Wednesday, April 30, 2008


On 12th and 13th of July 2008, Millhouses Park in Sheffield will play host to the second Cliffhanger Adventure Sports Festival, which will be bigger and better than ever.

The inaugural festival took place in Graves Park last year, during one of the wettest summers on record, and was plagued by torrential rain, turning parts of the site into a quagmire. Nonetheless, over 10,000 people visited the event over the 2 days, and feedback was overwhelmingly positive, visitors recognising the value of the festival, despite the atrocious weather (you may remember Sheffield had a bit of a flooding problem last year).

This year, the site is easier to access from the city centre, by public transport, foot, or bike, and is close to the Climbing Works, the superb state of the art bouldering wall, largest of its kind in the UK, which is owned and managed by Sheffield climbers Sam Whittaker, Graeme Alderson and Percy Bishton. It is also in the heart of the S7 and S8 postal districts, which are the areas of choice for many climbers to live in the city.

Organiser Matt Heason of Heason Events is this year, of course, hoping for better weather, which in mid-July is not an unreasonable expectation! He has arranged for an open-air celebration of all that makes the city of Sheffield a mecca for adventure sports enthusiasts of all kinds.

Sheffield nestles into the flank of the southern end of the Pennine hills, the 'backbone of England', which form the moors, hills and valleys of the Peak District. More than any other city in England, Sheffield has an intimate association with these hills, which extend eastwards into the city itself, forming the 'seven hills' for which it is famous.

Of course, Sheffield has, because of this proximity to the hills, with their plethora of gritstone crags and beautiful scenery, long been a magnet for hillwalkers and subsequently, rock climbers. The famous and pivotal Kinder Trespass, led by the late Benny Rothman in 1932, where ordinary working men and women defied the upper-class landowners, to claim their right of access to the Peak District Moors, included many ramblers from Sheffield and surrounding areas. Without them, we may not have the open access we enjoy now.

It's not all about climbing though! The Peak is nowadays a legendary mountain biking destination, featuring some stunning trails and desperately technical and rocky descents, pulling bikers from all over the UK and even Europe. Whilst they rattle and bounce down the rock steps of the White and Dark Peak, down below their feet, cavers squeeze through the tight fissures underlying the limestone dales, or spin in space in the mighty shaft of Titan, part of the Peak Cavern system near Castleton (seen below). Up above soar paragliders, riding the summer thermals as they launch off the high ridges.

Meanwhile, urban adventurers in the city itself ride skateboards and bmx bikes, at venues like The House, in Neepsend, or the Devonshire Green skatepark, or on the streets themselves, competing at times with the relatively new sport of Parkour, or freerunning, which is catching the imagination of young people all over the UK, practitioners of which can be seen in Hallam Square, in front of Hallam University's main entrance.

Most of these activities are represented at Cliffhanger. The festival is a celebration and promotion of Sheffield's historic and growing heritage, often unrecognised, as a centre for adventure sports. With the growing acknowledgement by the City Council (co-sponsors of Cliffhanger) of this facet of Sheffield's culture, perhaps it may lead to further capitalisation on the attractions of the City for participants in both urban and outdoor adventure. There was even talk of turning the Tinsley Cooling Towers into an extreme adventure centre, with huge bolted climbs up its walls, and bungee jumps from walkways across the tops. Sadly not to be, and perhaps an opportunity missed. But the people who enjoy events like Cliffhanger may influence such decisions in future.

For those who can live without adrenaline bursting through their arteries, the festival is also very much a spectator event, a chance to see some of the UK's finest climbers in action, and to watch demonstrations of less obvious outdoor activities, like bushcraft, or even iron smelting! If you like Ray Mears, then you'll love the bushcraft demos. There is a market, an angling competition, white knuckle fairground rides, a SCUBA pool for you to try diving, and loads more. Above all, it's a grand day out!

To give you a bit of a flavour, here's a youtube video of some of last year's festival:

If watching all the activity makes you want to take part, then join the orienteering ultra-sprint event, a short course direct from and back to, the festival site. After that, (or instead of it), relax with a pint or two from the CAMRA-run beer festival, this year featuring a beer brewed specially for the event by a local brewery!

Hope to see you there!

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