Hobbie Noble

Posted on July 04, 2014 by Dan Varian

In my mind I approach bouldering development like a giant easter egg hunt, whereby 300,000 to 3 billion years ago nature ran round and hid loads of the best bouldering lines in the UK into bizarre little nooks and crannies with very little logic behind it.


The other day i managed to climb a total dream line of mine. The type of line i always hoped would exist but never expected to find. Expectations can be disappointing in that even in the best areas in the world its rare to find something that ticks all the boxes for what i imagine is the perfect problem. For me its things like, hard and varied moves from start to finish, nice rock with a flat landing. All too often a minging hold, lumpy landing or filler moves section creeps in. Even lines like Lanny Bassham (sharp pockets and palm gouging pebbles detract from the experience) and Partage (samey moves) can be nit picked. Until last year i’d say the best problem i’ve ever done in the UK is Lanny as it ticks all the boxes for me. It has fantastic moves and is reasonably varied, employing heels and toe hooks, pockets and slopers, the location is stunning and its still tricky after the crux. 


Highballs are a funny thing in that they often embody the zeitgeist of bouldering over the generations (Mandala, Careless Torque, high fidelity, evilution, partage, merveille, livin’ large etc) For me a true highball should embody the bouldering spirit of it being really hard to take a hand off, whilst not quite being a solo. Lines like Lanny, Superbloc and Londinium fit this ilk well, you just keep heading upwards until you’re on top. Movement wise IMO these are a class above lines like Careless torque which has a no hands rest after the bottom section and is escapable. Of course strength and fitness can render most moves “chalkable” 


Last year I decided to pay another visit to the “waste of cumberland” -a rather cruel historical name for what is a beautiful forgotten part of the county. As there is a crag out there which crowns the hilltop in splendid isolation. Once a landmark for the borders it now sports one of the most overgrown footpaths in the UK. A place people seem to only visit to carve their names for the last 400 years. Its nearly a scottish crag but for a mile and a northumberland crag but for 500 meters. Such is the history of the area it feels a little bit like all three; Scottish standards of isolation, Northumberland’s rock and Cumbria’s views.


Of course the downside of that for most people is that its in the arse end of nowhere, then again most crags are. Last year on a summers day when it was in the high 20s in carlisle i realized this wasn’t just a fantastic crag, it also enjoys great conditions in summer as i battled with the top out in a light thermal. It took me 30minutes just to figure out the top out on a rope that day so i wasn’t overly optimistic about taking huge falls from the last moves. Everytime i shockloaded the gri gri i just thought, splat, splat, splat and a long crawl back to the car. It is the type of slopey top out where every sequence is a dead end except one, which involves about four foot moves and four hand moves to move 50cm upwards. I was thinking i’d prefer to have rataplat up there than something so specific as at least on rataplat there is a point where you can just keep mauling the top. I gradually pieced together the lower moves and it just kept being an unrelenting bit of climbing, super varied, pockets crimps and slopers, and all powerful, there is one hold on the whole problem where you could chalk a hand ok but it tends to tire your fingers out for the font top out so i felt it was better to just climb fast through it.


Its certainly the hardest crux i’ve ever done at height and i feel i have a decent record to draw from on highballs. What kept me going was that it was too fun, working the moves on a rope i was left grinning each session from the quality, i was constantly having little chuckles to myself as to why the best highball in font had turned up 30mins from my house in Cumbria, such is the brilliant randomness of life. Combined with the fact that the crag doesn’t really exist save for a page in the eden valley guide. It was a much needed boost to the part of me that says “keep looking, they are out there”. A rhetoric which is hard to positively reinforce sometimes especially in the eighth grades.


So following some serious pad logistics and a good amount of help from Micky Stainthorpe  and my Dad we had enough pads up there for me to fail miserably from high up and take some big falls. The next week, and some forethought with regards to rest days, saw me struggling to get warm in June! luckily i did get fired up enough and after a scaredy jump off i carried on through the keyhole on autopilot. Watching my ring finger pop out the tiny pock (leaving me mono crimp hugging a very slopey top) just before my foot landed on the slopey lip is a moment i can only be thankful went the right way.


It was a beautiful experience putting up this one, a complete package and everything i could wish to find in a highball. The grade is on the soft side if you get it wired on a rope (i only ever abbed the top section, so never top roped the whole thing as that always takes away a bit of the magic for me). I do think the grade may be on the hard side to anyone who steps up to ground up it as that would be an incredible effort, as ground up climbing always is, far superior and far harder.


Hobbie Noble is named after a local reiver who was a bit of a rogue with morals who divided the locals depending on whether he was raiding your Bastle or rescuing your nephew from the Law, his is a great story and worth a read , The abridged version is that he grew up pretty much at the base of Christianbury and would have passed through it on his way to bust Jack o’ side out of Newcastle’s gaol. Jack o’ side was a Scottish armstrong and Hobbie was loyal to that clan, famously solving the Armstrongs Dilemma of what to do about Jack getting locked up by saying “give me 5 good men and i’ll sort it”. He was later tricked by an english armstrong clan who’d betrayed him for gold and as a result he was captured and hung in Carlisle, most likely on Harrabee hill, which is pretty much where Eden Rock is today. The guy who betrayed him; Sim of the Mains, got his comeuppance when the Scottish Armstrongs found out and tracked him down and hung him in Carlisle too.


Proper history rather than fannying about on rocks. You can still feel a bit of the Reiver feel in the borders in a few places and wondering round the timeless stone corridors of christianbury is certainly one of them, its nice to be born out of their world and to still feel what those bleak times might have been like sometimes in these days of blogs, tweets and likes. 


Climbing takes me into these landscapes and knowing a bit about the history of them all adds to the experience.


Hobbie was immortalised in Walter Scott’s ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’







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Fun in the north.

Posted on June 05, 2014 by Dan Varian

Climbing for me seems to have a way of aggregating aims from seemingly chance events as time passes, a quick flick in an old magazine here or a flick through a guide book there. A conversation with friends about some crag i haven’t even thought of for years. Sometimes the aims build to become a solid one or sometimes they just drift by in the background. Slow burners. One such project for me was a line of veiny rock at Reiffs bouldering cliffs. Last year i spotted this incredibly obvious line the day i climbed helicoidal flow and Rubha Dubh Dubh. I felt the holds and suspected it’d go. Quite why nature felt like producing a wall with all these perfect holds i don’t know but in my eyes they are some of the best lines in the uk because they exploit incredibly subtle features that hardly ever occur on overhangs. I didn’t know if i’d get back there to try it but i logged it in the back of my mind, ready for serendipity to build it into a reality if everything conspired.



Reiff was a lovely breath of fresh air that comes from ranging further afield, out of my local crag comfort zone.

As i’ve got older i’ve got fussier as to what to spend my free time on. I still love bouldering on hard lines more than ever but as i climb more and more, i’m inevitably left with those 2 choices that face you in local areas. Change tack and climb different lines/ styles or get stronger for the bigger gaps. A number of projects in Northumberland are currently that bit too testing for me and they are of radically different styles which aren’t necessarily what i’m great at, one involves at least 8B slab skills and mono pock crimping and the other involves wild compression on slopers and obtuse angles. Interestingly the UK’s hardest proven slabs are in the 7C+ region on boulders and there are few of those about. True compression wise our hardest problems max out at 8A+. Font has loads of compression climbing upto 8C so why are we so far behind? well partly its the rock but mostly it is our history, Compression has never really been in vogue in the UK, it was all about crushing small holds 10 years ago and in many respects it still is now. The same goes for slabs, in Font there’d be far fewer hard slabs without the LeDenmats passion for the mighty Dalle.

Its with this in mind that makes me really happy to go out developing with other climbers. Everyone is looking for something different that inspires them when the rock is a blank canvas. Tom “Gangle” Newman has turned his hand to putting up new problems in the peak since moving to Nottingham with much success. He’s been hoovering up old projects all over the spot.

Tom was my raiding partner for a quick trip north of the border in May and upon arriving at Reiff he immediately spotted a line between the obvious ones i’d seen. Wide moves off few holds. At first i was a tad sceptical that it’d go as it’s a line i would never have spotted immediately, its the type of thing i’d have ended up playing on after being at the crag for ages. Yet it ended up climbing superbly, taking a line through the blankness that was super impressive in it’s board style and pureness. Tom got very close on our day trip but the rub of the green wasn’t with him for the full send. It’s always the way in climbing. I can say this smugly as i was fortunate to just be on the other side of the coin on my chosen project. Just scraping out an ascent which felt much like chucking a dart through an open letterbox from 20yards away. Mainly because i’d been off form for close to 3 weeks with a bad flu bug and cold which i was only just coming out the other side from.

All in all it was a brilliant day at one of the best bits of bouldering crags in the UK for side by side quality 7’s & 8’s.


On a tangent the other day some people i know were miffed when Jemma Powells new sandbag 7B+ was reported on UKC the other day, because of its "lowly grade” (and yes UKC’s ultra basic reporting didn’t help convey the overall important message here). Yet i was really chuffed to see that getting reported for a few reasons. The main one being that to my knowledge that it is one of the hardest boulder problems ever put up in the UK by a woman, something which is well worth drawing attention to (Nia Fletcher put up a 7B in the lakes recently and there are quite a few other female developers who have put up many a classic in the uk, Karin Magog Tess Fryer and Veronica Hunter to name a few. For some reason bouldering development in the UK is a very androcentric past time. Even though Trad and Sport climbing in the UK has had more female FA’s close to the cutting edge for their time (granted sport climbing has abated a bit since Ruth Jenkins and Karin Magog's 8’s) Yet at the minute we have many of the worlds most famous female boulderers operating in the UK. Obviously there are oodles of reasons for this, but it’s fantastic to see development reporting on the rise in the UK by Women (Leah and Shauna have put up harder boulders abroad) . But that isn’t the main reason to be out putting up new climbs, the main one is that its really fun, you don’t have to have climbed everything to develop new climbs, you simply need the desire to go into the unknown and find roughly what you’re looking for. It takes a different skillset and mindset to do this and i think it's very commendable when it happens. whether people share it with the world or not is up to them, but i am always glad when they do. There is a huge onus on international development at the cutting edge of the male sport right now, mainly because they warm up on last years test pieces nowadays and the more that development equals out between the sexes the better in my eyes. 

Anyhow, back to me. there’s a fantastic project near me at the minute that i am pretty sure is one of the problems i’ve been looking for my whole life without knowing it. It’s bizzare where they can turn up and i was smiling from limb to limb doing the moves on it the other day. 9m high 8Bish and everything on it, crimps, slopers, a pocket and subtlety with a 7B+ slopey font top out. Middle of nowhere, yet only a short drive from my house. A slightly harder, sandstone Lanny Bassham is a good summation, with a similarly involved approach. This is what gets me excited to be fettling away as a boulderer. Sometimes i develop things for both myself and the community and sometimes its for myself, this is a me line. That for me is why it’s worth heading out and sifting through all the crap crags that can be nearby. Once you’ve done the classics it’s worth trying to find more lines which are as good if not better. Of course a day has to come when they run out, but when you take places like Scotland into consideration that time is a long way off. It had seven new font 8’s added to it last year (possibly more if Mike Adam’s ascents on Skye get graded, i think Venom Jag had been done by Dave Mac before but Darken down is new). More than Wales and they roped Megos in for the best one... , it looks like it was the most new 8’s added in one year ever in the history of Scottish bouldering and it’s main (pretty much only) native hard bouldering developer was injured most of the year. Dave Macleod has put up some amazing problems in Scotland over the years. Triangulation is just one example of a benchmark classic power problem three star climbing and situation and 10 mins walk from the road and basically perma dry.

Here’s Gangle on the second ascent four years after it was put up. He uses pretty different beta but i couldn’t image two more contrasting climbing physiques. I got up it after tom with slightly different beta again.

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Posted on April 16, 2014 by Ned Feehally

I always find it easier to train if I have a definite goal. Motivation doesn't come as easily as it used to now but the one of the more exciting things for me is to visit a totally new area with loads of new problems to go at. Especially if it's a sandstone area! After booking a trip to Albarracin I suddenly kept finding myself climbing on the board and hanging off fingerboards again.

I didn't really know what to expect as I didn't know much about the area and hadn't done much research but it ended up being a great trip to a lovely venue. For the first few days the conditions were perfect and I got loads done. Then it started to warm up and I toned down my climbing and enjoyed being on holiday for the last couple of days (i.e. eating too much).

A meaty mantle



Quimera has an amazing thumbdercut crux maneuver  



Pinturas buldestres - beauty!


Quite a lot of Albarracin is out of bounds at this time of year - for bird nesting I think, but maybe also to protect the place a bit from people. It struck me that considering how beautiful and unique the landscape is, people didn't seem to take much care of it. It's impossible to say weather the locals or the visitors (or both) are to blame but  there was a lot of rubbish, poo and toilet paper scattered all over the woods. And on top of that the rock really seemed to be suffering. The sandstone is pretty soft and erosion is starting to noticeably set in on some problems. Also the popular problems are often caked in chalk - not just a light dusting but a thick, chunky layer. Maybe this is because the popular problems tend to be the steep ones (quite right too as they are brilliant and very unique for Europe) so don't get washed by the rain so much. It just seemed such a shame that people didn't care about the rocks and forest as much as they could/should.  These rocks are pretty special but they won't last forever - lets try our best to look after them as we enjoy them and prolong their lifespan as much as we can.


Zombie nation 


The grading is all over the shop in Albarracin.. Although as usual conditions, and the generally simple nature of the climbing plays a big factor and the soft rock and hold breakage must change problems quite regularly.  I can't be bothered to disagree or argue about any specific problems here.


El borreguito - prow!


Cosmos - a total classic


Bindu - crazy legs


The conditions there were perfect for me there. It was very low humidity, very windy and way below 10 degrees on the good days. For me conditions play a huge part in weather I can climb anything. In fact it is one of the most important factors for me. Usually my hands are hot and sweaty so as soon as they are cold and dry the rock feels totally different and I can climb more slowly and carefully and not slip off.


A nice arete


Esperanza - really cool  font style squeezing


I have no idea how hard any of the problems are there, partly due to actually training before going there and partly due to the freakish conditions. If only Font had weather like that! Although I suppose the attraction of Font is that you never actually get anything done (unless you're Dan) so you have to keep going back!
All photos: Shauna Coxsey

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Lucky Charms and Croissants

Posted on April 09, 2014 by Dan Varian

Well its been a busy month that’s for sure! It’s been lovely having Marra Jones back in Cumbria to muck about with on climbing adventures and keep me on my toes on the board. Have fun in America you git!


We did quite a bit of training in the wet February weather and only got out a few times. Dave utterly crushed working class and got super close to Monk life considering his only other session on it had been over 2 years before. I spent most of the time stealing his posh American brush.


We had a vague goal in mind which was a short working holiday to Ireland. I knew Fairhead was pretty much identical to board climbing and after last August’s visit i’d spied a bunch of gaps that i fancied a better play on. Eddie has written a lovely blog about the week here:

All i can say is that it was bloody hilarious from start to finish, and knackering. I managed to massively over train for what became Glen Ross in my head as absence had made all the holds grow smaller and further apart in my memory banks. As a result i sketched my way up it in about 45mins. Just about managing the odd bit of footwork but mainly over gripping (the sideways rain wasn't too relaxing an environment) with a good old bit of trying really hard. It was fantastic fun and whilst the rock isn’t the most beautiful it climbs superbly from start to finish. My holiday was made on the first day basically. If anyone is reading this thinking that Fairhead sounds amazing, well it is. And it isn’t. The boulders are amazing; the landings are the worst i’ve ever seen. We started calling it the Fairhead effect where you think about trying a hard move but look down instead and jump off muttering something about the massive chasm to the left being a bit scary. It’s nothing a few back breaking hours of patio building can’t fix though and my proudest achievement of the trip is building the landing under Glen Ross as there simply wasn’t a landing there last August.  I'm thinking about entering it into the UK patio awards but if Birkett got wind he'd beat everyone. Worthy stone contenders are Chapman's various patios and in the wood section we have Macleod's Bear trap prow infilling. However, i think the current wood winner by far is Mr Duffy's space machine.

 Patioing is also what bloody knackered us all out. with Eddie and Dave putting a good hour or so into Spindle’s landing and myself into big Glen. The good thing is that reorganizing talus only really needs to be done once (and added to if you’re keen) and then the areas gradually become more about the bouldering and less about the potential grimness of falling down a hole in a place with no signal. The style of power crimping at the head is very refreshing compared to most of England’s sedimentary offerings and there is so much of it on offer there that i can see it becoming a bit of a mecca for pulling hard in the 7’s and 8’s. Now that the board scene in the Niron just became public i look forward to hearing about the locals translating their gains onto the rocks.


 Just another fine day in Ireland, Dave sitting pretty after flashing Leftism in awesome, crush every move, style. Ricky and I still climbed after this "shower"


One place training on a board doesn’t really help you for is Font. Good job Katie and I were planning to go to Albarracin the following week then, which has more face holds and steep climbing. Except our ferry got effectively cancelled as the boat was downsized and we lost our cabin. Plan B. Looks like we are going to font after all!



The forecast looked pretty warm and we’d heard as much from recent visitors so i put in an extra pair of shorts but packed the thermals in hope of colder temps too. In the end it was a great holiday, very relaxing. Fair enough i did end up climbing a lot of things in the heat but it is so much better than rain that you can’t complain... much. It was nice to have a decent length holiday out the country and to nibble away at lots of classics in the forest that i’ve been dying to try since i started climbing. I also had time to look at and try some projects this trip which was nice as i’ve got a few new things to come back for on my next trip. Which is good as it’d be nice to put up some problems in font as a sort of busman’s holiday. As it turns out the locals reckon my accidental left version of l’arete de boissy assis is worth writing up as a separate line so it turns out that last november i accidentally put up a very nice 8B+ (8B), in a few goes, in font! Which is a nice accident from another great holiday



Many of the problems i most enjoyed this trip weren’t the hard ones. Climbing in the manner that i did on this trip i felt like a consumer of moves rather than savouring them for days. Like scoffing a good meal i devoured classic after classic in a flurry of hairy legged squeezing and podgy bellied mantles. I’d mentally decided to drop things down a gear on this trip due to the weather and mainly due to the fact that i had so many classic high 7s to mid 8s still to try in the forest. It was great fun running around them all but i think they’d have been better enjoyed if i was a local nipping out one at a time in good weather and really getting a great feel of the problem. Such is life though and you can’t have everything.

One notable failure was getting close to Pierre Philosophale in a session and i’d love to get back there next trip and really savour that one, it is a bizarre style for font but fantastic nonetheless.


Not quite looking as stylish and gecko like as Mina in the 7+8's on Paddy.

My nemesis of the trip came in the form of Tajine, it’s funny because every other boulder i did on this holiday i did in sub 1 hour max. Tajine was the nemesis that nearly broke me. On my first session i got really close, falling off the last move on an early try after a quick dabble on the moves. The last move is hard but i was trying it a stupid way. I then worked out a much better way, at which point we got rained off! After sitting under it for an hour hoping it’d pass we gave up and walked out in the dry as the rain stopped as we left. My next day on it i had unbelievably glassy skin which couldn’t hold slopers at all meaning two of the RH holds on this problem became the mother of all frustrations, as i’d fire off with the slightest wrong move. Weather wise this was one of the coolest days of the trip and i think my skin had thickened to be great in the +17˚ range rather than the 10˚ mark, that and it had no texture from weeks of classic bashing, so a fine glassy polish had emerged. 

(Also one thing i’ve noticed is that font has loads of RH slap cruxes on the classics anyhow and so that hand gets even more worn) So after dropping the last move another 4 times that day trying unbelievably hard to hold a sloper which normally feels fine i was a broken man and sulked round to londinium and it’s more positive holds. At which point my skin on my RH middle finger literally burst. A bizzare 3 way split like popping a tomato skin. Not good. I decided that as things couldn’t get much worse, i was going to do londinium to improve my day and make it bitter sweet. and with the help of a nice local called Thomas i managed it the next try. 

It took one more visit to Tajine to finish the bugger, this time my skin was fine and once i’d calmed down from the frustrations of the latter days i managed to bosh through for my most satisfying ascent of the trip. I think everyone meets a nemesis now and again for whatever reason, sometimes parameters just come together that really make something hard to do. It was nice to battle with something in Font and even nicer that it was one of the best problems in the forest that i was battling with. I finished that day doing The Tube a black star 8A which many question compared to its peers. I think its worthy though, as the variety of the climbing packed into one problem is superb, it may not look like a londinium or partage but font is arguably more special for its moves than its soaring lines. and problems like l’aplat du gain and The Tube have some really great moves on. Saying that one line which i think has one of the best moves in font is Delire Oronique. It is simply superb. That awesome lift off move is one I wont forget in a while. Brilliant vision from Mr Lopota on that one.


In the end i was just 5 problems shy of matching the number of 8’s i’ve put up in Northumberland in my entire climbing lifetime, not bad for a 20 day holiday. However each of those in the county has been on that slow development timescale. The process of discovering each one, cleaning and linking them to become problems. This all means they will obviously, always hold fonder memories for me. In many ways it was fun to be a consumer of problems for a while and it’s something i enjoy on holiday. But i still feel like a tinkerer in my heart as it’s what i find really satisfying. I’m someone who likes to work the pull-ons in places which i know well. Small fish, tough pond suits me just fine. To be a Bleausard doing that in Font would be my idea of nirvana. Best playground in the world, except for the view.


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Some bits

Posted on April 05, 2014 by Ned Feehally

Here is a couple of photos from recent climbing jaunts:

Enter the Dragon (8a+) 
Classic British bouldering - the crag is small and the landing is pooey but the climbing is on tiny holds and great fun (not to mention hard). I had done the stand start ages ago (which was called 22 chambers as Ben Thompson climbed it on my 22nd birthday) so it was nice to go back and with a bit of huffing and puffing, climb it from the sit start. Good work Danny Cattell for putting this up.


Surplomb de la mee (8b)
After a damp and warm trip to Font over the new year I was desperate to return for some unfinished business. So I did, and I managed to climb this bad boy. It used to be 8a until the only real hold fell off it, now its got a fair bit harder. 

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