In just under a week’s time, and twenty one years on from Nick White’s quirky/seminal (depending on your point of view) South Devon and Dartmoor guide, Devon’s granite will have a new tome covering (almost) all the climbing on the tors, quarried walls and boulders of The Moor – note the capitals, this is not a typo!
Since the onset of having children (a potentially debilitating affliction), I have focused my climbing more-or-less exclusively on bouldering, sports climbing and deep water soloing…my trad shoes have been stashed in the back corner of the attic, well out of temptation’s reach. To be honest, temptation hasn’t really reared its head for me as there has been so much development in South Devon of the three forms of climbing I have chosen to concentrate on that trad is but a dim, distant and usually terrifying memory.
As a result, much of James Clapham’s new guide will pass me by, the trad sections being solely of historical and nostalgic interest as far as I am concerned. In fact, I rarely head to the top of the moor to boulder either as I much prefer the process of exploration and discovery than the act of pulling hard on the latest link up or eliminate (not that I am able to pull all that hard either…which is another disincentive!). No, my heart and dreams lie within the woods on Dartmoor’s eastern fringe, where the landscape softens, the bluebells are rife in springtime and the biting north easterly winds of winter that presage prime conditions are blowing 200ft above your head rather than straight through your base layer. Occasionally I think how nice it must be to have a day’s climbing which does not involve coming home covered in mud and moss, hands punctured by bramble thorns, clothes needing to reacquaint themselves with the insides of the washing machine. But, when I pause to reflect, I know that if this were to be the case, it would mean the days of questing and development would be over and I would, in fact, be miserable!
I have had some involvement in the production of both James’ book and Pete Saunder’s forthcoming Devon limestone (and other rock types) guide and the work the authors have had to put in is phenomenal. Both are hugely committed, deeply altruistic, supreme enthusiasts for Devon climbing in general and the climbing in their guidebook area in particular. I am in awe of their drive and perseverance, not just in the writing of the books but also in the accompanying legwork that goes into sorting out crags, approaches, parking and the rest of it. If these are going to be the last guidebooks for Devon as we transfer everything onto our devices, who is going to be there to sort things out in 20 years time?
Nick White’s guide was hugely inspirational for many but a peek in the back of the book for the uninitiated may offer something of a surprise. Was that really all the bouldering recorded in the shire in 1995? Thirty or so problems at Bonehill, a smattering at Coombeshead and a few footnotes for other venues suggesting there might be ‘possibilities’ for further exploration. How times have changed! I am taking a guess, but I would estimate the number of boulder problems recorded on Dartmoor now to number around 2500 with roughly 1500 on the top of the moor and the rest tucked away in the woods. And there are many more to come…if you know where to look!
The last two bouldering seasons (for me that’s more-or-less February to May) were the first where I had left Bovey Woods behind and ventured to some of the other wooded areas on the eastern side of the moor. Although incomparable in terms of size and scope, all of the ten or so new venues I either discovered or were shown are significant on the Devon scale and they all offer a gem or ten for those willing to look a bit further than the tried and tested….bring a sturdy brush, enthusiasm, an open mind and a bit of patience and you will be richly rewarded. Here are four new venues, one of which is in the new guide!!
This is the oldest venue listed here as it was first developed at the same time as the initial wave of development at Bovey Woods. Having been left to gather moss for a decade, it was given an overhaul last spring and many of the existing classics, as well as a slew of new gems, were climbed. Good rock, a lovely sunny aspect (especially in the afternoon) and a short walk in should ensure popularity, especially as it is going in the new guide!
Many great problems exist, here are the best: Fred Basset (V4), Puff Doggy (V2), Hang On Snoopy (V5), Peppermint Pasty (V3), Mufasa (V5), Mufasa Left Hand (V8), The Minion (V7), Midges Are From Mordor (V4) and Man Hug (V7).
This potentially extensive venue gets a brief mention in James Clapham’s new guide but there has been much recent development. A short (and flat!) walk in leads directly to the impressive boulders at the foot of the Central section. The rock here can be a bit chunky but there are some great problems including a brand new Kearney offering at V8. Contouring the hillside north for ten minutes (if you’re lucky) leads to the hidden Bramble Boulders which currently hold seven problems on the finest of fine grained granite.
The best problems here are: No Wray Jose (V3), The Troglodyte (V6), All The Wray Jose (V8), Motor Away (V6), Striped White Jets (V4) and Rattled By The Rush (V6).
Becka Brook Boulders
I’m not sure whether these boulders are going to make it into the new guide…they would be a pain to describe as they are so spread out. Situated on the banks of Becka Brook near Trendlebeare the boulders on either side of the stream can be reached directly using separate approaches (one from Trendlebeare Down, the other from Water (near Manaton)), although the river is easy enough to cross. This is a spectacularly beautiful spot, especially down by the stream and would be perfect to combine with a family picnic…providing your kids can mange the walk out!
Here is the pick of the problems: Sweet Caroline (V5), Boris Sit! (V7), Truth Serum (V5), Gutter Press (V6), Zanussi (V4), The Odd Couple (V2).
East Wrey Barton
A small venue which, again, is relatively spread out. There are a couple of high quality problems here but be prepared to walk between boulders.
The best here are: Wrey Awrete (V7), Chompy Pie (V6), It’s A Shame About Wrey (V4), Wrey Cool (V6) and Dartmoor Splitter (V3).
Although the new guide will, no doubt, invigorate the climbing scene in the area as well as encouraging a few more visitors to come and sample the delights that Devonian granite has to offer, hopefully it will also inspire some to look beyond its pages, to (literally) grasp the nettle and become a real woodland boulderer replete with scrubbing brush, secateurs and an overactive imagination…as, to my mind, it’s in the woods that the real treasures reside.