I have received the sad news that John Willson, the Wye Valley climber and guidebook author and editor, died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday 17th September at the age of 86. John made an absolutely enormous contribution to climbing in the Wye Valley and in particular to Wintours Leap, which in many ways could be re-named “John’s Cliff”, as it was a largely forgotten backwater (known as “The Heap”) before he dragged it into the limelight. He added many of the classic routes (e.g. The Angel's Girdle and all those with Germanic names on North Wall), often in partnership with ex-pupils who he introduced to climbing - John was a music and classics teacher. He was also responsible for a vast amount of cleaning and re-gearing (those cemented-in pegs were all his) and four decades of guidebook writing. John wrote the Wintour’s Leap sections of the ’77, ’87 and ’97 guides and part-authored and edited the current (2007) Lower Wye Valley guide – which is how I first got to know him. He was also responsible for negotiating the current access regime for Wintour’s Leap and many of the other Wye Valley crags, and I relied greatly on his knowledge after I took over from him as BMC Access Rep for the area. After John retired from teaching he lived in a cottage in Woodcroft above “his” crag, and many of you will have seen him over the years walking his dogs George and Scholar around the village and cliff.
Beyond the Wye Valley, John also put in a vast amount of time and effort in editing and page-setting many other Climbers’ Club guides. Others will know a lot more about his work on these publications, but I’m sure many other authors have benefitted from his red pen (or rather pens – there’s no way one biro would have enough ink for all the corrections to our scripts!). As befitting his former profession, you could always learn something from his writing and company – whether on the finer points of grammar or the Wagner ring cycle that provided the inspiration for all those Germanic route names.