It is a scientifically proven fact that the UK’s climate is 90% perma-drizzle and consequently when leaving our little island, it’s almost a certainty that the weather is going to improve. Let’s face it; we all get that selfish smugness whilst relaxing with a little vitamin D therapy on a Mediterranean beach, knowing that everyone else is suffering under the gloomy grey blanket of Britain.
However, the day we left for Turkey was beautiful, so beautiful it was very tempting to stay. The perfect winter’s day; a striking contrast between the hills encased under a white carpet, diamonds effervescing in the sunlight, and the dark grey gritstone edges. For climbers of the Peak, these are the ultimate conditions. The air is so dry and crisp that friction between rock and fingers is at an optimum, enabling some of the hardest routes to be climbed. It was not only climbers who were benefitting. People were taking to the slopes of the most exclusive of all the Peak District’s ski resorts – Mam Tor. The last time this came into prime condition was…well nobody really can recall.
Leaving the winter wonderland behind, we travelled to Antalya on the south coast of Turkey. We were met by Senol, a very friendly Turk with a fantastic beard, and taken to the climbing Disneyland of Geyikbayiri. Senol and his wife own and run Kezban’s Campsite, one of many in the area. Accommodation is either tent or these lovely wooden tree houses. We chose the latter, a decision which we would later be very grateful.
Geyikbayiri is fast becoming one of the best locations in the world for sport climbing, with a community of hundreds of people living in tents and huts that surround the cliffs. The vibrant atmosphere is so intoxicating that the place and the people seduce you into wanting to stay permanently. One of our friends was so drawn into the lifestyle that he shunned his return flight home to stay and look after some puppies.
Even in sub-tropical regions like southern Turkey, climbing in winter can be a slight risk due to being a wet season and the weather more unpredictable. What we were not expecting were temperatures plummeting to -18˚C. During the daytime, it was generally warm enough to head out climbing but as soon as the sun fell below the surrounding mountains, we would be forced to seek refuge at Kezban’s. It was only marginally warmer than outside and the only respite came in the form of a DIY wood-burning stove in the centre of the large communal room. If you ever need stove to heat up the outside of your house, then this is the one for you. We kept ourselves entertained through the long, cold evenings with whisky, cards and fashioning puppies into hot water bottles.
By chance, my brother, Will was in Turkey at the same time and had hitched down to escape from the bitterly cold mountains in the north…or so he had hoped. With endless bureaucracy to negotiate, he had a while to wait for the necessary visas for his travels further eastwards. He spent a little time climbing and a lot of time relaxing and playing with puppies.
Geyikbayiri feels quite isolated in the mountains and it becomes easy to overlook the fact that you are in Turkey. Will, Lena and I spent a day visiting the sprawling metropolis of Antalya in search of culture. We were not too successful. Antalya, the gateway to the Turkish Riviera, is a continuous ocean of high-rise buildings, quite reminiscent of Benidorm. Hidden deep within this concrete jungle is the well-preserved old town district of Kaleiçi, which provides the main hub on the tourist trail. We meandered round the narrow cobbled streets and Ottoman houses and found some cats to cuddle. The locals were extremely friendly and often enticed us into their shops attempting to sell us spices, leather, rugs and drugs. Even to enquire as to the price of an item is to initiate the bartering process and almost commit to purchasing.
‘How much is this puppy?’
‘How much you give me?’
‘I don’t need a puppy, I was just asking what her price is.’
‘Make me offer!’
‘She’s very nice but I don’t need a puppy.’
‘My friend…if you like her, why no make offer. If you lucky, you might get a bar—‘
‘Seriously, I don’t need a puppy.’
‘Look her beautiful eyes.’
‘Ok I’ll buy her.’
One day subjected to the hustle and bustle of Antalya was enough and it was a relief to arrive back to the relative comforts of our shed and the world’s worst heater. I would love to spend more time in Turkey and visit some other areas, probably smaller, prettier ones than Antalya. I’m always in a quandary when on climbing trips, torn between devoting time to climbing or to travelling. What I do know for sure, is that I want to be back at Geyikbayiri with the puppies.
The last three days it rained. Rain on a biblical scale, not the drizzle we get here in the UK. The monsoon assaulted us with such ferocity that the communal room at Kezban’s was now a picturesque lakeview cabin. The tents in the campsite were floating and one of the resident Russians was trout fishing from his life raft. Roads were transformed into torrents and new waterfalls were cascading off the 40m high cliffs that we had previously been climbing on. On our journey down to the airport, it would have been far safer to navigate the rapids by boat than our 4X4. Fortunately we survived and travelled back to Sheffield to be met with the well-accustomed perma-drizzle.