Stonnis: exclusive BMC TV film premiere celebrating iconic crag Black Rocks

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 24/09/2015
Mark Rankine releases some tension
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A new film celebrating the unique, infamous and underrated crag that is Black Rocks is now live on BMC TV. Filmed by Mike Cheque, Johnny Dawes has said "This film was all I love about rock and the climbers that love climbing on it. Well done Mr Cheque!"

Tell us the story behind the film and why you decided to make it - is it a labour of love?

MC: It was absolutely a labour of love! When I first got the idea to make the film I thought I'd make a short film with a few mates climbing the most esoteric easy routes there; something I could shoot over a few weekends and put online almost immediately.

But as more people became interested and I spent more and more time at Black Rocks it just snowballed. I immersed myself in the project for more than a year - cleaning and gardening routes, picking up litter,  learning the crag’s history; just living and breathing Black Rocks really.

Why is Black Rocks so special?

It’s just so far from the template of the standard grit crag. It has such beauty even though it's quite different to the ideal of the unspoilt wilderness. It’s miles from the moors and minutes from the car but when you’re on the routes it can feel as remote as anywhere. Even though it’s small it’s got such a density of quality climbing too. Few grit crags have as many two- and three-star VSs. The hard classics are world famous and there are brilliant, historically important climbs in between.

What's your favourite route there?

Either Central Buttress or Promontory Traverse. Both are unique routes with a real variety of great moves in very grand positions. Proper challenges for their grades too, like all Black Rocks routes. I’d say Gaia if I’d climbed it though: it's such a breathtaking line. I don’t think there’s a climber in the world who’d disagree with that.

Some people think there's a weird atmosphere at Black Rocks - what would you say to that?

It does seem to have this kind of haunted house reputation. I’ve read and heard so many negative stories and assertions about the place and most of them are pretty hard to square with the experience of climbing there every week! I can understand why people get the spooky feeling there, though, particularly on their first visit.

I play with that a bit in the film, but a big part of why I wanted to make it was to destroy some of these myths - show how much fun you can have there, how many quality routes there are and that it’s not this evil crag that you just visit once and run away from. So many of the climbers I filmed admitted that they’d never have climbed there if I hadn’t persuaded them to, but were thanking me afterwards!

Can you tell us a bit about you - what you do, where you live and why you climb?

I’m a librarian by profession, looking after computer systems for the public library service in Nottinghamshire, which is where I live. I climb because I love the outdoors and the physical and mental challenge but also because it’s such an honest activity. You can’t just 'fake it ’til you make it' - you’ve got to be humble and do it simply for the pleasure of the experience. I hope that’s what non-climbers can see when they watch my films.


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1) Anonymous User
07/11/2015
Congratulations, Mike Cheque, on a splendid film!

I was introduced to Black Rocks as a schoolboy in 1948, and watched the first ascent of Demon Rib by Peter Harding in 1949 – half way up, he commented ‘Very exertatious!’. I did all the easier classics – nothing hard. I have lived in Scotland for the past 60 years, so my memories of Black Rocks are frozen in the time when we wore army surplus anoraks and climbed in tricouni-nailed boots (just occasionally plimsolls, or else woollen socks if wet). Harness and helmets were unknown, and security comprised a hemp rope tied in a bowline round the waist, and a loop of rope with an oval karabiner for draping over elusive rock spikes or around chockstones for a rare running belay.

So your modern climbers, all togged up and festooned with gear, appeared on the well-remembered rocks like creatures from another planet. I have learned how to extract a Friend from a crevice without dropping it, and of the value of a helmet when hit by whistling stones liberated from scree ledges on Slovenian limestone, so I do appreciate the huge advances of recent years, but looking through the telescope the other way, I think that today’s young climbers would appreciate having some feel of what it was like for the young of past generations.

Contemporary comments are quoted in the Black Rocks film, but I feel they need the contemporary climbing background to really bring home their point. Maybe a film of a couple of climbs in 1940’s gear, backed by any available films and snapshots from archives, would provide an entertaining educational supplement?
Mike Newbury Linlithgow
2) Anonymous User
09/12/2016
Where's the film gone, it's disappeared from BMC TV?
3) Alex Messenger (staff comment)
09/12/2016
After letting us host Stonnis, Mike has decided to sell it as a download to raise cash for his latest project. We wish him the best of luck with it.
4) Anonymous (staff comment)
09/12/2016
This comment broke the house rules and has been removed

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