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The woods above Bovey Tracey are full of boulders - Tom Rainbow tells us about their development.

Bovey Woods Bouldering by Tom Rainbow

It isn’t everyday that you go for a walk with the dog and stumble across a wood full of untouched boulders. But that’s what happened to me in the Autumn of 2001. Now, six years and roughly 350 problems later, the true extent of the discovery is beginning to reveal itself – there will probably be well over 500 boulder problems when development has been completed. To put this figure in perspective, Bonehill Rocks has just over 100 and although the granite in the Bovey Woods is at present a bit less kind on the hands(!) and a tad grubbier than its more well known neighbour, some enthusiastic traffic has already helped on both counts.

Dave Henderson on Devon Sent

Back at the turn of the new Millennium, the feeling was that bouldering on Dartmoor was more or less worked out. Dave Henderson had done an extremely thorough and impressive job of cleansing The Shire of the majority of its classic hard problems. Bonehill, Saddle Tor and Hound Tor had given up their best lines and new classics such as Easdon Arete and Cream Time at Lustleigh were isolated discoveries. However, the ‘discovery’ (the rocks had been climbed on before but not extensively developed) of Tunhill Rocks, smack bang in the heart of the most scrutinised part of the Moor got my mind working. If a quality venue such as this, with 40 or so good problems could be found, there must be others lurking around. Possibly some bigger ones…

Tom Rainbow on William Shaptor

I started scouring the Landranger maps for likely sites. I figured that I would probably have more luck with the wooded fringes of the Moor rather than the more frequented top and so it was that one fine October day I stumbled over The Long Wall sector of Shaptor Rock. Now, I would have been more than happy to have only found this one wall. It currently houses about 20 problems, including Slotted Wall (V7), a contender for the best problem of its grade in Devon and William Shaptor (V8+) (photo), a notch harder, very different and almost as good. I also found The South Face and a couple of other bits and pieces. I couldn’t believe that such an obvious, easy to locate tor could have been missed by the local climbing community until now. However, the organic look of most of the rock confirmed that these boulders had not yet experienced the touch of chalked hands and sticky feet. I went home one excited climber. Little did I know what else was hidden in those deep, verdant woods.

Tom Rainbow on Balu

I was keen to get stuck into the bouldering and immediately concentrated my efforts on the uppermost piece of rock at Shaptor Rock (christened the ‘Top Pancake’), mainly due to the fact that it was obvious and relatively clean. The rock was sharp but the problems turned out to be pretty good nonetheless and whetted the appetite for more. A week off at the end of October should have given me plenty of time to really get stuck in, but a frustratingly inclement spell of weather put paid to any climbing ambitions I had had. That week turned out to be the most amazing voyage of discovery I have had since starting climbing. Each soggy walk revealed more and more incredible boulders of countless variety. I was like a headless chicken running from one to the next, convinced on each new discovery I had turned a circle and was looking at previously found potential. By the end of the week, Rock Copse, Stonelands and some of the huge Lower Shaptor region had been located, but there was still a massive amount more yet to find. It was mind-blowing stuff.

Ante Holmila on Bovey Boys

Throughout this time I had furtively kept my little secret to myself but as I began to realise the extent of the venue I knew I would need some help. I invited some old friends from Taunton to have the guided tour and before long Simon Mooney was a permanent fixture. A true pioneer with a thirst for virgin rock and a bewildering array of gadgetry with which to produce a polished sheen from the grubbiest of granite within half an hour, Simon went on to produce some of the best problems in the woods. Shimmer (V3), Swansong (V5), The Serpent (V4), Understanding (V3) and Muse (V3) are all Mooney classics. Another member of the Taunton Collective is Jon Wilson, whose sporadic visits have usually yielded a plum or two. Jon climbed Wasa Dyno (V5) on an early visit to Long Wall and has cherry picked the occasional classic since then; The Pig Nest (V4) and Nether Edge (V7 – this could be THE best problem on Dartmoor) being two of his finest contributions. Dave Henderson began suspecting something was going on in his patch (mainly because Jon told him). A diverting trip to one of my lesser venues put him off the scent and a precious few extra months were bought before The Henderson Machine began hoovering up the harder classics. In the end Dave ‘discovered’ the venue through another source and the gold rush began.

Ante Holmila on Horny Ridge

Dave has contributed so many great problems to Dartmoor but his finest problems in the woods must rank as amongst his very best anywhere – Slotted Wall (V7), William Shaptor (V8+), Green Dot Traverse (V8) (photo), Devon Sent (V9/10) (photo) and Boron Arete (V7) are all tremendous problems; varied, interesting and with strong natural lines. It was heartbreaking to find that Boron Arete and its absolutely classic neighbour, Cubic Boron (V3) had become defunct due to some overenthusiastic fence erection directly below them. Dave also contributed some high quality easier problems from this period – The BBB (V4), Dog’s Dick Arete (V4) and Highball Wall (V3) are all fantastic.

Cad Mullin on The Walnut

There followed a period of consolidation as development slowed but the building of the Uberwoody climbing wall near Exeter provided an important focus for the local climbing scene and through this a new wave of climbers were introduced to the delights of the woods and were soon hooked. Their enthusiasm coincided with the fine Winter of 2005/06 and a slew of great new problems were unearthed (sometimes literally) as boulders and sectors were viewed through fresh eyes. Highlight of that Winter was probably John McShae’s ascent of Balu (V4) (photo) at the impressively massive Jungle Room, although Ante Holmila’s Ante’s Arete (V6) and my own Bubbles From Amsterdam (V5) come close. The season culminated with drama amongst the bluebells when the leaning arête at the back of Shaptor Rock saw some determined and concerted attention. Jason Maddick was climbing extremely well and having viewed attempts from afar, slunk in for a beta assisted near-ascent. This ended post-crux when he pulled a large hold off and missed his pad, causing a shattering of his heel amongst other injuries. Calcaneum Crisis (V7) become a reminder of the incident when Jason returned the following season to vanquish his nemesis.

Rich Smith on Green Dot Traverse

Winter 2006/7 was less productive but the quality of the problems climbed were possibly even higher. As well as Jason Maddick’s success on the aforementioned Calcaneum Crisis, Jon Wilson succeeded where all else (including Ken Palmer, Cad Mullin, Jules Vulliamy, Jason Maddick and Jon McShae) failed and picked the plum of Nether Edge. This awesome arête involves 15 feet of super sustained, technical climbing with a tantalizingly (read frustratingly) high crux. Luckily, the landing is perfect and the rock relatively kind. It is situated about six feet to the left of the start of Devon Sent and these two problems will probably have to fight it out for the accolade ‘best in Dartmoor’. One year on, Jon is still smiling! I went on to add the excellent direct start to The BBB and John McShae held it together for the first ascent of the similarly highball The Beast of Bearacleave (V5). Having pronounced it quite easy for the grade, he then proceeded to almost not hold it together during the second ascent. I also found the roof of The Boy With Perpetual Nervousness (V5), a problem that had previously been dismissed but turned out to be a brilliant addition with the woods second biggest example of horizontality. A curious inverted blob in the underside of the roof held the key to progress, although a huge reach may allow would be suitors to reach straight through.

Cad Mullin on Dog's Dick

And that brings things more or less up-to-date. This Autumn saw my eventual success on the mega pump that is the Spiderland traverse (V7) having first tried it six years ago and the final (or is it?) chapter in the development of Long Wall with my ascents of Mr Solo (V4) (photo) and Yahoo-ru (V5/6).

Tom Rainbow on Mr. Solo

The 10 Commandments of Bouldering in Bovey Woods:

1. Don’t try any problems situated above an active ants’ nest. Wait for Winter.
2. Don’t go expecting a long session…unless you have Kevlar skin.
3. Avoid in the Summer at all costs, unless you like wading through waist deep nettles.
4. Go when there’s a freezing Northerly or Easterly and then smugly compare experiences with someone who has tried to climb at Bonehill.
5. Never think you have discovered all the boulders. There’s always another beauty lurking round the corner.
6. If someone likens it to Font it’s because there are trees. That’s where the similarity ends.
7. If you’re not scared by a deer’s bark at dusk, you’re not human.
8. Moss is lovely, but you can have too much of a good thing.
9. If you get lost, you’ll never be found.
10. Enjoy it – it’s an amazing place.

( 10.1 - take a selection of brushes and cleaning equipment!! )
( 10.2 - park considerately )

Top Ten (in no particular order)

Name Area Grade Description FA
Breadcrumb Trail
Stonelands V3 A perfect problem following a series of metolius like blobs, it yields to a carefully considered, technical approach. Tom Rainbow
William Shaptor Shaptor Rock V8+ Still holding out for a second ascent, this deceptively difficult problem holds its killer punch for the final two inches! Dave Henderson
Slotted Wall Shaptor Rock V7 The classic boulder problem. A 30 degree leaning wall with sloping slots and a technical trick for the weak. Dave Henderson
Green Dot Traverse   Stonelands V8 When viewed from afar, this beauty could almost be from Font. Up close it’s a little less kind on the ankles (unless climbed carefully/footless) but provides a brilliant, sustained set of moves. Dave Henderson
Devon Sent   Bearacleave V9/10 The first ascentionist claimed this to be his best ever first ascent. Whether it is or not, it is a line that takes the breath away on one of The Wood’s best boulders. Dave Henderson
Nether Edge Bearacleave V7 Devon Sent’s companion piece. Totally different in execution, Nether Edge succumbs to a slappy, intricate sequence... and possibly a little luck. Jon Wilson
Balu Lower Shaptor V4 Tucked in behind a mammoth laurel tree, Balu is another gorgeous arête (with the World’s best useless runner placement at 8ft). It may be worth training up your spotting team for this one John McShae
Calcaneum Crisis Shaptor Rock V7 The third arête on the list, this is a meatier beast requiring harder pulling and a possibly dynamic approach, Jason Maddick
Shimmer . Lower Shaptor V3 A slab. Many have swaggered up to its verdant face only to be repelled by its tenuous, balancy nature. One of the harder V3s in the woods Simon Mooney

Boy with Perpetual Nervousness

Rock Copse V5 In the list as much for the variety it provides as for the quality of the climbing. One of Dartmoor’s rare roofs, only the thus far unclimbed ‘Big Roof’ (also in Rock Copse) will surpass this in terms of quality. Tom Rainbow

Next Ten (in no particular order)

Name Area Grade Description FA
Spiderland
Shaptor Rock V7 40ft long traverse, overhanging throughout its length and, unsurprisingly, pretty draining. A great training route/problem. Dries quickly after rain. Tom Rainbow
The BBBD up Bearacleave V6 Dave Henderson’s original start produced a beautifully balanced classic highball V4. The direct sit start start added a couple of grades, a series of funky moves and a little more lactic acid for the already scary enough top out. Tom Rainbow
Terror Twilight  Stonelands V5 A thin, off-vertical traverse. Sustained, technical and very good. Named in honour of the deer and their frankly blood-curdling bark. Tom Rainbow 
Swansong Bearacleave V5 One of Simon’s best and last problems before he hung up his boots. A gem in an area stuffed with high quality problems. The link with Bovey Straight is yet to be done Simon Mooney
Dog's Dick Arete Rock Copse V4 Mr Henderson’s imagination gets the better of him. Don’t go expecting anything too literal but do go expecting fantastic moves on a great feature. Dave Henderson
Bubbles From Amsterdam Bearacleave V5 Dismissed as too hard, a trip to Font opened my eyes to the possibilities of solving the unlikeliest problems. In the end this went at a reasonable grade Tom Rainbow
The Beast of Bearacleave  Bearacleave V5 A relatively recent addition, this problem is as much about keeping it together mentally as it is about the difficulty of the moves...although they’re no give away. John McShae
The Pig Nest Lower Shaptor V4 A wet walk with Messrs Wilson and Maddick, my boots back in the car only to find this fantastic little problem dry and ripe for plucking. Jon Wilson
Little Arithmetics Bearacleave V4 Hard to pick a best from the steep side of the TV Set boulder, this, Ante’s Arete or Dave Henderson’s unnamed problem to the right are all excellent. But Little Arithmetics is the only one with a trick! Tom Rainbow /John McShae

Back of Beyond

Lower Shaptor V4 Vaguely reminiscent of Bonehill’s Rippled Wall, but being in the Back of Beyond ensures no queues and a slightly more organic feel. Jason Maddick



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