The wonders of Winnats
Needing a fix and harbouring a faint hankering for the esoteric I dug out my thinking cap and blew away the cobwebs. I was after something a little different, a multi pitch climb with a mountain ambience but with the mountains out of reach I had to rummage through the ill frequented corners of my imagination until at last I came up with a suitable plan. We would ignore the none too promising weather forecast and head up to the Peak District to see for ourselves if Winnats Pass was as enchanting as the photos in my books suggested. We were not disappointed.
As we approached Castleton I spied an improbably narrow gash in the hillside beyond and wished we were going to explore its inner sanctum rather than our planned itinerary. A wish wasted for moments later an unmistakeable collection of limestone turrets came into view; improbably narrow gash, here we come.
So, with the car parked we grabbed our sacks and headed into the pass under a threatening sky and buffeted by an enthusiastic bluster. What a place Winnats is, a grand chasm in miniature bristling with sharp towers, peppered with holes leading to who knows where and no doubt inhabited by repulsive trolls (not unlike UKC). Of particular interest to the low grade bumbly are a pair of graceful spurs, the ridges of Matterhorn and Elbow (Vdiff and diff respectively). I quickly found an appropriate viewing station and pointed Lucie at Elbow, “See that there? Go and climb it before it starts raining”. With an unusual compliance she scampered off and was almost at the top of the first rampart when from above came a mutinous oath. “I don’t like it. There’s ice on the holds and I really don’t like it”. Feeling a keen sense of empathy I demanded that she “come down from there” before hurting herself and once more she was compliant. Not wishing to bring her claims into question we gave Elbow the Spanish archer and moved swiftly on to Matterhorn Ridge where with a wry smile she demanded that I “climb it before it starts raining”.
The first pitch while slippery was easy enough though the best holds came away in my hands and I had to resist the urge to throw them overboard for fear of injuring passing walkers and motorists so respectfully placed them back in their sockets. With a little relief I gained a short knife edge and brought Lucie up to inform me that my two pieces of protection had fallen out. I wasn’t overly surprised. Above was a soaring crest which Lucie declined to lead so off I went employing a technique of climbing with my legs and using hands for balance only, I’d quickly learned that pulling too hard on the holds would see me making a rapid descent to the road below. With a pleasing sense of exposure I ran out a full 50 metres of rope, managing to find two useless gear placements before topping out to the novelty of a blue sky.
Soon I was joined by the lady and we dashed off to seek shelter from the wind on a palatial bivvy platform. It was still early but we’d had our fill of choss bothering so sauntered back down opting to fill an hour with a descent into Speedwell Cavern, a moderately interesting diversion with an entertaining motor mouth guide at the helm.
We re-emerged from our subterranean experience to find the sky performing all manner of magic so with no time to lose we raced up Winnats and ran up Mam Tor to complete a fantastic peakland day. However, there was one more thing to do before our day could be rightly termed an unequivocal success…fish and chips from the Toll Bar in Stoney Middleton. Perfect.