South east Cornwall legend holds that before the beginning of large scale mining in the area, the local landscape was littered with tors and outcrops, large and small, a world of climbing potential lost even before the sport was born. Armed with this new offering from The St Ives Printing & Publishing Company it's clear that despite the industrial carnage (and on occasion because of it) more than enough climbing remains in south east Cornwall, with arguably a far greater diversity of styles and venues than in any other corner of the county. For those familiar with the neighbouring delights of Devon the areas are perhaps comparable in terms of range of experience where traditional and sport climbing, deep water soloing and bouldering can all be found across the sea-cliffs, outcrops, moorland tors and woods of the area. It's just that, until now you couldn't find the bloody stuff!
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More info about Cheesewring And South East Cornwall: A Climbers' Guide
Sean Hawken's 1st edition (1998) of Cheesewring and South East Cornwall set the scene, but to some extent was a victim of its time. The following years' booming interest in bouldering and deep water soloing and the continuing development of Cheesewring and neighbouring quarries as sport climbing venues has - through no fault of its own - left the 1st edition looking a bit dated and not to mention unavailable.Happily now Barnaby Carver and Sean Hawken have under the editorship of Toni Carver, pulled off a huge effort to fill that void with this the second edition of the guide. The result is as you would expect from two authors so well acquainted with Cornish climbing, an authoritative guidebook brimming with full colour photos and photo-topos throughout its 288 pages, clear descriptions, an extensive historical chapter and a few surprises. Despite a thriving local scene, south east Cornwall is often overlooked by the broader climbing public. This is due in part to lack of knowledge of existing routes and often simply because of the difficulty in finding one's way around – as unlike other areas of the county the venues are not always obvious. Several members of a voluntary woodland group remarked that they had absolutely no idea that climbing (a full six venues' worth) existed in the woods that they help to manage. If this was the situation amongst locals, then what chance did visitors have? This is where Cheesewring & South East Cornwall: A Climbers' Guide comes into its own. Gone is the necessity to trawl through a number of different web-pages to find new climbs or to cross reference hastily drawn diagrams with OS maps just to find the crag. Previously hard-to-find venues such as Carmears Rocks and Devil's Jump have had their approaches completely reviewed which together with the inclusion of detailed maps for every approach should eliminate the problem entirely.
So what is there to climb once you've actually found the venues?All the routes long established prior to the previous guide are included, from three star classics to no-star looseness, along with over 100 new routes and problems throughout the area. From easy to E6, F5+ to F7c, V0 toV9, XS and A3, it's all here. Trad shuffling sits side-by-side on the page with pushy new sports climbs and sea cliffs seem to have washed up overnight like so many beached whales. This is of course due in part to the steady attrition of climber versus rock in the area over the past 14 years but also thanks to the inclusion of previously unpublished details of historical routes in the area, most notably at places like Rame Head and Downderry. Lovers of the north coast adventure will not be disappointed here by the look of it. The guide's coverage of perennial bouldering favourite Helman Tor has had a full revamp and now features every worthwhile problem and variation with a grade range to keep most folk occupied for many an evening session. Aerial topos have been used to good effect with a great degree of accuracy and are particularly suitable for the complex nature of the ground here. Given its enduring popularity, it's only fitting then that the coverage in the second edition is as extensive as it is. Gone are the English tech only grades and the hedge-your-bets + symbol, in favour of V-gradings. Helman Tor has matured into a venue comparable with any of Dartmoor's best. Nearby Bodmin Moor's Trewortha and Kilmar Tors amongst others have had their bouldering and many of their ego-bruising routes documented for the very first time. Some of the lines here are stunning, and equal to the quality found at more established venues hereabouts. Whilst Bodmin Moor is not nearly as extensive as Dartmoor there is clearly a lot on offer and more potential surely remains? Staff at a local gear shop recently commented that their most asked for climbing guide was the nonexistent Cornwall Bouldering Guide. Whilst Cheesewring and South East Cornwall in no way claims to be this guide, it does go some way to fulfil that remit for this corner of the county, which for an essentially route based guidebook is some achievement. The area can now be considered as a worthwhile bouldering destination in its own right, from the multiple starred, reasonably graded, but pumpy classics of Downderry to the finger shredding V7s 8s and 9s of Helman Tor. Likewise, requests for Cornish deep water soloing venues are often met with mutterings about being in the wrong county, with such a long coast anyone familiar with the area would have found this surprising and with good reason it seems. Fill your sea boots at Nare Head and Pencarrow Head, with plentiful S0s at both venues it needn't be stressful, although it may feel it on the abseil in. For many the inclusion of Cheesewring Quarry will be the major motivation for buying this guide. At one time, a successful visit to this fantastic venue was largely reliant on local knowledge, with visiting climbers left pondering where lines of bolts led and what were the difficulties encountered en route. This premier venue has now been fully accounted for, with no less than 139 routes documented; trad, bouldering and the big draw for many, Cornish sport climbing! So what of the cons? Well, not much really. The guide's dimensions may be a little too large for some as at 135 x 190 mm, it doesn't fit easily in your pocket. Then again similar formats haven't done other publishers any harm and with the largely single pitch nature of the climbing, more often than not this shouldn't be a problem. Some of the inclusions are probably something of an acquired taste. You'd have to be a real enthusiast, (or desperate tourist!) to travel to visit Chapel Cliff for example. However, since this is a definitive guidebook, its omission would have been even stranger and the historical context that this chapter provides more than makes up for the lack of worthwhile climbing here. Some of the more comical quirks of the original guide have been scaled back, although the useful NP, PP, AP, WP acronyms remain for the protection on routes at Cheesewring quarry, likewise look out for the amusing Plymouth 5c scale in the bouldering grade table – covering a multitude of sins it seems. In all this is a well researched and presented modern guidebook, whether at home flicking through the glossy full page photos in your armchair or navigating your way around the autumn mists of Roughtor. The breadth and detail of the coverage is all the more laudable with an authorship and editorial team of just three dedicated locals – a true labour of love. So next time you're A30 westbound, arm yourself with this guide and on occasion a machete and take some time to experience some of the best routes in the county in some of its most stunning locations, the best weather in the south guaranteed and not a queue in sight - yet.
About Tom Last
Tom Last is probably the most excuse prone climber in Cornwall. An exiled Londoner, he is most often found covered in leeches, wandering the woods and moorland alone so that he doesn't actually have to climb anything. He is responsible for a number of insignificant climbs in the area, plus a couple of good'uns.