Bobby Drury left Liverpool after O-levels, knowing he had f***ed them up. Free now, he hitched to Snowdonia. His mum came crying on the phone, ‘You’ve failed them all.’ Bobby knew that. ‘No, Mum, I’ve led Vector.’ This was Thatcher’s lost generation. The slate quarries were walking distance; they’d have a smoke, a party in an abandoned hut, try and climb something. A small culture emerged of punks, nutters, artists and petty thieves, crawling up abandoned rock, then heading to the disco at the Dolbadarn. These were the Slateheads.
The people in these interleaving worlds – the punk dole dropout star- climbers; the Victorian quarrymen pioneers; the Welsh-speaking grandson of a ropeman, abseiling in to bolt sport climbs like Orangutang Overhang in the Noughties, Lee and his mates slogging west today – all are polished like nuggets in this 360° view over patience, pride, respect, thrill, movement, the competing claims of home and agency, and above all, a belief in second chances.
I am the first to admit, I am not a climber and that I have no interest in climbing, but there was something about this book that called to me when I was asked if I would consider reviewing it as part of a blog tour! It was the sense of passion and the history behind this world that was evident from the blurb.
It’s a book that’s filled with passion for a subject I knew little about and I enjoyed the way the writer brought his subject to life, because it made it very accessible to readers just like me. The way he describes the landscape, the grey of the slate, creates a backdrop which is incredibly vivid. I never thought of slate mines having any intrinsic beauty, yet they do, reflecting it’s industrial past. It has man made sheer drops, hidden tunnels and intricate fissures. In Slatehead Peter Goulding portrays a landscape that having lost its economic centre, becomes a backdrop for a community of climbers. These men and women recognise the challengers it poses, but most of all, that it is not a forgotten place, but the heart of a community and a place with a troubled past, made over for a more positive future.
What also makes this book fascinating is the way we are introduced the backgrounds of the climbers, from dole dropouts, artists and aspiring climbing legends. They are a fascinating bunch of people to read about, having developed their own culture from their seemingly disparate backgrounds. Many also gave names to their favourite climbs within the quarries, reflecting their own influences and often lively sense of humour. It brings you closer to them, people braver than I could ever be. Their love of climbing shines out through the writing, of friendships formed through a common love affair with environment that tested their love of climbing.
Many thanks to the author and publisher for the ARC in return for an honest review.
About the author
Peter Goulding is a climber and writer from the north of England. He was born in Liverpool in 1978, lived in County Durham for years, and currently lives with his partner and son in rural Norfolk. He works at Center Parcs as an instructor, and goes climbing to north Wales and the Peak District as often as he can. In 2019, he won the New Welsh Writing Awards: Rheidol Prize for Writing with a Welsh Theme or Setting.
You can follow the author on Twitter @flatlandclimber