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"...Often we don't know what we want until we get it, Steve Jobs understood that, and so does Niall Grimes..."
Mick Ryan takes a look at Boulder Britain by Niall Grimes, a new guidebook to bouldering in the UK.
Hands up if you have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the climbing areas in the UK?
If you've been climbing for a while you should have a broad and deep overview of the crags and routes in the UK born from your experience, word of mouth recommendations from fellow climbers, features in climbing magazines, on UKC and other climbing blogs and sites. But if you've just started climbing, you'll be mostly in the dark about your climbing options in the UK and just like a London taxi driver it will take a while to gain 'the knowledge'.
I call this image 'Evolution'. Sarah Daniels on Roof Left-Hand 6C, Kyloe Crag
UKC Gear, Feb 2012
© Niall Grimes/Boulder Britain
One source of information for making the most of your climbing weekends and holidays is the UKC Crag database, the most complete listing of UK crags available, but that can be a bit like perusing a telephone directory. It's useful to find information about individual crags and their routes, often illustrated with action and crag shots. But it doesn't give you an easily browsed overview; it is best used in conjunction with our route logbook system. You could buy all the climbing guidebooks in Britain - I wonder how much that would cost?
What we really want is a lavishly illustrated selective guidebook directory of the best climbing options in the UK, or a series of them. Something you can sit back on your settee with and get inspiration and ideas where to climb. A bit like a modern version of Walter Parry Haskett Smith's Climbing The British Isles published in 1894. Probably split into volumes covering winter climbing, trad climbing, sport climbing, and bouldering. Your appetite then whetted, the crag of the day chosen, you could buy the relevant guidebook to an area. Then climb!
I say 'what we really want'; often we don't know what we want until we get it, Steve Jobs understood that, and so does Niall Grimes who has just authored and published, Boulder Britain.
If you enjoy bouldering and like to travel beyond your home area you now have Boulder Britain, a compendium of 180 of the best bouldering areas in the UK in one heavyweight volume. But this goes beyond an illustrated listing of areas, for each area described there is specific boulder problem information, enough to keep you busy for a day or two. So not only good for for toilet reading, but something to keep in your car or stuffed into your bouldering mat. In all 3,200 boulder problems are described.
One of the dangers of a mammoth undertaking like this is writing and research fatigue. With several stops and starts, it took Niall seven years to visit the areas in this book and write it all up - at the same time he was overseeing the BMC's guidebook publication schedule - so intimate and correct information should be be guaranteed, and he did co-opt many local experts to help. A mind-boggling amount of effort, but it is very entertainingly written as well. Just opening at random, page 182: Harmer's Wood a small quarried sandstone wall around the back of its bigger sister Helsby in Merseyside.
"If Pex Hill was a boyfriend, being brought home to mother for the first time, then the prospective in-laws would certainly have their reservations. Rough and tough, with a whiff of glue. But if daughter brought Harmer's Wood home then mother would break an approving sigh of relief. Tea would be served in china cups".
A little whimsical perhaps, but entertaining. However such fun without good solid information on each area would not a useful guidebook make and we get all the relevant facts.
"And yes it is true; it is mainly women who go bouldering in the UK, as the photos in Boulder Britain prove."
For each bouldering area we are provided with the essential information that includes: a description of the nature of the climbing, directions and a map, when to go and conditions, and suggestions for further reading all presented in words, maps and symbols and pleasingly laid out and logically organised in a minimum of a double-page spread for each crag, more for bigger venues. Bouldering problem information is described as photo-topos, sometimes plan maps with an accompanying problem listing, Font grades are used throughout, with sometimes a problem description.
Now inspiration. Niall has assembled a fantastic collection of bouldering photographs to illustrate his opus taken by some of the UK's best climbing photographers; we are treated with images from Reiff in the northern Scotland to Pednvounder, a nudist beach 'at the very bell-end of Cornwall'. And yes it is true; it is mainly women who go bouldering in the UK, as the photos in Boulder Britain prove. There are other features, some for the OCD boulderer to obsess over like a graded list and a section on bouldering wads.
For your local or favourite bouldering areas you will more than likely have a bouldering guidebook or phone app but Boulder Britian is essential if you like to travel to climb small rocks whether you wear a beanie or not. It is a beautiful well-crafted showcase to the high quality bouldering we have in the UK and within its pages is the information and inspiration for many great days out. How lucky we are.
About Boulder Britain
For a look inside and to order a copy visit www.boulderbritain.com.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Michael Ryan: