For many, lockdown life has placed an overlooked world of opportunities at our feet. Nat Berry has been exploring some places closer to home.
When I found myself in lockdown at my childhood home in Glasgow, I didn’t think five miles would stretch very far. All that came to mind was overgrown trad at Craigmore and underloved sport at Dunglas. I reluctantly pushed Dumbarton Rock out of my mind – it’s beyond five miles and would be overcrowded, anyway.
As a young wall rat, outdoor climbing initiations took place in relatively local venues. A soggy day out at The Whangie had left me soaking wet, cold and less than impressed at the tender age of ten. A tour of Glasgow’s finest quarries came next – Neilston, Auchinstarry – and I remained unconvinced. Later on, a sunnier and more bucolic venture to Craigmore with a friend and our dads was more palatable, but I hadn’t forgotten the grubby routes and the midges. Surely, eighteen years later, it would only be even more overgrown and unclimbed? Everyone goes sport climbing or bouldering at Dumby, and there can’t be that many climbers living around here anyway….?
Eighteen years later this May, I arrive to a full Craigmore parking spot and consider turning around, before we realise that most of the visitors are walkers setting off for an amble along the nearby section of the West Highland Way. I greet a family of three enjoying a picnic and some trad, before moving further along to some warm-up boulders. ‘It’s nice to be allowed out, isn’t it?’ the dad says in passing. ‘Yes!’ I respond, revelling in my newfound freedom. The midges were still there, as were more boulders, more trad routes and – seemingly – more climbers in recent years. It’s nice to be allowed out indeed, even if I am hopelessly uncoordinated and climbing like a sack of potatoes…
I scan the UKC logbooks and to my surprise, a sandstone crag just four miles from the front door pops up. How had I not heard of this place? Craigmaddie: ‘Sandstone, just like Northumberland, and nothing like grit,’ an intriguing description read. Ten minutes later, we’re parked and walking up to a sandy, red-brown outcrop with sweeping views across Glasgow. High-rise flats pierce through the haze in the distance while livestock grazes in the foreground; it’s a striking juxtaposition. There are other climbers, but the separate, distinct sectors allow us to spread out. A black cow breaks the rules and entertains us by sticking its head in a red bucket and chomping on grass nearby. I’d missed the simple pleasures of being in the outdoors.
I’m hopelessly out of routine, even after a couple of climbing sessions. I forget the trad rack at Craigmore and resort to bouldering. I forget my climbing shoes at Craigmaddie and find myself content with a walk, fresh air and hanging off holds. It’s only a ten-minute drive back to the house to collect them, but it doesn’t seem worth it; I’ll be back tomorrow, or the day after. There’s no rush. The pace of life slows down.
Despite social distancing forcing us to keep apart, there’s a palpable desire for interaction between the people I meet in passing at the crag. Beta is still swapped, topos shared and encouragement shouted. Familiar faces and an old acquaintance are spotted from a distance. ‘We’ve no Corona with us today,’ a friend says. ‘Just Red Bull!’
On another occasion, a trio of local youth sip Tennent’s between attempts. They’re visiting for the first time; I become the local expert. Sequences are shared and slurred back to me. One lad falls flat on his back after a gutsy attempt and dusts himself off while laughing and enthusing about the technique I’d shown him. I tick my lockdown project and pack up, savouring the last rays of the sun and the knowledge that only a short walk and a ten-minute drive separates me from home.
Being isolated and confined to indoor space increased my desire to explore and connect with the environment and the people around me – even from two metres apart. Going back to my roots, discovering places I’d overlooked or neglected and seeing them from a fresh perspective has been an unexpected perk of lockdown. After all, Scotland in the summer – all two weeks of it – can be sublime when it’s not raining, even with the midges. As the world begins to find its feet again, perhaps more of us will ditch the cheap flights and foreign climes and find adventure a little closer to home.
You can follow Nat's adventures on Instagram @natalie.a.berry and read her articles on UKC in her day-job as Editor-in-Chief. Photos by Dark Sky Media.