Tom Livingstone writes about the perils of a trad climbing road trip around the UK. With changeable weather, the cafe is never far away...

Sit. Sip. Watch. Wait. The Great Cafe Tour begins.

A road trip, a long month of nothing but climbing. Climbing, but nothing. A chance to explore another country, another ‘must visit’ destination. Home has become a tent, the kitchen is the floor and the shower; the sea. We revert to cavemen, lost in the daily simplicity of eat, sleep, climb, repeat. So little occupies our days, but to us, they are filled with worth. 

The weather forecast has become the horizon, and we begin to appreciate the subtleties. Sitting on flat, warm earth. Slipping out of harnesses, massaging bruised hips. Watching the sun drop into the ocean. The only thing we fear is the dreaded rest day; to be avoided at all costs.

Today the wind blows from the north. Cold rock, numb fingers, a blurred horizon out to sea. The rope is uncoiled quickly, no time to warm up. Is that rain in the distance? Never mind, swing the arms, hope for the best... ‘climbing.’

Cloud. Drizzle. Rain. Run! 

The crag drips. The cafe calls. Rain, blasting in from the ocean. Bags stuffed, jackets on, hoods up. The path becomes a stream, jeans stick to skin. Retreat.

Where shall we go now? The only place we can: the cafe. Rain, hammering against the window, running in rivers. Cold glass and condensation. The steamy, hot fug flushes our faces and we grin in childish glee; did you see me splash through that puddle? Drips drop from our hair, run down our cheeks, puddle onto the floor.

We strip wet clothes, peeling layer after layer and draping onto chairs. The waitress shoots us a look of anger mixed with disappointment; even a dash of pity.

Rain, washing away chalk, streaking the rock and seeping from pores. Rain, forcing us to abandon projects, give up our simple pleasures. Bloody rain.

Sit. Sip. Hot tea burns my tongue. Hours drag, clinging to the present. Watch. Wait. Cards are shuffled, dealt, folded. Sticky tables, plastic chairs, dirty plates. Full stomachs but empty minds; we are away on the cliffs, soaring aretes and chalky crimps. Away from the confines of the cafe. Away, on the routes lost to the rain. Full stomachs but empty minds. I’d rather have it the other way round.

Drink? Drank. Drunk. Reshuffle the cards. Have you checked the weather? Well, it’s wether the weather will be worth it. BBC? Look out and see. why are.we still here?

Clag, cloud. Cliffs bowed. The weather sets in, wind starts howling. It’s angry, causing havoc outside, throwing tables and chairs around. And the sea mist has arrived. We are safe, but not from boredom. The cards come out again. Sit. Sip. Watch. Wait.

The lunchtime business picks up, the internet slows down. We stare at half-loaded screens, watching, waiting, wishing for a refresh. The noise intensifies, angry glances shrinking our drying space. A new cafe is located, close to the supermarket. We admit defeat and agree to leave, stomachs grumbling. Our performance is reversed, wet jackets piled on. Wet feet, wet socks, wet shoes. 

Ready? Ready. We brace for the weather and swing open the door. Once more into the breach, once more into the rain. Hoods up, heads bowed, hopes drenched.

Another cafe. Another drink? Rain, still thick and heavy. The same steamy windows, sticky tables, angry waitress. Jackets peeled, draped, dripping. Cards shuffled, dealt, folded. Hot tea burns my tongue. Again. Whose idea was this trip? A forecast says it’ll clear; check another one. Sit. Sip. Watch. Wait.

Drink? Clink. Cheers to the rain clearing by nine. Cheers to holidays in the sunshine. The tea has gone cold, the cards discarded. We have shuffled, surfed, sat, until boredom rules us. What do people do on rest days?

Sit. Sip… Stop. Someone turns on the light outside. A flash of sunshine, a bright glare of yellow and gold through the rain. We lift our eyes to the window, suddenly filled with hope. Wet streets awash with light, smiles across our faces.

Rain. Drizzle. Cloud. Sun.

Quick! Bags stuffed, jackets on, door open. We run into the street, into the light. 

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2016 issue of the BMC's Summit magazine.

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Tom is supported by Mountain Equipment, Julbo, Petzl, La Sportiva