Cioch Climbing Club

New faces

John Cooper
‘Big’ John Cooper was one of the Ripley lot but very close to the Cioch. He as a 15st wrestler when we were 10st wet through and hence not an ideal climbing build but he loved his climbing and he had a van. Here he is belaying unknown on Tiger Trot at the right end of Windy Ledge.

Apart from the odd route, most of the exploring in the early 60s was done by the Cioch. However, Paul Nunn of the Alpha MC, somebody who we all knew, became interested in what we were up to and joined in with the nice climb Evasor, VS, on Garage Buttress with Mike Richardson using five points of aid all of which were subsequently dispensed with. He also ventured along to Stoney West with Oliver Woolcock adding Devil’s Eye and Swan Song. Another new router to the scene was Ian Conway who was part of the Ripley lot. As an aside, there was a Teacher’s Training College for young ladies at Thornbridge Hall, Great Longstone. This involved a long walk down the Dale towards Calver, then right up Coombs Dale in the pitch black , over Longstone Edge and down to the Crispin Inn at Great Longstone. Why we did this I don’t know but I only mention it to say that Ian Conway married one of the girls there so it wasn’t all in vain. Ian with Dave Nicol added Left-Hand and Right-Hand Cracks to Cucklet Delf. It says in the hut book that I did these in March 65 and then ‘put a new one up to the left up a layback flake. (Solo)’ but whilst I can picture it, can’t remember which one it was. That is a problem for any of us trying to remember exactly what happened 50 years ago. Jackson and Conway also added Allergy, Snerp and Tomarwa Groove to the Delf.

Apart from distractions in Great Longstone, Ackers and Jim Ballard by January 1965 were being diverted from climbing by exploring underground and with a newly acquired member, Dave Land, who had international caving experience, they disappeared down caves and were rarely seen on the crag again. They even spent Christmas Day down Carl’s Wark Cave where they bivouacked and had Xmas dinner.

For whatever reasons, there was not a huge amount of new route activity in 1965. Jack did The Hex which involved climbing the tree in the bay of Brown Corner and stepping from there onto the wall where Icarus crossed, and where we had jumped into the tree the year before. The description reads:

Traverse Icarus for 20’ where a thread may be constructed between one’s feet – now move right & up with difficulty to an insecure peg (here one may rest but probably better to press on). A series of difficult moves up & left lead to better holds – now straight up to the top.

It wasn’t such desperate climbing but the protection was very poor with a long fall a possibility hence an Extremely Severe grade was given. He also climbed the tree again and did Sycamore Crack at a mere HVS which was straight behind the Elm tree which was cut down in 1983. Both climbs are now the upper parts of other climbs.

Chris Bonnington
As word spread about Stoney, there began visitors from wide and far. Here, Chris Bonington climbes How the Hell with Nick Estcourt belaying. (Geoff Birtles)

We were not confined to our beloved Stoney and as our fleet of vehicles extended from Big John’s A35 van to Jack’s uncle’s work Bedford Dormobile, so did our horizons widen to such far flung places as Willersley Castle, High Tor, Black Rocks etc. Failing that, the Buxton bus went through Stoney so gave us access to such as Water-cum-Jolly and Chee Dale and in particular Strawberry Rocks which was discovered by ‘J Atkinson (Ackers) and C Jackson (Irresistible). This was an old quarry that backed on to the railway line that ran through Chee Dale and has now been encroached on even more by trees than it was then. I did the first route, ‘Fried Parrot Groove’ as Jack arrived with redesigned RDs in which he had moved a metal plate right up to the front beneath the insole which he declared made him ‘the new improved Jack’ and good to his word soloed the second new route aptly named Improved Groove. I later did Hyperbola and years later went back and repeated it which I found hard with a scary runout. I’m not sure we really knew what we were doing in those early years.

On the subject of transport, the most famous club vehicle was a 1000cc Ariel Square 4 motorcycle and sidecar bought by Wattles about 1963. It was a disastrous investment with him immediately running straight into the back of an off duty policeman outside the insurance brokers, then catching two walls with the sidecar en route to Stoney and finally

Jacks car
Driving with Jack was daunting. Seen here outside The Grouse in his bored-out to 1340cc, Cooper S with Jack at the wheel in 1967. (Bob Keates)

taking three of us to the Monsal Head Hotel in the dark which involved a route up the steep hill from Cressbrook to the pub. Unfortunately, Starkey stalled it and the bike having leading edge brake shoes which only work going forward, there was no means of stopping it rolling backwards, towards the  long steep drop down to the River Wye. Nowill managed to jump off the back, they claim I managed to jump out of the sidecar in which I was stood upon on Ackers and the bike swerved backwards into a concrete post and stopped. Eventually Wattles sold it for scrap at Calver for £5 which is a shame as the current market value is about £11,000.

In 1965, Bob Dearman made a re-appearance along with Rod Brown and they added Aquiline, an excellent lower level two-pitch traverse of Garage Buttress with one point for aid. It is a very enjoyable trip out on which I nearly met my demise some time later when I was leading the second pitch which goes round a corner out of sight of my belayer, Brian Moore, back on Evasor. Eventually you reach the line of Helicon

Jack dancing
Jack teaching Gerry Langsley (left) and me to dance. (Bob Keates)

where there was an untrustworthy looking upside down peg from which you down-climbed about 20ft to the high level bank belay ledge. The next to last downward move was on a prominent jug and the first rule of limestone climbing is never to trust jug holds as they usually stick out for a reason, that being that they are not attached very well which this one wasn’t and as I lowered myself, with my foot somewhere up near my hand in a fully sprung posture, the hold came off and I catapulted backwards into space and continued to fall in slow motion ever onwards towards the ground. Brian, unsighted, thought I was on the stance and taking in slack and, therefore, let the rope go until he noticed it whistling through his hands when he grabbed it and arrested me in a comfortable bouncy way having gone through the branches of a large tree and ended up some 15ft off the ground. It was such a surprise and so gentle that it was quite nice really.

Jack was not done yet and in 1966 he  made two stiff climbs with Boat Pusher’s Wall and Bingo Wall, both quite serious leads with the gear we had available. Finally in 1966, Jack added Solitaire solo, a serious E2 up the right wall of Gabriel. It was to be his last new route there. He had been the leading climber of his day at Stoney and amongst the best countrywide. He still climbed at a very high standard pioneering in such places as Lleyn Peninsula, St John’s Head and Gogarth. He also excelled in the Alps where I thought that he and Tut Braithwaite were our two finest Alpinists at that time. Jack finally gave up Alpinism after an attempt on the Eiger North Face which was a shame. Tut went on to substantially contribute to the successful South West Face of Everest expedition in 1975 but unfortunately didn’t summit. I have the romantic idea that had Jack continued climbing it would have been him and Tut cruising to the summit then.

As a group the Cioch had had their day, wonderful days. We had more transport and money being more available made other venues appealling. On 30th July 1966, sometime after 4.45pm, Chris Jackson and I walked back to my car on Holyhead Mountain in which my wife Jackie, then my girlfriend, and Chris’s then girlfriend Dorothy (from Thornbridge Hall) sat excitedly telling us that England had won. We didn’t have a clue what they were on about. On the back seat a large loose speaker lay attached by a long wire to a valve set radio. It seemed that England had won something at football. Chris and I were not very interested and just wanted to tell them that we had just done a new route on Gogarth which we named Suede Wall, the main pitch of which eventually became incorporate as the crux on Rat Race. We didn’t know who Geoff Hurst was.

Tom Proctor
A 20 year old Tom Proctor outside
Lover’s Leap Cafe, about to make his
outstanding contribution to climbing at Stoney.(Bob Keates)

This all seemed a long way from those days sleeping in a damp cave at Stoney and we all went our separate ways though we still meet up for walks and make fun of one another just like it was all yesterday. I’ll leave Paul Nunn to sum up from his Mountain article: ‘The concentration has produced tradition where once, little more than a decade before there was none. The traditions have been forged by the untraditional, above all the Cioch group. Stoney rules are more rigid now than those of extensive, distant, mysterious and rhubarb-ridden Chee Dale. They are close to nearby grit in their puritanical absolutism. Enraged moralizers now abound in the valley’s society. The Cioch hut, and even the club as such, has gone but regulars there are still.’

I can only hope that the new generation of sport climbers respect those foundations on which all our climbing has been built.

An optimist might say that as one door closes, another one opens and in 1966 it did in the shape of a shy looking lad from Chesterfield with thick glasses called Tom proctor. He was to usher in a new era at Stoney which you can read about here in due course.

Footnote: This is just a personal view of the Cioch era. I appreciate that the story has many different versions and I’d be happy to see any contributions.

Finally, many thanks to the locals of Stoney who always made us welcome even when a climber in high spirits one night sat atop the cross outside the Moon and broke it; an unfortunate incident which was an exception. There were many good people there such as Jim Lloyd and his son Roger who took over Lover’s Leap Cafe from Eric II and Ernest Gill, a local who regaled us on a Saturday night with his singing plus Peggy and Dennis, landlords at The Moon.

Most uncredited photos are courtesy of Chris Jackson and Ackers neither of whom can remember who took what but many thanks to them. Chris has his own website with a Cioch page which can be found here 

Page 7 of 7

First   Previous  


  • Mick Ward says:

    Geoff, this is beautiful stuff. Thank you so much for doing it. More please!

  • Nigel Nix says:

    This is brilliant Geoff. Really looking forward to reading the section on Tom!

  • Brian Starkey (aka Wattles) says:

    Just found & read this history of the Cioch & Stony. Great job Little Geoff – brings back so many memories.
    ps – sorry about Armageddon

  • Bob Dearman says:

    Hi Geoff,
    You’ve got things wrong with Aquiline. I did the first ascent with Paul Nunn and it’s not a low level traverse. It goes almost directly up the extreme RHS of Garage Buttress and we used one peg for aid in the top groove above the rake. There are several other facts I would dispute.

  • Kate Chappell says:

    Hi Geoff

    SMHCC suggested this was the best way to contact you. I’m the editor of a new magazine for the Hope Valley – the Hope Valley Journal – and I really want to include a feature about the Cioch Climbing Club in the next issue. It would be great if I could interview you about it and include some of the wonderful photos you have of the club.

    If you could let me know if you’d be interested, that would be great.

    Many thanks

    Kate Chappell

  • Bob Dearman says:

    Hi Jeff,
    I got it wrong, Aquiline was climbed by myself and Rod Brown not Paul Nunn. I put the error down to dementia and alcohol induced psycosis.

  • Simon Moore says:

    Brilliant paper – thanks Geoff.
    Nice to see pictures of my Dad before I was even born.

    I also remember you coming round to the house to entice him out climbing when I was young !!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *