think how I can top 2013 for the sheer quantity of mini-trips I squeezed in and how consistently excellent they turned out to be. 2014’s shaping up to be a different beast. I’ve done the England Sampler and dipped my toe across the Channel a few more times. I’m itching for a really big trip.

Suggestions?

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Categories: bouldering, climbing, Fun Things On Land, photos, Travel | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Back Six

  1. Chris

    Suggest: Meeting John and Chris in Croatia or the Czech Republic. Going on the Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu in South America.

  2. Nico

    Love the Monk mountain and the forest shot. Seems like you are making most of your (small) free time over there!

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