Off The Beaten Track – A Decade Of Bouldering In Bovey Woods

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Mark MacManus on Jilted Tart (V4) – Northcombe Copse

Around 12 years ago now, the woods above Bovey Tracey began to be developed for bouldering. On Friday the 550th boulder problem in the woods was climbed. I often ask myself whether I would still have the same enthusiasm for climbing if I hadn’t discovered the woods – I count myself extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to find, explore, scrub and climb in such a special place; it’s something most climbers these days can only dream about as the unexplored corners of our craggy little isle become ever smaller and more remote. The fact that I can still be climbing first ascents on virgin boulders less than five minutes walk from the car gives me great pleasure and I know how lucky I am.

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Murray Dale on Heroes (V5) – Shaptor Rock

Yesterday I took Dan, Lee and Annette on the guided tour. They are all relatively new to the bouldering in Bovey Woods and got in touch for an orientation walk – a perfect activity for a typically damp April day. I was dismayed as we walked to some of the parts of the venue that I haven’t frequented in the last couple of seasons to see just how efficiently mother nature has reclaimed her own. This last Winter has been particularly depressing – mild and wet beyond our worst imaginings, the moss is about the only lifeform that has been flourishing in the recent months. It has been so frustrating; dry rock has been hard to find and those crisp, biting East winds that lead to perfect climbing conditions in the South facing bowl that houses the bouldering just haven’t materialised. So a lack of traffic has compounded matters and now many prime boulders are looking like they have never been climbed on at all.

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Jon Wilson on the easy start of The Modern Dance (V8) – Bearacleave

However, I have made it my mission to sort out the Rock Copse and Bearacleave sectors this Winter and these are both now looking really good. The brilliant Waller Slab is now in pristine nick, better than ever I would say. It took a couple of hours of hard work to clean the entire boulder – not long when you consider that it holds about 12 problems, some of which (Mornington Crescent, Black Swansong, Bovey Boys, La Fin de la Fin) are amongst the very best in the shire. So we need a few more enthusiastic devotees in there…and their brushes!

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Paul Hadley on the masterpiece that is Devon Sent (V10) – Bearacleave

One thing that has surprised me since I started climbing in the woods is just how reluctant the majority of climbers are to put in a bit of effort and have an explore. The woods can be a bewildering place to navigate but there is plenty of information available (try googling ‘Bovey Woods bouldering’) and those who have taken the time to download the topo seem to work it out before too long (although in this day and age I recognise the maps that are available could be improved). My reluctance to put the woods in a printed guidebook stems from my concern about the possible initial inundation that this would lead to and the probable accompanying problems with parking and litter rather than through any selfish motives – I love seeing other climbers enjoying the woods and would prefer to have more people using them…just not too many! So come on down whilst there are still a few weeks left of the current season (the woods become hopeless once the leaves come onto the big trees) – there are currently about 50 three star boulder problems in the woods and many others that contend with the best on offer on Dartmoor granite. What’s more, at the moment the place is heady with the scent of bluebells – there’s no better venue for a quick couple of hours after work or a half day at the weekend. Oh, and bring your brush!

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Dave Westlake on the magnificent The Jungle Book (V8+) – Lower Shaptor

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Land’s End to John o’Groats – 2011. How was it for me?

God! The Summer has been a long one, six weeks of holiday feels like a lifetime. They say time flies when you’re having fun, so either I haven’t been having fun, or ‘they’ don’t know what they’re talking about….because it’s been a blast.

I thought, unlike Rob (my cycling buddy… hell… I’d even be prepared to drop the ‘cycling’) I’d give the ride time to percolate before writing up my thoughts. Now that the bum is more or less untainted, the muscles reverting back to normal size and the tiredness due to lack of sleep as opposed to turning peddles endlessly, the ride has assumed a warm glow in my distant memory and that, for me, is a better place to write my thoughts from than the raw mess of my immediate post match ruminations.

Obviously people have been interested to hear about the trip. I have found it really difficult to talk about it. Not in an ‘oh my God, it’s too emotive’ kind of way. I just find it hard to encapsulate such a huge undertaking in a snatched conversation over the garden fence or the like. I have been asked on many occasions (almost as many occasions as we heard ‘you should have done it the other way round…it’s downhill that way’) whether it was as expected. That again is difficult to answer. As a repressed optimist I often find myself picturing a forthcoming experience in the best possible light. Before setting off my mind was filled with sunny days, cycling carelessly through idyllic British countryside on quiet roads with great people. And that’s exactly what happened – the weather was fantastic, only half an hour of proper rain in the 12 days and the route exceeded expectations, every stage an unfolding beauty (with the exceptions of Avonmouth and Irlam). I am happy to report that the country is in very rude health indeed and I can not praise the route highly enough…whoever put it together must be a genius!

But naturally this is only part of the story. Physically we coped well (although Rob pretended to find it hard at times I know it was all an act aimed to elicit sympathy from the groupies), but there were times when I had my worries. In fact, if I hadn’t been told at the end of the second day that underpants were a no-no when cycling, my bottom would have disintegrated long before the borders (certainly Scottish, possibly Welsh) had been reached. Mentally the ride was much more draining for both of us.  I cycled a 100 mile ride in the Autumn with Rob and on that occasion I trailed in his wake.

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