The Climbers' Club have been extremely prolific this year with a host of titles to a wide range of climbing destinations. What has been apparent to all at UKC is the high standard of research and design that has gone in to these books. Guidebooks take a huge amount of time and resources to put together and wrapping them all up in to a usable, slick product is a real dark art. Have the Climbers' Club succeeded in that mammoth task with the new Portland book? South West activist and prolific climber Dave Henderson finds out:
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The long awaited Climbers' Club (CC) Portland guide is a colourful, modern book rammed full of photo topos and action shots. It contains all of the bolted, traditional and deep water solo routes that the Portland and Lulworth areas have to offer, along with comprehensive bouldering information, an interesting introduction and historical section. It will undoubtedly sell well.
As well as adopting full colour and topos the CC have opted for a 'landscape' format for the book. On first impressions this seems like a good thing, providing lots of space for big topos. In practice I'm not convinced about how durable the book will be. It's a bit flaccid and lacking in spine - I've already managed to put a crease down my cover just checking the guide for this review. This is partly due to a snazzy folded cover (no doubt a cunning plan to provide a book mark - top tip: cut it off and use it as a real book mark!) but I think maybe a failing of such a wide book.
The photos provide a good idea of what climbing in the area is like. Some are really good and some are only average .. but there are lots of them. The photo topos are clear although I've had a report of one line being slightly wrong (on the first crag visited during a 'road test') - I guess a potential problem with having large topos and thin lines is that the margin for error is slim. A smaller topo could in many ways be beneficial particularly when the majority of the routes are well delineated by the bolt lines and have full descriptions in the text. Smaller topos could have made for a more compact, lighter and possibly harder-wearing book. Small is, after all, beautiful and saves paper!
Compared to the old CC Portland Guide this is an incredible book and a big step in the right direction for the CC. Compared to the Rockfax guide the 'which is best' comparison is tricky. I personally prefer the the look and size of the Rockfax, but taking a less subjective viewpoint, the Rockfax Dorset guide covers arguably the best of Portland, Lulworth, Swanage and Devon sport climbing for the same price - providing much better value and an ample selection for the average climber. The CC guide is comprehensive to the areas it does cover which will no doubt be of appeal to the locals and those who want to sample the esoteric delights of Portland traditional climbing (i.e. the chossy-looking corners between the quality sport routes!).
So to summarise, the new CC guide is good. In my opinion it's main failing is not the actual guide but the choice of content and this is something the CC may need to think about in an increasingly competitive market. I personally think a more selective choice of routes and smaller guide could be preferable, putting the esoteric routes on the internet as downloadable supplements.
Climbers' Club Portland Guide double page spread
© Climbers' Club, Sep 2008
• Portland by Steve Taylor (2008)
• 416 pages of text, 250 topos, 16 maps and 130 action pictures
• ISBN 978-0-901601-77-3
FREE SAMPLE: The Cuttings
Dave Henderson lives in the South West and runs the local climbing information website www.javu.co.uk