“Certainly there are many qualities that contribute to a climbs reputation: history, singleness of line or, conversely, subtle complexity, good rock, good position, interesting technique, length, consistent difficulty, inescapability, commitment- all are qualities that one looks for, and each of the climbs in this book can lay claim to one or more of these merits”.
To be fair to Ian Parnell, he’s done a hell of a job.
The front cover of Mary Jenner on Central Buttress, Scafell in atmospheric conditions is very apt, with the 1st ascent in 1914 by Herford and co being a testament to both youthful boldness and a precursor to the ‘abseil inspections’ that would become common for cutting edge routes many decades later. It is the earliest of the Hard Rock routes with most of the others done from 1930/40s onwards. The climb itself also has an element of tragedy with Herford dying only a few years after the first ascent in WW1, aged 24 and on the climb itself when the critical chockstone fell out whilst climbers were on it in 1994, killing one of them.
On a less serious note the front cover is also funny because Marys partner Dave Birkett will be gutted its not him on the cover, as he once mentioned to the climber on the front of the most recent Scafell guide, George Ullrich how he wanted it to be him. The back cover is another great shot with Heart of Darkness at Mowing Ward, highlighting the coming of age of sea cliffs in the UK with Pembroke being a contender for the best of its type in the world.
However, Ian has made some logical changes with some routes having fallen down and with routes such as Main Overhang at Kilnsey (now Mandela) and Scoop having free versions and which would now belong in the Extreme Rock genre. There are 13 new routes with pieces written about them. Some of the new ones are quite inspired.
Prophecy of Drowning, on Pabbay is thought by Scottish guidebook writer, Gary Latter to have the best rock in Scotland on it. It is fitting that the piece about this climb is by Ellie Fuller, one of the 4 creators of the notorious and brilliant Women’s Trad Festival. The final paragraph of Ellies account sums up much of what can be great about climbing some of the routes in the book, and given from the perspective of someone who is a member of the next generation of climbers:
“This is why you are here. Prophecy of Drowning is far more than the sum of its parts. In fact, the climbing is at times the least memorable aspect. It is about finishing up this imposing feature, with the sun on your back, the sea beneath your feet and seals playing in the waves far below. It is the satisfaction and glow of time shared with another, navigating a challenge in a remote and wildly beautiful location with no one but a handful of other climbers for miles and miles. It is time stretching on as you lose yourself in marbled gneiss walls jutting out over the waves, between the blue of the Hebridean sea and the sky”.
There are 2 more Scottish mainland additions. One is on the much acclaimed but tricky to get to, Beinn Eighe, with the route Angel Face given a great write up by the sadly recently deceased Martin Moran. The other is Vulcan wall on the Isle of Skye by another one of the most prolific Scottish pioneers, Kev Howett. Anyone who has been to Beinn Eighe or clung onto the Gabbro of skye in its amazing landscape will give these the thumbs up.
A key addition and an area where I’ve often recommended it to people as the best sea cliff climbing areas in the world is Pembroke. Ian did well to get the input of Emma Alsford and Paul Donnithorne who wrote the excellent definitive guidebooks for Pembroke. Although I slagged off traverses at the start of this review I will be putting the Heart of Darkness and Plane Sailing on the ticklist and finishing a route at Stackpole or Mowing Ward with the evening sun on your back is hard to beat. Rock Idol and Zeppelin give 2 of the best wild sea cliff pump fests to be found in the UK too, with other great routes like Wraith and Airship nearby.
The new ones in the South, Mars and Soul Sacrifice at Swanage I don’t know too much about but as Dave Pickford has spent a good deal of his life doing classic routes all over the world you can bet these are high quality and his ability with the written word is 2nd only to Shakespeare. I’ll probably wait until one of the cave parties is back on and try to do them before that.
Ians managed to give an old school book a new school makeover that makes you want to grab a friend or 2 and go and try some of them. The new pieces and pictures help highlight some of the best climbs to be found in the UK, combining the rich histories of prior generations with the new adventures to be found on sea cliffs like Pabbay and Pembroke. Hopefully the new book will help inspire people from the next generation to sample the marvellous delights of UK climbing. Its certainly made me keen for another trip to Pabbay, Pembroke, Swanage and Scotland, if any friends are keen for a trip once we are able drop me a line.
Top effort from Ian Parnell, Vertebrate, the contributors and of course to Ken Wilson.