A Clifton Gorge Ringside Cliffhanger
“Raf’s whole being was shaking, not because of a fear of heights, but for what he was about to do.”
The world stood still as Raphael watched the box containing an engagement ring careering down the side of the cliff. “You can imagine how I felt,” he said, “pretty wretched.”
That Saturday morning Raf Woolf and his girlfriend Amy Colson had set off to climb the Avon Gorge in Bristol, the best city crag in the world. Raf is a romantic. Halfway up the cliff he had intended tying a ribbon around a platinum and diamond engagement ring and hanging it up so Amy could find it … but it didn’t quite work out like that! In mitigation an embarrassed Raf told me that it had been a “pretty scary climb”, and getting rather late in the day.
When they reaching the top they made themselves safe, Raf tying himself to a tree. He was happy and elated; now was the moment! He reached in a pocket for the ring-box lovingly wrapped with that ribbon and began to open it. Somewhat graphically, he described the action as “unfurling a toilet roll.”
Raf’s whole being was shaking, not because of a fear of heights, but for what he was about to do. Alas, the small box slipped from his trembling hands, rolled down the hill and disappeared over the cliff. Desperately he donned a head torch and abseiled down, frantically searching for the errant ring.
Above him, Amy could see what was happening, but couldn’t really understand what was going on. “What are you doing?” she screamed. Raf shouted back the first thing that came into his head … that he’d dropped the car keys.
Despite frantic efforts in the near darkness, it was proving to be a hopeless task. “To hell with it. Now was the moment. I went back up, sorted the ropes and sheepishly said to Amy that I had a confession to make. When I told her my intentions and then losing the ring, she sobbed. Will you marry me anyway? I asked, which made her cry even more, and a little noisily, but she managed to say yes!”
Raf and Amy decided to return early the next morning and retrace their route up the cliff. Raf said, “Quite frankly, as we abseiled down the Gorge, I didn’t hold out much hope in locating the ring. Half way down, and after about two hours searching I DID find the empty box.”
In the meantime Amy’s dad, Bill Colson, was trying to contact help via the Internet. What followed admirably showed what could be achieved with cooperation between detectorists. Via a convoluted route involving Ken Watson, a helpful member of Cardiff Scan Club, Bill found just the man!
Enter the Cavalry
Steve Hutchings, the longstanding and hard-working secretary and treasurer of the Weston Historical Research and Detecting Association (WHRADA) was spending his Sunday morning working on the club’s newsletter when the phone rang. The caller was Ken who related the story about the young couple, the Avon Gorge and the lost ring.
Eventually, after talking with the ‘damsel-in-distress’ and despite being busy, Steve agreed to meet Amy in ‘about 30 minutes’. He had an appointment later that day and would be passing the gorge. The car was loaded with detecting equipment so, as he was about 15 miles away he and his wife would just depart a little earlier that intended.
Steve found the distressed couple at the foot of the Gorge. Some decisions were quickly made. Although he’d climbed the cliff some years ago, there was no way he was going up that tortuous route with a Deus in tow! In a brilliant example of lateral thinking he gave Raf the machine, probe, a quick master lesson in detecting and sent him once more up the cliff face – which by now was becoming very familiar! The use of a climbing helmet precluded the use of headphones.
With his spare machine Steve decided to search at the foot of the cliff, finding nothing but the detritus of years, usual rubbish like bottle tops, ring pulls, cans and silver paper, but no ring. He was making a mental note to organise a club dig at this very site, when other detecting friends turned up to help in the search.
After about two hours when Raf eventually came down from the cliff face his face was expressionless. Steve thought that he must need to go to the toilet. Then he smiled, beamed and cried, “I’ve found it!”
The ring had been nestling in a crevasse on one of the ledges. “Without your help and the detecting gear I’d never have found the ring,” he told Steve. Amy was delighted! Luckily Steve had a camera and was able to catch the moment when Raf made proposal number two. What happened previously was just a rehearsal. Amy was delighted. Steve shall always treasure their message of thanks.
Our good Samaritans, Steve and his wife, were then free to continue with their journey and arrived at the venue a little late, but just in time to receive an award for their 15 years of caring and fostering of children. The honour was totally unexpected, but graciously received.
The Avon Gorge
For those who have never visited the Gorge it is truly spectacular, with 300-foot cliffs towering above the river and only a five-minute drive from the centre of Bristol. Both rock climbing and abseiling are available and it was those activities that attracted Raf and Amy. There is parking right next to the crag and views of Avon Gorge and Clifton Suspension Bridge. The only access problem is crossing the busy road.