Valli's ?th birthday party (sorry Valli) was not to be missed, with a planned marquee, band on the Friday and DJ for the Saturday. She'd promised the sunshine and PJ and I got an inkling of blue skies on the way down from Enniskillen, arriving after 10pm, just seconds after Bill and Alan in the mothership. There was a ton of food both on and off the barbie, a host of Europeans and Swedes and the marquee was brilliantly decorated with strange nautical creatures, a giant toad and sparkling lights. Outside a huge pink flamingo eyeballed everyone, George and I finished off my tiny Arran whiskey supply and everyone chatted around the bonfire while the bluesy band warmed up. Needless to say the band was excellent, especially yer man on the harmonica and there was plenty of dad dancing going on till 3am, when we sneaked off to bed.
Alan and Bill were up first, we heard them clanking past Melanie's cottage around 9 on route to Happy Valli Crag, followed shortly by George and Sandra. We opted for a leisurely fry-up and joined them just as Bill was exiting their 3rd route of the morning, Ox-Tail, otherwise known as "VDiffmearse"and purportedly a Severe. Bill's description of a testy slab didn't put me off and PJ and I lined up underneath it next. I wish I hadn't. The layback was a nice starting move but once I reached the big leaning out block I came to a complete halt. A short corner gives one or two foot placements but the sloping dome above only has a few small crimps and the rock doesn't have that Mournes / Arran friction. I was well aware of the (both dodgy) small nut and cam I'd placed in the corner as I trembled up on the 6th go. The right foot slipped, I grabbed a lump of heather in desperation and listened to the roots snap and break as I re-placed my right foot up round my ear somewhere. The air was quare and blue as I eventually stood up shaking and swearing. The slab was followed by lots of heather and I was far from happy, shouting down to PJ "It's meant to be rock climbing not heather scrambling!"
George and Sandra were pinging off routes left right and centre, having finished Hellburner (HVS 5a) they'd also done Don't Touch That Tree (E1 5b), with Valli taking the rope for a go herself. Most of the European contingent wanted to do the abseil down King's Gully and Valli and Alan left to do that. The 2 Swedish fellas were on Colmcille Corner (HS 4b) but made short work of it so that PJ and I were able to jump straight on as soon as we abseiled down. I'm not climbing fit at all but after Ox-Tail I wanted to try a decent heather-free line and I had vague memories of enjoying this route some years ago. My memory proved correct, this route had it all. A clean obvious line, great protection, it starts easily on small ledges on the right wall but gets harder as the top half is a bit pumpy. After scolding myself "Just feckin' climb it will ye!", I did my best Elvis impersonation as I made the bridging turn left into the crack at half height, gratefully placing a small nut. Thereafter there were a few times I needed to wedge myself into the crack to rest the arms but I gave a big "Yahoo!" as I topped out grinning. Top, top route, a contender for best HS ever.
Ivan arrived for a bit of shunting and we found George and Sandra still pinging off E2s at the small crag. They joined us for lunch with Bill back at the marquee, then George returned to shunt some more while we 3 lesser mortals went for a read and a lie down. You can see who went to bed early and who didn't. One snooze later we were back at the marquee where the Gully crowd had returned for more barbecqueing, with Bill and Alan dressed in fetching cowboy and "chimney-pot", sorry "stove-pipe" hats. The Latvian contingent taught us their national dance called the "Aughantooley Ballahooley" (or something like that), Ivan produced 2 stunning bottles of cinnamon and clove flavoured, triple distilled, Czech poteen, the music played till beyond 5am and there was more bad dancing and general hurling about. 3 times PJ and I tried to leave and 3 times were pulled backed enthusiastically until we realised that if we stopped announcing our departure we could just slip quietly away.
We had to head home early on Sun to pack up for the impending house move so I don't know what (if anything) happened that day. Considering the few bleary heads I did see before I left, I suspect not much. A cracking weekend, great to catch up with everyone, especially Ms Kennedy who has been AWOL for far too long. Thanks Valli.