Dave Ellsmore
Back to alumni stories

Dave Ellsmore - Aberdovey, Wales, 1968

One of the many memories of a month spent at Aberdovey Sea School was the day at the seaside climbing up and down sea cliffs, the memory of their location lost in the mists of time. The day stands out like a beacon for me, as one of THOSE days.

It all started well enough, a trip to the seaside a nice sunny day in late August. We were a group of young chaps on an adventure, although of course every day was an adventure. We all piled into the transport having stowed the kit, including a al fresco lunch, in the back, and set off to the site where we all tumbled out. The climbing equipment was dutifully carried down to the foot of the cliffs on the pebbly beach, where the morning sun was already warming the air - a good-to-be-alive day.

The instructors led us off and after belaying themselves at the top of the climb, the first of the eager lads was tied onto the safety rope, shouted the various calls back and forth, and then started to climb. It was always the eager ones first, those less inclined to rise to the challenge of height and precarious positions tended to be furthest away from the action and looking longingly out to sea for solace or even rescue!

Inevitably my turn came. I would describe myself as being somewhere between eager and downright coy about rock climbing, a sort of mid-point between foolhardy recklessness and sanity, so my climb was slow and measured. At that time there was a diminutive climbing instructor from north of the border, who, in his eagerness to make you climb with a better technique, would throw the odd lightweight piece of topsoil down the rock face in your direction while shouting in a broad Glaswegian accent, "Lean away from the rock, laddie,"� and other cheerful phases, as you tried to get hands, fingers, feet and toes to do as they were told, and not cling to the rock wishing you were at home, watching TV with hot buttered toast and being cosseted by your soft, warm and non-shouting mother!

It was during one of these leg-over-shoulder manoeuvres that the unspeakable happened. Because of the rising air temperature, real or apparent, my leg stuck to the fabric of my lightweight trousers, bursting the seam from knee to knee via the crotch. Suddenly there was a breath of fresh air passing over my nether regions, which although pleasant, would, in another location, find you before the local magistrate for indecent exposure! The climb continued without further incident apart from the Glaswegian tinnitus which seemed endless and did not pause for breath.

When atop the cliff, a very nice view was to be had and it made the effort worthwhile"�although that was where we started, so why we had to go down to climb back up was a mystery to me. We could have just stayed there, drinking bottles of pop and eating a slice or two of flapjack - what better way to spend a day? But, alas, we were expected to abseil back down to the beach, so I manfully strode over to the point where we were to go back down, the gentle breeze flapping my tattered lower garments in such a way that the errant garments seemed to draw more attention to my plight than was already very obvious. The instructor at the top of the abseil rope was a more kindly soul and explained that the route down ended in a cave half way so you had to sort of free fall the last bit.

"Oh, how exciting,"� I mused as I hooked onto the ropes. Leaning back, I stepped bit by bit down the cliff face, and, sure enough, there was a large looming opening below, but it was preceded by a v-notch which meant that you had to step either side of it to the very point that the cave started, push hard away from the rock then let yourself go so you swung inside the cave, which I mastered with a sort of glee. Out I jumped, let go the rope and swung like some demented alternative superhero, with my frayed trousers furiously flapping like some storm tossed wreck looming towards the rocks. What a magnificent sight I was, in full flight! As I swung back and forth, dangling like some forlorn conker who never quite made the team, I noticed that in the cave was a group of girls preparing lunch, and they all gazed open mouthed, agog at the sight before them...

For a few moments there was silence, and maybe a barely perceptible inward gasp of air, but this was soon replaced by jeers and taunts about equipment size and bromide, for some strange reason (!) I lowered myself gently to the cave floor, let myself free of the ropes and scuttled hastily around the corner, mentally scarred.

I often wonder who they were and if they were similarly scarred. These events can stay with one for a lifetime!