It is 14 years since Rockfax first indulged its chief architect and driving force by allowing him to document a part of his favourite climbing area. And since the founder of Rockfax had disappeared across the Atlantic at that time, the negotiations were strictly one to one. Alan – “I really want to do a Pembroke Rockfax”. Alan – "Okay then – you go for it. That will really rock the establishment boat" Very prophetic, Alan...
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My how times have changed!
...as an illustration of just how far Rockfax's have evolved in the last 14 years, this book demonstrates it better than any other.
Nowadays Rockfax has grown from a 1-man cottage industry to – well, largely a 1-man cottage industry, albeit one which now commissions authors to work on specific books. These authors undertake much of the fieldwork, shooting and annotating photo-topos, checking routes, writing descriptions and other text, in some cases producing draft page layouts. But in the end the whole shebang is delivered to a (different) cottage in Sheffield, where Mr James weaves his magic, turning their research into one of the best looking guidebooks you'll ever see.
What is unusual about this new Pembroke book is that Alan James, along with co-author and ace photographer Mike Robertson, has retained his previous editorial involvement, reluctant to hand over the reins to an area with which he obviously still feels a great affinity.
The 2009 Pembroke has more than double the pages of its predecessor, and as an illustration of just how far Rockfax's have evolved in the last 14 years, this book demonstrates it better than any other.
...you really are in for a visual treat, as around 30 of Pembroke's premiere crags are catalogued in sumptuous detail.
The 1995 Pembroke 'Fax was black and white, with Alan's simple but very effective hand-drawn topos providing the majority of the crag diagrams. I well remember doing a route on Trevellan at that time, as Alan, notebook in hand, hopped from boulder to boulder, sketching furiously as the tide encroached, threatening to swamp his artwork.
This time it is photo-topos virtually all the way, and what a superb set they are. I think that coastal landscapes shot in decent light offer exceptional opportunities for the photographer, but that doesn't mean they always get it right. But to his credit Mikey R has taken to the waves and produced a cracking set of cragshots, mostly from boat.
Complementing the cragshots is a raft of excellent action photos, with the signature double page spread opening each new chapter. It is a shame that Rockfax hasn't celebrated ditching its series of confused, designer, climber-windowed-within-a-background-of-appropriate-rock style front covers, with a truly breathtaking image.
The one they have picked, of Sea Mist on Saddle Head, is singularly dull, and there are far better suitors inside. I suspect the Saddle Head shot was aimed at attracting the lower-grade climber, and hence boosting sales, but such an attractive book really deserved a bolder approach.
..one of the best looking guidebooks you'll ever see.
But get past the cover, and you really are in for a visual treat, as around 30 of Pembroke's premiere crags are catalogued in sumptuous detail. One of Rockfax's early strengths was their ability to get you to the crag, with minimal fuss. This sounds so obvious, particularly in the context of a guidebook, that some may wonder at its mention. Well, rest assured, some other guidebooks, including ones to this very area, have struggled at this most fundamental pre-requisite. And I'm pleased to report that the Fax boys haven't forgotten its importance.
Choice of routes is generally reasonable, though in the harder grades there is a dilemma on sea cliffs like Pembroke. Sadly they suffered from the over-enthusiastic installation of a plethora totally inappropriate in situ protection by a small number of pioneers back in the 80's. They may have been lauded for their contribution back in the day, but the brutal truth is that many of these climbs are now basically redundant, their crucial protection now little more than corroded, faded litter.
I did wonder why the wonderful West Face of Huntsman's Leap describes several such ex-adventures, whilst ignoring Crispin Waddy's ground up mega-routes, which never did have situ protection and can be enjoyed as much now as they were by their slightly mad first ascensionist.
To conclude, I suppose that one key measure of a guidebook's success is if it inspires the reader to visit an area. I've not been to Pembroke for many years, but this book inspired me to return. And if it hadn't been for the weather, that's exactly what I would have done!
What Rockfax Say
The famous Pembroke Rockfax has returned with this glorious full-colour version packed with classic routes and all the wonderful features that you have come to expect from Rockfax. It is now twice the size of the old 1995 book and has some of the biggest and clearest photo-topos that have ever been published in a UK guidebook. You can see a preview of the guide in the Mother Carey's chapter which is available for free download.
The book covers the beautiful slab climbing around St. David's and all the best crags of Range East and the Lydstep areas, as far as Mother Carey's Kitchen. The range and variety of routes is enough to keep any climber happy; from those leading moderate grades keen to have a look for the first time, all the way to those who have developed a lifelong obsession for the place!
Format - In total the book covers over 35 different crags using large full page photo-topos. There are over 60 excellent action shots and loads of crag layout maps, tables, graded lists, route symbols and all the other features you have come to expect from ROCKFAX guidebooks.
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