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The story of the exploration of Pontesford Rocks

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Below are pictures of the guide book, now long out of print, and an excerpt from a 1970 WMC Magazine Charlie T Shaw, Chas to his mates, was the founder of the WMC, and below he gives an account of his many exploits at Pontesford Rocks, five miles South west of Shrewsbury. These adventures led to the publication of the first proper Rock Climbing Guide to the climbs in that area.





Extracted and edited text from the images from the WMC club magazine below.


PONTESFORD


I have been asked many times about my early days at Pontesford which got a mention in Walt Unsworth's guide to this outcrop so here it is by request.


In 1947 at the age of 20 when demobilisation threw me into the maelstrom of civilian life the first few months were taken up with finding some way of earning a living, learning to live with my family again and somehow finding friends. All this may sound easy but when I tell you that six months later I was on the verge of grabbing a civvy post in the Far East you may understand.


Part of my own repatriation treatment was to get back to climbing again and 10 days in the Lakes with one of my service mates, Brian, got the senses all tuned up and in gear. Brian was not a convert and naturally opted out of further vertical gymnastics. So my searches for new mates started, during which someone mentioned the word Pontesford and soon I was finding this on the map and working out how to get there.


This was in the post war days of no private motoring due to petrol rationing. So the main problem was getting there. Fortunately, the old G.W.R (now B.R.) ran excursion trains on Sundays to Shrewsbury, and the bus left there for Pontesbury every hour. So having decided this was the only way the next Sunday was taken up with trying the transport arrangements and at least having a look around. Having left Wolverhampton at 10.00 a.m. my arrival at Pontesford at 1.00 p.m. made me stop and think again, 3 hours and maybe another 3 hours back. The return train left Shrewsbury at 6.50 p.m. so there was no time to waste, so up the track to the rocks, my first impression, when the rocks came into view, was "hell how green and slimy they look". so I made some attempt to get a full face view which proved almost impossible because of the trees so [far] up to the face itself. And a close up - yes it was green and slimy with an extensive 5 o'clock shadow of lichen on the Oak Tree Wall and Oak trees growing from the face at unlikely angles. Being young and impetuous I spent the next couple of hours soloing likely looking lines, but when it was time to leave to catch the bus I left willingly and a bit depressed.


My return to Wolverhampton and the daily grind must have been depressing because my thoughts continually returned to Pontesford and the thought that I could at least get some climbing at a weekend whilst looking forward to the main holiday, in Wales [or] the Lakes. So the following Sunday I was there again soloing my own routes and cleaning them out at the same time, having to drag myself away for the bus running down the track in an extremely filthy state.


At about this time I was put in touch with Denis Grosvenor who listened to my chat about Pontesford and he suggested that he might have a guide to the cliff and if he could find it he'd let me have it. I must have put a lot of pressure on him for by the following weekend I'd got 3 or 4 copies of a line drawing complete with dotted lines and names. This, I believe, was produced by the Birmingham University M.C. in about 1938. Naturally, I was bursting to get back to Pontesford and took the bull by the horns, raided the pantry and with a sack full of tents and billies paid the full weekend rail fare and committed myself to sorting out the mysteries of this strange piece of paper. Yes still solo, a state I was not particularly happy about but was certainly not going to let it stop me.


The weekend saw much frantic activity finding where the routes started and following them with as little deviation as possible, meant gardening and prying of loose rock. To this end I had collected a slaters pick which I had taken to work and improved on the grinder (alas this later got borrowed). My first assaults centred on the Oak Tree Wall and whilst climbing always trailing my rope behind me so that a speedy abseil would have me at the foot ready for the next battle. At times the ropes had me a bit worried in case a boulder or tree root tangled with it and pulled me off, but apart from one or two uncontrolled slides off the first 10ft due to the "green slime" all went well and about seven routes could be recognised and followed at the end of the weekend.


The story continued like that for 6 months or so and during this period only twice can I remember any other visiting climber and they both turned up solo and wanting to know the way round, being by this time reasonably acquainted, I took a great delight in leading a few of what I considered my party pieces culminating in Varsity Buttress which was still far from clean but with a first pitch that can still grip me today.


This brings me to the memorable meeting with Wilf Hammond and what was known as the Tech Rambling Club. Wilf was the proud possessor of a rather speedy motorbike and in getting to know each other we made various forays to N.Wales and Derbyshire. Pontesford was given a miss except when Wilf was tied up elsewhere, which thankfully wasn't often.

Eventually National Service took Wilf off the scene but fortunately, the formation of the W.M.C. was just around the corner and this brought quite a gang together.


Being elected Meet Sec. or something similar [I] tried to spread my own enthusiasm, and soon could get six or seven members down to Pontesford and catching up on the gardening. It was on one of these meets that the late Norman Adams on Varsity put his fingers in two cracks to pull himself up and found that the 1/2 ton block only wanted that bit of assistance to leave the face, it did look for a moment as if Norman was hanging on for the ride but a bit of help from the rope changed his mind.


Other members to get infected with the Pontesford bug at about his time were Pete Guggenheim, Geoff Dunn, John Selbv and Stan Wintrip. Day meets and weekends were cleaning the routes up even further and when Walt Unsworth and Roy Barlow came along bringing the boys from Wednesfield M.C. we could show the way up about 25 routes.

The bug took hold of Walt and his boys and while we were exploring the delights of N.Wales they worked through all the routes and started on a string of new ones.


Walt's photographic adventures during these ascents almost came to a sticky end one day when he fell from above the Nose on Varsity 90 ft and landed in a Hawthorne Bush on the scree below. His injuries were quite severe and when I visited him in hospital to commiserate, [I] found him still so wrapped up in Pontesford and getting back to climbing, that I was taken aback. When I next saw him, he was doing the article for Mountaincraft in which I made a very minor contribution. Well from there it's really Walt's story, his excellent recovery and return to greater things, even his move to Manchester didn't stop his visits and the much needed guide book.


Well it's only a small cliff but it has given many of us hours of fun some of us our epics and very few fortunately a little pain. I suppose the story of other cliffs would be similar. Since the production of the guide book, I cannot remember visiting the cliff and finding at least 2 other climbers there, and at times it can be very busy, but at least I don't have to remove the loose rock and grass as I climb.


Chas Shaw 1970.





By the way, Taylor's crack has now gone, a large block just to the right of the climber weighing several tons, must have broken away about 40 years ago. Pity, it was an interesting problem, perfect for taking a Moac, and a nice finish to Varsity Buttress. Sadly there is now only one edge of the crack left.


Pete Dutfield 2023






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2 Comments


Caz
Caz
Sep 24, 2023

Catching the bus to the crag, rope round the waist - so lovely to be reminded how dedicated early climbers had to be!

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Rich Amor-Wilkes
Rich Amor-Wilkes
Aug 25, 2023

Great article Pete and to Chaz too. Sounds like it was quite a labour of love

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