There were angels here, black ones, I could feel them hanging like bats from under the dripping stained stone. I could taste my desire like cold wine in my mouth, strong, scented and flooding, dripping off my tongue and stinging my skin.
The angel’s waited over my shoulder as we picked our way across slime and stink, acidic bird shit stoking my nostrils, the angels stalked me. The smell of salt water was warm and felt like being under old church cassocks; feet were wet and useless, sliding across the rock like a church mouse on roller skates and my hands were caked in slippery water streaked chalk, I pressed palms trying to dry them, or was it in prayer?
At the back of the cave looking out, a cathedral of black limestone created a dark window into a dirty blue up and down surging hallucination of a sea. Birds fled the scene anticipating a tolling bell of some sort as we reached dryer rock and were released from the black church over head.
The black angels spread their wings and I was off, ascending through a jigsaw of overhangs and misty walls. It was morning but it felt like a late evening under a leaden sky and above a sickening surging slate sea. The rock became steeper and my angels sliced leathery wings through the air brushing past my hair and skin a reminder I was in their place of worship. The holds were wet, so wet that chalk just created a slick caked sloughing skin as my fingers strained and slid across the rock. My arms ached and my breathing threatened to send me into hyperventilation. My feet were inches from the edge of an overhang with only spinning tumbling air beneath them and a shallow seaweed wafting sea.
Finally from a pulpit at the end of a long aisle of overhanging stone I could address the congregation of one, the angels hovered out in the air and my climbing partner began the rock worship of a following climber, at the mercy of my practised sermon. We met on the ledge and my partner let out a stream of ungodly expletives that cut through the musty air and the angel’s shuddered, black wings rippling away from the sound. I retreated in to the confessional box and continued a head bowed journey casting off my sins with every hand and foothold.
The rock was drier here and the oppressive tower of rock above felt friendlier, my confessional had obviously worked. With a wry glance over my shoulder I noticed the angels had gone and the birds began to return with angry squawks and grumpy wing beats, the bell didn’t toll and the service was over. I no longer had to bow my head or press my palms as each move brought me closer to salvation. My desire to climb the route now tasted sweet and the wine in my mouth was now delicious and warm.
Black angels settled back under their roof and rustled their wings in anticipation, waiting long and quiet for another devoted worshipper.
‘Account of an ascent of Dreadnaught E3 5c Berry Head Devon’