You don’t have to travel halfway round the world for an adventure. Sometimes they lie within a mere stone’s throw of home; sometimes even right under your feet. Ask those who have emerged from the cavernous shadows of The Old Redoubt, breathless and thrilled. Back on green grass, you land safe in the world of picnic-people and dog walkers, tourists and kids kicking balls; all oblivious to battles won and lost beneath the walls of the Napoleonic fort. Here, two centuries earlier, with sights set on a horizon under threat from the French fleet, a soldier wrote: ‘I am today on duty, surrounded by fortifications and cannon, from which it would turn you giddy to look down on the foaming deep.’
The Mystery Tour Begins
The year was 1967: a ‘sea cliff year’ in British climbing. Peter Biven had invited John Cleare to repeat his fantastic new route Moonraker on Secret Crag X, aka The Old Redoubt, but when Cleare arrived with Rusty Baillie on New Year’s Eve, they were too intimidated and full of Christmas pudding to follow in Biven’s footsteps and those of 16-year Exeter schoolboy, Pat Littlejohn.
‘The [first] ascent of the Old Redoubt is the most important event in the history of Torbay climbing’. That’s how Littlejohn, only two-and-a-half years into climbing, had gushed out his pride in Moonraker in a school essay. And what a moment it must have been: sharing the platform in the Great Cave with Biven and tracing the crack that shot the whole way up the 200 foot unclimbed cliff. On the ascent the two gelled admirably; cultured sea-cliff doyen Biven and fledgling Littlejohn with all his promise, instantly recognised as a survivalist by Biven. ‘Off you go, you’re the lightest’ he had instructed Littlejohn after deciding who should lead past a chimney stack of loose blocks on the final pitch. ‘If I get out of this I’ll become a missionary’, Biven had said. That they both got out is history, but so too is Biven’s mystifying accident in the Avon Gorge that robbed West Country climbing of a major player in 1976.Purchase This Issue | Subscribe | Return back to Issue 92