The Climbers' Club Guide to West Cornwall reviewed by dave henderson
The first thing you'll notice is the gorgeous front cover shot of A Swift Flight of Fancy. Capturing Sennen's quintessential golden granite glowing beneath an unbelievably blue sky this alone will do a lot to sell both the guide and area. Disguised by this glorious light and seductive rock some will notice something symbolic of the ugly side of Cornwall, the innocent looking Red Rose face, epicentre of one of the country's longest standing and impassioned climbing controversies. This ugly side of Cornish Climbing manages to be almost kept at bay throughout the book, although the cynical may detect that the Edwards' saga (parts I, II, III and IV, the unwritten sequel) is still very close to peoples' hearts. Another thing you'll notice is that the guidebook area is now West Cornwall and not just West Penwith. Most importantly this means that The Lizard is included, a welcome alternative given it's often more climber-friendly climate (not to mention a break in the monotony of climbing on immaculate granite!).
As with other Climbers Club guides, we have the convenience of two removable volumes within one sheath, one for the North Coast and one for the South. A team of 10 authors, edited by Nigel Coe, have been enlisted for job. In this case it would seem that there weren't too many cooks and the result was swifter production than many solo efforts. I imagine that we are also benefiting from a diluting of the strong opinions that seem to surround the West Penwith area!
Although most of the older route grades are now settled we do see some changes. This, in my opinion, has not always lead to improved accuracy. To pick a few instances, Grande Plage has gone back down to E2 6a from E3 6a; Mean Streets has dropped to E4 6a from E4 6b; High Street Blues has gone up to E5 6a from E4 6a. Now this is obviously nit picking and entirely based on my own opinion, but "if it ain't broke don't fix it!" What's wrong with having an "easy" 6b or a "tricky" E4 - now we have an "easy" E5, a "tricky" 6a and a "bloody desperate sandbag of an E2!". One upgrade that will be universally welcomed is that of Terriers Tooth, Chair Ladder's classic V.Diff which has gone up to HS - about time too given it's very poorly protected 4b first pitch! It is interesting to note that some older Mark Edwards' older routes have seen upgrades from the last CC guide, sometimes restoring them to their initial grade, and sometimes with value added! More controversially, many of the recent hard routes have seen some radical grade changing between first ascent grade and guidebook. For instance, Prayer to a Raven, claimed at E9, drops to E7 and Virtual Insanity E6/7 6c is devalued to E5 6b - maybe more about this should be included for trainspotters like me?
None of the bits I've waffled about will have any consequence for the Joe/Jo climber, so now lets have a look from a different light. The sea cliffs of West Cornwall provide some of the finest traditional climbing in the country and a look at this guide gets that across. We have a large number of inspiring photos from the likes of David Simmonite, Nick Hancock not to mention a host of other skilled camera users. I particularly liked seeing a drenched Ken Palmer after having a trip to the "green room", usually the preserve of surfers! Another visually enhancing facet are the superb drawings from Pete O Sullivan, an artist in his own right (he was on the telly recently!), not to mention Don Sargeant's usual high standard of topo diagrams and maps. The guide contains more crag diagrams than the last one, a fact that will appeal to many. It would seem that competition with topo reliant guides is having a good effect - as they say a good topo or crag diagram speaks a zillion words! We also have a wealth of information to entice us away from the usual crags of Bosigran, Sennen and Chair Ladder.
Unlike some guides the star ratings have actually been used in accordance with their definitions in the introduction; a 1 star route is very good route, 2 stars is extremely good and 3 stars is exceptional. Also of note are the first ascentionists star ratings, which have been marked by hollow stars to show that they are unconfirmed. I've spent hours on the toilet "studying" the historical section, which is a good informative read. Some would consider the wordage afforded to The Edwards's controversy a bit over the top but it is a significant part of history and seems to have been recorded in an impartial light. Maybe a few lines could have been cut from here and used to tell us more about the history of Question Mark, one of the hardest modern style routes in the South West? Instead we are merely told of the top roping bolts and that it was repeated by Ken Palmer (but as you already know I'm a trainspotter…)
One of the most important inclusions in the guide is that of "Environmental Issues" notes. These are found at the start to each crag and are a welcome addition given the state many Cornish Crags are now getting in (e.g. Carn Barra, approaches gullies at Chair Ladder). Hopefully these will be read and climbers will make the effort to minimise their impact - just leaving your big walking boots at home and stepping on rock rather than grass/soil will help. As the controversy surrounding the Edwards'dies down I think it likely that we will soon be entering an altogether more serious era, that of environmental damage and what can be done about it.
"Become a better climber overnight" The following routes have been upgraded:
Terriers Tooth V.Diff to Hard Severe Footless Madness E5 to E6 Carmen E5 to E6 High Street Blues E4 to E5
"Thought you were climbing well that day!" Here's the downgrades:
Mean Streats E4 6a from E4 6b Question Mark E8 from E9 Prayer to the Raven E7 from E9 Virtual Insanity E5 from E6/7 Grande Plage E2 from E3
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