The blog on climbing in North Wales brought back so many memories of great days in North Wales when I was posted down South as a full-time Deputy Team Leader of the RAF Valley Mountain Rescue Team, I was posted to RAF Buchan on the East Coast of Scotland for nearly two years still coming out with the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team. I had no car so I got the bus and train to Kinloss some 80 miles away, it would take 4- 5 hours and at my cost. There was no sign of getting back to Mountain Rescue as my trade said no way, I was a Caterer by trade and told my folks I was going to come out the RAF (PVR) My Dad was not happy and he had some contacts as he was sadly a Tory and got George Younger involved who was I think the Defence Minister at the time. My old pal Eric Hughes the Officer I/C at RAF Kinloss got involved and thanks to Al Haveron the Team Leader at RAF Valley he took a chance on me and off I went. I never knew of my Dad’s involvement in the plot until after his death when Eric told me.
Arriving in North Wales I had a hand over from one of the Legends Colin Pibworth who was the Deputy there at the time. Pib was a mountain Rescue legend and I was a Scottish upstart so he at first never spoke to me, hard times and I joined the Team Leaders Course that was on at the time on their cliff rescue training on Holyhead and Gogarth a steep learning curb. I had only been in North Wales once on my MLC Assessment so my area knowledge was non existent. I got the cold shoulder at first from some but lucky I had just done a winter traverse of Scotland over 21 days and was very fit. My first weekend was the 14/15 Peaks, they made me carry a full length rope but I was going great and the rope was ditched along the route and I was only one of two to finish that walk out of 7 starting! Pib met me at the end and after that day we were great pals just a different generation. Next day it was down to Tremadoc rock climbing with wee Jock Cameron who became my climbing mentor. We climbed “One step in the clouds/ crowds” and Merlin Direct classic climbing and after that I got the bug and climbed badly every weekend.
Al the Team leader went away for a month to run the Royal Tournament at Earls Court as the Mountain Rescue Display and I was left the team. I had a few problems as some of the old and bold pushed their luck at times but that was sorted out. A few still saw me as a “wee laddie from Scotland” but that soon changed and the top boys Pete Kay, Dave Booth, Jock Cameron, Davy Walker, Stan Owen, Pib RIP and others were great support and help keep me in line. It was a great period of learning but also learning how to handle the difficult troops many who were very talented climbers and mountaineers.
We had our own helicopter flight at RAF Valley 22 Squadron Wessex and we became great pals and again that was a huge learning curb for me. We used to have given a weekend off to be with the helicopter flight at Valley on base and go out with them on SAR operations on the hills. Politics were heavy at times with the odd dispute between local teams when we arrived on scene and a few times our troops were taken off the helicopter to stop a dispute. I handled that in my own way with the Llanberris Team Leader John Ellis Roberts who first time we met tried this ploy with me but in the end we both got dropped off in the Trinty Gullies on Snowdon together. There it ended in mutual respect as we raced to the casualties and after that we became great friends as he was some man in the mountains. John passed away recently he was still climbing in his 70’s and taught me a lot in these early days. We did many call – outs and always had a great relationship with Ogwen Cottage MRT, Tony Jones Team leader at the time RIP and the team were great friends with RAF Valley and still are with the current team.
I managed to head to Scotland about 4 times a year with a few team member’s we even had a winter week in Seanna Braigh up in the North Of Scotland where we got some great climbs in. It was usually with a few new troops and what an insight for them in the early days of their apprenticeship. We would come up and wind up the Scottish troops with our raids on their routes. The team was prominent on a missing aircraft a Jaguar on Ben Lui in Scotland which crashed in November 1979 when the team was flown up from a weekend in Wales for a 3 day search in wild weather. My blog covers that story and was I impressed with the troops on that call – out. I also managed a big walk across Scotland with Dave Booth, Jim Morning, Dave Mitchell and Frank MacKenzie a South to North a great trip away for 22 days.
We had many incidents short sharp call outs, many technical where ropes were used as North Wales is a busy place especially in the couple of great winters we had. The Devils Appendix and routes in the Pass, The Black Ladders were all climbed as I got out most days when these sensational conditions were in. It was as good as Scotland but with less walk in? It was busy in summer to and every weekend was spent on the crags getting to know them intimately and regularly getting involved in incidents. I climbed all the classic routes in Classic Rock and a few others enjoying the variation of rock and weather. These were great times and when I look back superb days and great company. Many are still pals today. We had some great relationships with the locals and a few of the team married local lassies as always happens. I loved the cafe scene after a day on the crag or hill a brew and a cake and the “old Milk bar” in Betwsy Coed and Cobdins were the place to be. Team discount was the norm. The social scene was immense and we had some fun lost in the mists of time and a few parties I had to drag the troops out of this was the 70’s remember?
The Annual Snowdon Horseshoe Bike Race where all the RAF Teams took part and many of the civilian teams, great fun with the run across Crib Goch with a bike and then the run round the complete horseshoe and back to Pen Y Pass. Crazy days before Health and Safety and so competitive for some. These were the days of RAF Stafford MRT, Saint Athans now gone and of course RAF Leeming and Valley still going strong.
Every month for one weekend we went to the Lakes or the Peaks more great climbing and add to that of North and South Wales we were always busy and getting to know other areas. We had annual grants to Scotland, Arran, Braemar,Ben Nevis, Glencoe, Skye, Torridon superb days climbing and mountaineering and sound memories. My three years in North Wales were superb and my last day was on the Idwal slabs with Pete Kay, Nige Hughes and Jock Cameron, on the slabs, Lazerus and Grey Slab.
I also learned about death in the mountains and we lost one of our own Mick Hernon – Mick was a great pal and on 29 July 1980 was killed whilst descending the Pic Badile after ascending the West Face. Mick was a well-loved man by the RAF Team and an ex member of the Stafford Mountain Rescue Team. Mick was at RAF Valley when killed in the Alps and climbed with us often. A sad day for us all Mick left a young wife and two young children.
This was one of my first times I had lost a close pal in the hills and Mick’s family were with him on a RAFMA Meet where Mick training for a Himalayan Expedition. It was a tragic time made worse as Mick had limited Insurance for an accident in the mountains at the time. The funeral at Stafford was a sad affair and one that took a long time to come to terms with. Mick at the time was an outstanding climber and climbed with many of the top climbers of the day in North Wales. We all still miss him! It made me push the troops to get insured when in the Alps.
During this period I had my dog Teallach and he love the place and became a real character in the area. We met many of the old and bold, Joe Brown, Jim Perrin and many of the new wave of rock stars Paul Williams RIP became a great pal as did the Tremadoc Cafe Eric Jones and Pete’s Eats in Llanberris.
We could climb after a days work in the summer at Holyhead mountain or on the main sea cliffs and even travel the 60 minutes to Tryfan or the slabs or a bit longer to the Pass. I must get back to a re union in North Wales and get up a few classics before I get to old.
Maybe this year?
Anyone got any photos of the era at RAF Valley and who knows where Wee Jock Cameron is?
The team is still at RAF Valley no longer in the old section off the camp and a place I loved near the beach and now part of the farm I think. The SAR Helicopters have gone sadly another era over. Things change but the memories get better.
Paul Duckworth ” Quackers” as a bairn and the goat! at the old section in better days!