A walk on the quiet side
My summer season is getting off to a shaky start this year and memories of romping carelessly up VS climbs are as distant as the crags themselves. My excuses have been myriad, including favourites such as too little (i.e. no) time spent at the wall, a need to reacquaint myself with the peculiar demands of gritstone and even that I prefer hill walking and winter climbing to short battles on the outcrops of the Peak. Whatever the facts of the matter, one truth is that wobbling up VDiffs at the crowded Meccas of the Roaches and Stanage Popular can be exasperating and embarrassing. The solution is clear; spend more time on the rock and preferably at a venue where spidermen and human flies are less likely to be encountered. In considering the above criteria one place above all others loomed large in my mind and promised manifold delights to one for which ideally the climbs themselves are incidental to a wider day out in the hills and that place is Dovestone Tor.
By Peakland standards it is remote and has the longest walk in of any of the crags in Eastern Grit. That, allied with its high moorland setting was enough to get my juices flowing, so after mowing the lawn and doing the washing up I asked nicely if we could go there and received an answer in the affirmative. In the end the climbs were merely punctuation points in what turned out to be a walk of rare quality.
Starting at the evocatively named ‘Cut Throat Bridge’ we wandered off into the hot April afternoon and within a few short minutes felt pleasantly detached from the modern world, surrounded as we were by peaty, heather clad moors and savouring an already expansive vista. We met with few people along the way but were somewhat surprised that our route appeared more popular with mountain bikers than walkers, especially when we came upon Whinstone Lee Tor where we were gifted with a classic view taking in the Derwent Valley reservoirs, Bleaklow, Kinder and the Great Ridge up to Mam Tor. Make no mistake, this is wonderful walking country and to my mind should be savoured at length.
By this point we’d been walking a while and still there was no sign of our crag, only the curving sweep of Derwent Edge and some way ahead a strange isolated collection of buttresses which our map informed us were the Hurkling Stones. A closer look at this curious formation couldn’t come soon enough so our pace quickened along with our pulses and before long we were stood beneath them, admiring their elemental, sculpted form and itching to clamber all over them. However, time waits for no one and we had a pressing appointment at Dovestone Tor to attend to so off again we went until upon it we stumbled.
At once I was smitten. Though a little green in places and not the most extensive crag it was clear that we were onto something a bit special. The centrepiece of the crag is the Great Buttress, at first glance a steep, pocketed wall where no route below VS could possibly exist, an impression that would later be quashed. Yes, the rock looked superb but the setting in which it stands is gloriously bleak and so far removed from the Birchens and Stanages as to be almost of another time and place.
Strangely we were not alone after all and a few other teams were out enjoying the sun if not the solitude but there was plenty to go at and I got started by soloing Handy Hole Wall S4a. That was easy enough so we moved on and roped up for Stingray which at Vdiff was a little stiff for the grade. That set the tone for the day. The Vdiffs we climbed were either tricky, steep or lacking in protection and in the case of Dovestone Wall all three! We finished off with Lucie leading Canker which proved to be a bit of a shocker for the girl but it’s still early in the season and we saw an improvement in our performance (both physical and mental) compared to our previous two outings.
Before embarking on the walk back to the car we sat awhile, quietly surveying the far reaching panorama and agreed that one day we would return. If you like your gritstone rough textured, unpolished and furnished with positive holds then Dovestone Tor might be the crag for you. If you also enjoy getting away from the crowds, wonderful views and the feeling of wild country then waste time no more, get yourself up there soon…you won’t regret it.