Neil started climbing at the age of 14 with his Dad and has developed into one of the UK's finest all round climbers with an impressive portfolio of ticks across a wide spectrum of climbing styles including headpointing on Grit, establishing new hard trad lines in Pembroke and sport climbing consistently in the high 8's.
There are very few climbers who can operate at the cutting edge of both sport and trad climbing. With 8c+ sport and E10 trad, what ingredients do you need to balance to make this work?
I would argue that 8c+ sport routes aren’t cutting edge anymore; it’s certainly a fairly high level in the UK scene, but on the global scale it’s far from the cutting edge! 8c+ and harder gets onsighted nowadays, which is an amazing level. With regards to balancing hard trad headpoints and sport climbing hard, I think they go together well. I’m definitely more interested in the physical aspect to climbing now and drawn to the harder but safer trad lines. Headpointing hard but safe trad routes is like going sport climbing with that little bit of extra spice. A trad headpoint has higher level of mental challenge but is generally a slightly lesser physical challenge than that of a hard sport route; for me, this is a welcome change from the repetitive and highly physical challenge of hard sport climbing. Having said that, I would definitely lose my sport climbing strength and fitness if a trad headpoint took a long time. If you think about it, most E9s aren’t harder than 8a+/b which in sport climbing terms isn’t hard!
Ultimately, if I have a hard project for myself, whether it be trad or sport, I will need to give that project 100% commitment, otherwise I’ll struggle to complete it.
You qualified with a maths degree. Do you think an analytical brain can be useful in climbing? Some people see climbing as like computing forces incredibly quickly, others see it as an art form.
It’s quite interesting that a lot of the good climbers that I know have a science or engineering background. I think it helps, as I view climbing as problem-solving and trying to work out the easiest possible sequence for your own ability.....but, that’s probably because I have an analytical brain!
Despite being known very definitely as an outdoor climber, you are also well respected indoors, and are certainly not weak. Has your training made a real difference to the days when you used to just go out and climb? Is there any particular training that made the difference?
I definitely prefer climbing outside and that’s certainly what I prioritise. Having said that, with weather like ours, you can only get so far doing this! I climbed inside when I first started climbing but treated it like going outside for the day, and just climbed. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started being much more structured with my approach, doing specific intervals during sessions and structuring my week with different types of sessions. This made a huge difference to my physical level which improved my sport climbing ability massively.
You recently moved from Sheffield, the UK capital of climbing, to live in Longridge. How do think this will affect your climbing, and has living in Sheffield been a large part of your success?
Yes, I’ve just moved to Longridge to live with my girlfriend Tanya. I think this will definitely have a positive effect on my climbing; we should both have a bit more head space to focus on climbing as, for a start, we’re not having to drive miles at the weekends just to see each other. I always climb at my best when the rest of my life outside of climbing is going well, and this will help with that. I’ll also have a lot more free time to start with as I’m a self-employed electrician and it will take a bit of time to build up my business. Getting to train with Ian at BoulderUK will certainly help my strength levels too.
Living in Sheffield has helped my climbing massively though, and that is why I moved there after university. Having that many psyched climbers around coupled with the diverse training facilities it has to offer can’t help but make you a better climber. Just when you think you’re climbing well there was always someone going better, which made me push myself more.