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Another Monday night, another bunch of feeble excuses (bellyaching, babysitting, birthday) the worst of all time being “I’ve been on a history walk. In Sheffield”. A history walk. In Sheffield. Just let that one sink in a moment. This left Dr Crowe and Mr Tuck a free hand to chance their arms at a little gulley number spotted by Dr Crowe as a possibility when once he was upon the Raven Stones. A plan previously hatched on the train home from work over a battered Ordnance Survey map named the object of their desire: Birchen Clough.

Birchen Clough

Birchen Clough

Usual time pressed departure, Mr Tuck hurling himself into Uppermill Spa en route for booze and chocolate – apparently not for us so what with the excuses and this most recent disappointment the evening wasn’t shaping up very well. Fortunately things changed when we got to Binn Green car park where we met with clear skies with a low, spectacularly delicate cloud formation. Several layers of waterproofs later we set off along the reservoir track towards Greenfield Reservoir. Headtorches dimming (all that early autumn activity on Pule Hill) we stopped and swapped batteries. Actually several sets of batteries as we tried to find enough that worked. Duly illuminated we struck off from the main path and found ourselves at the bottom of the water run off below Greenfield Reservoir. The only way was up, and then up beyond the dam onto the hillside towards the kind of place a path ought to be. Contouring round we dropped back down at the head of the res. All the dam rambling had taken a while and still dumped us on the wrong side of the intake. Scrabbling across a slippy escarpment in the dark wasn’t much fun with water of unknown depth but certainly low temperature on either side.

The path less taken but more bleedin’ obvious greeted us and took us to the bottom of Birchen Clough. The clough itself appeared as a gentle rise overlooked by the Raven Stones which were silhouetted in a shower of clichés. We got a good look at the clough. Too much water, too deep and too fast to go for a straight up the middle approach. This was after all a recce and we didn’t want to spoil the fun for a larger group outing. A modest start then, criss-crossing the gulley as it rose easily. At our early rest to check out the first obstacle Mr Tuck rightly observed that we had created the sport of extreme stepping-stones. Extreme stepping-stones is to gulley scrambling, what bouldering is to climbing. A cut down version of the real thing to be practised by those in need of a substitute. We confidently expect a BMC sub-committee to consider the ethics of stepping stoning and whether it is really the “done thing” giving as it might the “professional” stepping stoner an unfair advantage over amateur gentleman gulley scramblers. It might also spawn a whole range artificial aids (water wings?) and unseemly garments detrimental to the traditions of the sport (i.e. non-tweed).

Such musings powered us over the first of several narrowings in the flow and over the larger boulders on the cloughside. The gulley walls were gainfully employed as the flatter stones in the flow of the water proved extremely slippery. The first major waterfall was taken with due care and attention and our previous practices, developed on Oaken Clough, paid off. We emerged over the brow of the fall on the side of the Pool of Tranquility. In “The Land that Time Forgot” this would have been the bathing place of prehistoric nymphs. On this evening it would have been survivable only by a geordie hen party. We took coffee and a cheroot for the Doctor. The view up the clough looked fine, though the distances were foreshortened in the dark.

Circling the pool brought us to the next waterfall which posed the evening’s second biggest challenge (the first equal were Fingers’ excuse for not coming and Tuck’s battery management issues). Mr Tuck favoured a move to the right and headed across the flow. At the central point he was forced to assume a kneeling crawl below the main force. Steadily on unsteady ground he gained the gulley wall and a degree of security.

Meanwhile Dr Crowe trended left, working finger jams in the cracks of the side wall until the face of the fall was reached. The band of rocks and stones between the flow and the gulley wall arrowed towards a face above a couple of metres high. The wall on the left began to overhang and was covered in a thick layer of moss, a natural line for a green crack specialist. It was all looking a bit desperate but a traverse across the flow wasn’t really an option so it was a simple brutish mantel through spray and when the moss gave out a direct thrutch through the brim of the waterfall gave the traditional and inelegant conclusion to a fine night out.

Turning back to look down the clough we saw that it we couldn’t see anything – mist had sprung up in a ten minute interval to reduce  to a few metres. That and a check on the time meant heading down. We took the path on the left hand side of the clough picking our way through mist and boulders, following trails of sawdust (left from a weekend fell race?).  Took extreme stepping stoning to a new level – extreme stepping stoning in only a few metres of visibility – the opposite bank only vaguely outlined. Only a few more directional difficulties and then back on the big path back to the car park

Disorientation and dam rambling put the pub beyond reach and even the car park was devoid of intimate couples.

In truth, an evening of swing at the climbing wall was averted and more evidence provided for our grandchildren to truly marvel at the brutality of a recession which forced their forebears to seek entertainment in freezing waterfalls.

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