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It was with much interest that I stooped to pick up the latest offering from Rockfax as it thudded onto my doormat last week. Even before opening the packet I could tell it was obviously a chunky tome and I was keen to delve further into the contents.
It has been a long while since the BMC Limestone guides to the Peak were published and much has changed in the intervening years, so much in fact that the nature of climbing limestone has itself gone through a metamorphosis. Back in the day - early 1980s - the emphasis was on developing the natural outcrops in spite of their obvious limitations. The bolt revolution was beginning and a tidal wave of new routes were being put up as bolts became a more acceptable way of dealing with ever-harder grades and a lack of natural protection.
Fast forward to 2012 and the scene couldn't be more different. The search for new rock has taken place mostly in the disused quarries dotted across the Peak landscape and the cutting-edge crags from 30 years ago have either matured into premier sport climbing venues, or regressed to esoteric backwaters! Nothing could exemplify this better than Cheedale which consists of 17 sectors in this new book, some ever-popular but sadly many neglected and unfashionable and the lack of traffic has allowed nature to reclaim the territory. Limestone venues, much more than gritstone outcrops, came in then back out of vogue and climbers tended to move with the mainstream. The party moved on and the maturation, or stagnation, of a particular crag was dependent as much on how it was developed as its inherent quality.
Gary Gibson however is one constant in this period of change and his prolific nose for new routing on any climbable rock has led him almost singlehandedly to be responsible for many of the more recent developments.
To quote from the Peak Limestone Stoney Guide 1987 where Horseshoe Quarry had 69 routes.
"There seems to be little left but the crag will remain an interesting spot to climb for those who are esoterically minded and to be able to climb on warm dry rock in winter is something not to be sneezed at!"
There are 274 routes in this latest Rockfax! Harpur Hill had 18 routes then and probably more than any Peak quarry with 322 routes, it shows the evolution from then to the modern day that many of these places are now mainstream. We ALL have to give Gary a big thank you for his fanaticism!
So how does one manage to put all of this into one book when three volumes were needed by the BMC back in the 1980s? The last guide to the area in 2004 - itself a Rockfax - included Yorkshire and the Lakes and is not as big as this latest offering. The Rockfax formula, which had its genesis with Yorkshire limestone in 1990, has evolved as well. DTP, collation and dissemination of route information, digital cameras and an innovative approach has enabled more to be less whilst at the same time adding icing to the cake in terms of presentation and style. At times this approach has not always chimed with activists in other areas producing their own guide thus creating potential conflict, which is where I have had issues with Rockfax in the past. Peak Limestone is however a much needed publication and it fills a void that has been left by the BMC for many years!
First impressions are very favourable. A lovely cover shot of something much too hard for most of us (Julian Heath on the Spider, 8a, on Plum Buttress) inspires and the frontispiece of Debauchery speaks for itself. Flicking through one is presented with the usual array of quality climbing shots and clear colour topos that we have come to expect from this stable. Layout is excellent as usual and moving north to south makes good sense. The balance between sport venues and traditional climbing reflects the crags on offer and, although I was sad to see that Intake Quarry and Halldale were missing, ongoing legal issues with the owners Tarmac make it understandable. There are some unsung gems to be sought out there. Some banned or disputed areas are included with the obvious disclaimer such as Staden Quarry (it will be a real shame if this isn't resolved) and Harpur Hill but those in the know only have to look at sportsclimbs.co.uk to access any missing information. The inclusion of Masson Lees and Colehill are welcome additions but the usual safety warnings apply. Be vigilant!
The coverage of traditional routes that 25 years ago had you queuing for them, will hopefully create renewed interest with the new generation. These classic trad crags are well documented in this new guide. I live in spitting distance from Dovedale now and I'm almost ashamed to admit that I rarely climb there although, in my defence, I did do a lot in the past! One hardly ever sees a climber there these days which is a pity - go there. Go to High Tor, to Beeston, Stoney and the classics in Cheedale - you will be delighted at what you find and there are excellent routes to suit all grades and tastes.
OK a few gripes. I do wish that the Destination Planner on page 38 could be in a more prominent position near the front/back cover or thereabouts? Even after thoroughly pawing the guide I'm still having problems locating it and it really is an essential tool! I always like the graded tick lists and Top 50 which are fun but come on guys put a few more in at the easy end of the sport routes. Two 6a's and three 6a+'s is a little mean and it's only when you get to the 7's and 8's that they multiply.
All this is nitpicking though because essentially this is an excellent and much-needed guide which, not only does the job, but also inspires one to get out and climb limestone. It has been well researched, well put together and it abounds with inspiring photographs. At £24.95 for almost full coverage of Peak limestone it's less than a third the cost of a pair of shoes. Now come to think of it where are my rock shoes?
Peak Limestone from Rockfax
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