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The Peak Rock Launch

Friday, 6 December 2013

The Climbing Works was packed like a wet Sunday afternoon. Jerry Moffatt chatted to Martin Atkinson, Paul Pritchard opened bottle after bottle of beer with his teeth, while Jim Curran thought better of trying the red circuit.

So began the Peak Rock night – the launch event for one of the most complete, most important and weightiest books ever written on Peak District climbing.

The idea for the book was first conceived back in the eighties by Giles Barker. Interviewing historic Peak District climber after historic Peak District climber, he made great progress on the project. Sadly, Giles was killed on a caving trip, but thankfully his work somehow made it to the care of Maxine Willett at the Mountain Heritage Trust. It was here that Phil Kelly and Graham Hoey discovered it, revived it and ploughed ahead with Giles’ text helped by a team of volunteers and contributors. They have produced what John Dunne has described as ‘only the best coffee table book ever'.

An overwhelming majority share John’s opinion. Johnny Dawes had chased me down on the way off the crag earlier in the evening and told me in no uncertain terms how great a book it was (more of Johnny later). And Phil and Graham have indeed produced an amazing book, full of fantastic photographs, interviews and stories. It traces the entire length of rock climbing in the Peak District from the era of big hair, fluorescent tights and hard trad through crimpy limestone sport and on to bouldering, highballs and the future. Yes, it’s littered with controversy; yes, some people are in who perhaps shouldn’t be (there’s not just one, but TWO photos of me!); yes, there are many people who were missed out. There are a few incorrect captions, and the photo of Brandenburg Gate is best viewed from ‘inside’ the page. Notwithstanding the odd criticism, the book really is something special.

To begin proceedings Graham presented a copy to Giles’ sister Jane Diehl. A poignant and respectful moment, it was also the only one of the night, because immediately afterwards Niall Grimes took to the Jerry Springer-styled stage. First up, to cheers from the crowd, was Big Ron Fawcett, punching the air in boxing gloves before settling down with a pint. Soon Niall had worked on the man enough to extract his finest, proudest, moment: beating Jerry to the first ascent of Master's Edge (Jerry was on stage by this time). Despite all contenders (guests?) downing pints of their chosen ‘truth serum’, John Allen stole the show. He laughed at himself at every juncture, downplayed the innovativeness of Old Friends, suggested climbing was a poor second to rafting tyres in Lawrencefield pool, told us about his cars, an Aston Martin and a Bentley, but even after 40 years he could still taste the bitterness of having a route chipped. A timid voice from the crowd apologised for the chipping and we all moved on. Pete Whittaker bimbled on, overawed by the company. Niall asked him about his mum. Ron drank John’s champagne, served up by no less than a butlered-up Mark Leach.

I can’t describe or do justice to what was said by the guys on stage and the involved crowd, or the amazing atmosphere of the event, but it was like no other night, simply superb.

It wasn’t a very big sofa, and John Allen, despite promoting his latest exercise DVD, took up two places. Had it been a bit bigger Johnny could well have squeezed on, but instead he ended up on the chair, under the spotlight, aggressive, ego bubbling over, talking fast, furiously and eventually dangerously. It was an ill-conceived act, putting Johnny in that position, and as is his character he reacted oh-so badly to it. It felt awkward. Watching was awful.

Did I mention the beer was free? In fact the whole evening was refreshingly free from commercialism. It was simply a night for climbers to think about their climbing. No one got paid and ticket sales went to charity. Quite a few folk put time and money into the event; they didn’t want flyers putting out, or banners or Facebook links, they just did it. And then when they had done it they bought their own ticket, bought a copy of the book and enjoyed a free beer or two.

Thanks to Niall Grimes, Ron, Pete, John and Jerry for an extremely entertaining night. Thanks to the Climbing Works for the venue and organisation. Thanks to Cordee for paying all the costs on the night, Katy Whittaker for sorting the beer label and Arc'teryx and Andy Bowman for delivering so much of it. Thanks to Wild Country and Arc'teryx for a large box of presents for the crowd. Thanks to Dot Promotional Clothing for T-shirts. Big up the BMC for underwriting the production of the book, and to John Coefield and Nathan Ryder for a few late nights on production.

Thanks to Giles, to Phil and to Graham, and each and every climber that has made Peak Rock what it is. I of course don’t mean the book – that’s just paper words and photos – I mean those dark, pointy and slopey bits of rock poking out the heather, just over there.


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