Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Climbing the cliff ladders at Cwm Bach, South Glamorgan

Now I mentioned the ladders in another post but think the story of how I came to find myself climbing them was worth a post on its own -especially when I tell you how scared I am of heights.

Not all heights bizarrely - I met my husband hot air ballooning and being in a glorified picnic basket with nothing but flames to keep me from plummeting to the hard ground doesn't worry me. But I cannot peer over parapets of ruined castles, bottled a trip up our church tower barely eight feet from the ground and only made it just past my husband's head height when trying to climb the ladders on the scaffolding on our house to look at the work DH had done on our chimney stack.

The sight of our children fearlessly walking across lock gates make me weak at the knees and the initial climb down to the Welsh beach where Laddergate happened was more than steep and scary enough for me.

I took it extremely slowly and hunched like an elderly and slightly tubby ninja. I don't know why I crouched - maybe I read somewhere that for stability you should keep your centre of gravity low?

Anyway, I survived the path, gratefully found my feet on the beach at Dunraven Bay and enjoyed a gentle stroll along, stopping to admire rock pools, cliff waterfalls, crashing waves and sea caves with my friends and our children.

We stopped for a snack, I collected a load of driftwood and my friend asked her OH what the plan was now - should we turn round and head back the way we had come? His reply that the tide was coming in and we didn't have time was a bit of a shock but I didn't worry too much as he assured us "the ladder" would be fine as an exit.

Then we rounded the cliff and saw the ladder. Or ladders to be precise. Apparently the ladders were installed on Cwm Bach on as an emergency escape route by the local council as the tide in that area can cut walkers off very quickly.

There are two, bolted very securely to the wall I was glad to see, but still quite terrifying to behold, then some sort-of steep steps cut into the cliff face. From bottom to top was about 50 foot. Just under ten times my height!
Pic by Gareth Jones-original at
http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2774498
Did I mention it was very windy?

So my eldest daughter who is part mountain goat hurtled up followed swiftly by my youngest daughter and her friend. Determined not to be outdone by two 8-year-olds I reasoned that it must not be as scary as it looked and started up ladder 1.

Ooh it was scary. My trembling hands gripped the ladder and as I observed my knuckles turning white I reluctantly dragged my feet from rung to rung.

Transferring from ladder 1 to ladder 2  I had a word with myself. "You're doing really well" I said out loud. "Oh thanks" said my friend's daughter. I assured her I was not talking to her!

The worst bit I think was the transfer to ladder 2 to the cliff face. The wind was cold and blustery and I practically crawled up the muddy and stones to the cliff top. I glanced up to see the happy and curious faces of my daughters standing on the cliff edge watching my progress.

Screeching like a witch I urged, no ordered them to "get back away from the edge" as a million newspaper headlines all using words like "plummet", "smashed" and "death" rocketed round my brain.

I could not imagine how my friend was getting on supervising a fearless 4 year old up the ladder - I was not at all worried about my scaffolder husband and her general daredevil of a partner.

Reaching the top I rolled myself away from the edge like I had conquered Everest and had to take a breather as far away from the top of the ladder as I could crawl in my shaky panicked state.

The rest of the party joined me like they had ridden the escalator in a shopping mall - just me with wet knickers then?

They asked if I was proud of myself? If I enjoyed beating my fears?

Erm - No. I hated every minute. And didn't really deserve to feel proud as my quivering and general pathetic-ness overwhelmed any heroism

I'm sure as the years go by and the sense of near-death subsides I might feel more proud. But let's face it - the 4 year old was not worried by the whole experience and shot up the ladder like it was 3 feet high. And my husband and his friend hurtled up carrying all my precious driftwood (which then had to be trimmed to fit in the car!)

Later, in the pub, my friends confessed that the last time they took friends on the very same walk they got cut off and had to call out the RNLI. Helicopters, boats and a lecture from the coastguard ensued along with an embarrassing boat trip during which my (then pregnant) friend lost both her jeans and knickers and her dignity whilst trying to leap on board through the waves.

Apparently the boat ride ended with them mooring where hundreds of tourists and locals were enjoying a craft fair which was enhanced by the sight of the rescue boat delivering my friends to the safety of dry land.

So 3 things I learned from this sorry tale.
1. I really don't like heights.
2. Never go for a walk with the Jenkins without checking exactly where you might end up.
3.I really don't like heights!




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