Last week David and Elizabeth Horne invited me along to their family holiday in North Wales. One of the main reasons for the holiday was to attempt to lift two of the historical Stones of Strength recently rediscovered by strength athlete Roger Davis. Thanks to Roger other strength fans can tavel to Wales and attempt to lift these great stones.
The Criccieth Stone weighs 177.5kg/390.5lbs when dry. With the Welsh rain I'm sure it's up over 400lbs! Anyway, we had a semi dry day to attempt the lift.
The day before David and I had driven up to Criccieth to check out the stone which was just up the road from Porthmadog where we were staying in a picturesque welsh cottage. It was bigger than I expected, very smooth with just one obivous hand hold. Both of us looked at it differently and decided on different ways to attmept the stone. David opted for a similar approach to the sturdy welsh lads that had already put air between the earth and this historic stone, where as I went for a more traditional 'atlas stone style'.
The mighty Criccieth Stone awaits!
The next day arrived dry and relatively warm. There was a heavy dew and light rain in the air. Pretty damned good for North Wales!
Nick, Reuben, David and Reuben's father discuss various ways of lifting of the stone
David was all fired up and went first. After several efforts he lifted the stone off the ground for a split second for a thumbs up from Trevor Ray the keeper of the stone at the Criccieth Memorial Hall. David would return for another fine lift.
David Horne lifting the Criccieth Stone
Next up was Reuben Hughes who had already lifted the stone with his brother Dafydd. Reuben has enormous hands like his father who was in attendance and had lifted the stone himself in his 20's.
Reuben's unique style had him literally cradle the stone by clasping his hands together and wrapping his long arms around the bulk of the stone. Bent over in the most extreme stiff legged postion he then hoisted the stone clear of the ground and held it there for some time. Very impressive for a relatively lightweight man of around 13-14 stones (185-200lbs).
Reuben Hughes lifting the stone in his unique 'cradling' style
I then took off all my coats and jumpers and prepared to lift. I'd seen Reuben and David's lifts and decided that I would try a similar method before I went for what I felt was a more pure way of lifting the stone. I propped the stone up and studied it in before settling on a way I felt would be right for me. Then I bent over and let the stone almost fall into my arms. Once it settled I heaved and it came off the floor and before I knew it I was attempting to lap it. I got the stone up onto my knees but I had it the wrong way around to attempt to stand up with it. As it was I don't think I had the strength to take the stone any higher.
Reuben then stepped up again and in the same style lifted it. Then with much encouragement David went again, this time lifting the stone nice and high in fine style. I went again and lifted it but couldn't quite get it to my lap although it had felt more comfortable.
Reuben's father then asked me if I was going to attempt it the harder way and it was really his encouragement and obvious delight at seeing so many successful attempts that made me have a solid go at it.
I moved the stone around and settled on what i felt might be the best lifting position. David and I had discussed this way and we both felt it was going to be really hard to hang onto because although there was a nice hand hold on one side, on the other there was nothing, just smooth, wide rounded stone. I did however find the tiniest of grooves which reminded me of my rock climbing days. For those that have climbed it felt like just enough of an indentation in the rock to get just that bit more purchase. I chalked this section up and made an attempt. It slipped from my grip. Then remembering our conversation the night before I got a little more mentally psyched and concentrated on the right hand where the slippiest part of the stone was and pulled hard on that side first. To everyone's delight the stone came up nice and high! This was by far my most pleasing lift. Of course, the rules are to just lift the stone from the ground anyway. There's no extra points or accolades for lifting it like this. Just a personal challenge but I was really happy to have lifted it the hardest way.
Nick lifting the Criccieth Stone
After our lifts we chatted to everyone and signed the Criccieth Stone book to log our achievements. David and I are the first Englishmen to have lifted this great stone.
I feel that this stone is a challenge to even the biggest and strongest of men. No tacky being allowed will stop many of the world's finest stone lifters and to actually stand with this will take more back strength than any of us possessed. I wish you all the best if you attempt this historic feat.
Thank you to Trever Ray for officiating the lift and for setting up the event for us.
Ysbyty Ifan Stone
David had strained his back lifting the Criccieth stone and I was already carrying an injury from over zealous training the week before. We were both glad of the days rest in between the Criccieth and our next challenge, the Ysbyty Ifan Stone.
This was going to perhaps even more of an adventure to just find the stone! We drove out into the midst of North Wales and then David made a phone call which got us to a set of farm cottages. Asking for more directions we went deeper into the valleys and eventually arrived at another farm where we were greeted by Gwyn and his workers and cups of tea and cake! Reuben had stopped in to attempt the stone too so the trio of lifters was reunited.
The stone had laid on Gwyn's land for centuries and he told us that the villages around the land would come each year to test themselves on this stone of strength. All 9 of us clambered into Gwyn's pickup truck and we set off further into the highlands. We must have gone through 4 or 5 gates before Gwyn went completely off road and we eventually saw the stone resting where it had been most of it's existence.
At around 300lbs/140kg it's not a massive stone but it is quite awkward to lift. It had an inscription which none of us could make out except the number 1869 as I recall.
It was again dry for us but cold and windy on the hills. Since David and Reuben had gone first before I stepped up and began to size up the stone. All would be stone lifters should think about this before attemtping to lift a large stone. Flip the stone over, put your hands on it, get a feel of where the weight lies in the stone before actually trying to lift it. Like the Criccieth Stone all three of us lifted this stone differently.
Eventually I settled on the best way for me to lift it. I dropped down deep and cupped the stone in my elbows like a deep zercher position or how a strongman would hold a Conan's Wheel. A quick heave and the stone came up and then I repositioned the stone by bending my knees and 'popping' the stone up higher onto my chest. This was I found out a mistake. It felt comfortable and i felt I could walk with it and possibly shoulder it. I placed the stone back to the floor and immediately felt pain in both my arms. I'd strained them severely with the pop to get the stone higher. I obviously wasn't warm enough and I'd injured myself and made a wise decision to finish there. I'd lifted it but that would be all for me today.
David stepped up and in a similar fashion lifted the stone comfortably. David was not finished though.
In between Reuben again with his familiar cupping method lfited the stone and on one occasion made a fine attempt at shouldering the stone. That man has some endurance as he held the stone in his arms for ages!
Reuben nonchalantly lifting the Ysbyty Ifan Stone
David decided he was going to walk with the stone. This is something we had discussed and I felt 20 metres or 60ft was possible. David picked a nice bush to aim for. He comfortably hoisted the stone up and then set off. He easily reached the bush and made it half way back, collapsing in a heap, spent but elated with such a fine effort. He had walked a huge 62ft with this 300lbs stone. At 49 years of age David proves again and again that age is no barrier to achieving success in strength feats such as this.
Gwyn quite rightly wanted the stone put back into it's orginal resting place. With my arms in bits and Reuben out of energy it was left to David and Tom to flip the stone back. Tom did attempt the stone but he will have to wait for another day as the stone didn't quite budge this time.
We thank Gwyn for allowing us to lift this most impressive piece of Welsh history.
I had a great time in North Wales. I found the Welsh to be really friendly and genuinely pleased to see us attempt and successfully lift their Stones of Strength.
I want to thank David, Elizabeth, Lucy, Sally, Judy and Sheila for their hospitality and for inviting me on their family holiday.
As with everything in life, experiencing such things with great friends can remind you that the best things in life are free.