Exploring the coast of Wales has taken me on many amazing adventures and will continue to do so for many years to come. It has become my home and I find it amazing how even the coast close to home can still throw up a surprise on a regular basis. Gower has been doing this for some years providing a fantastic playground for locals and holidaymakers to enjoy all manner of adventurous activities.
Climbing on Gower has been long established with climbers from South Wales and the South West enjoying weekend visits to the sunny south coast of the Gower peninsular with its various Trad and sport climbing venues. Its popularity has remained moderate, but a recent surge in activity with new lines at existing crags followed by new crags being developed has led to rise in popularity. With this rise, more and more climbers are experiencing the quality and diversity of Gower.
Rhossili beach is one of Gower's great attractions, and is found as the road ends on Gower's westerly tip. From here many tourists take on the fantastic walk along the iconic worms head. The National Trust carpark has been the starting point of so many days for me over the years with numerous crags and surf breaks within a short walk along the clifftop pathway. But it is the area of development that is found on the beach level crags that has attracted many climbers to give Gower a go.
Shipwreck Cove is home to around 90 routes at the time of writing, with a few projects still to go this could soon reach the 100 mark, and has quickly become one of South Wales' finest sport crags. This area of coastline has been looked at for years by climbers but until recently only Pat Littlejohn had attempted any climbing though this steep limestone cove, giving a very unpopular E5. Fast forward to recent times and myself, Rob Lamey and Adrian Berry were given the go ahead by the land owners to develop this venue as a sport climbing area. Since the first abseil in, the venue has not looked back with many 3 star pitches added across a massive grade range. The easiest lines being around F3 up the lofty grade of F8c.
The crag is made up of 2 large coves, the first being Shipwreck Cove which is home to the wreck of Venerne from which Rob's 3 star 7c+ takes it name. This cove now houses the majority of hard routes in the region with many routes of 8a or above stretching through its 20+ metres of overhanging limestone. But this is only part of the story as after this first wave of development a crowd funding initiative led to the purchase of more bolts and with the help of Roy Thomas and Dai Emmanuel, the 2nd bay - now known as Castaway Cove - plus Mermaid Wall were developed offering over 50 routes between F3 and F6c. This has transformed the venue into something quite special with climbers of all aspirations enjoying the experience of climbing directly off one of the UK's most iconic beaches in what during the summer feels more like mainland Europe than a Welsh peninsular.
From 6a to 8c - a selection of the best routes at the cove:
6a Lemon Soul - I once read how a classic route often goes where you don't believe it can for its grade, and this is certainly true of Lemon Soul. Standing at its base it looks featureless. But once you begin the holds keep coming and a great route is discovered.
6b Crimp Paddle - Mermaid Wall comes into its own from F6b and below with great rock and good varied climbing. A little tricky this one especially traversing above the roof!
6c+ Fats Waller - One of the first routes you reach walking across the beach is this attractive groove line. If it is any way damp then you should probably avoid it as it increases in difficulty bucketloads! But if it's dry it is worth all of its 3 stars. Black Wall seems to hold moisture in the morning from condensation and is a much nicer experience in the evening when it gets the sun.
7a+ King George vs the Suffragettes - Short, steep and sweet. On the steep wall of Achilles is a juggy outing that is very popular. A clip stick helps with this one as putting the clips in adds a grade. A hint is to think laterally through the final section.
7b+ One Ton Depot - Named after the debris below the route after cleaning it, it resembled Scott's description of the epic depot of food and rations on their ill fated quest. This route is a bit of a bugger, again brilliant climbing up much steeper than it looks rock, leads you into the false hope of an easy on sight. But be warned the sequence from the jug at two thirds height has had all but the strong flying back down to earth.
7c+ Venerne - In my opinion this is the best route on Gower! Rob Lamey's addition is simply stunning with immaculate rock and climbing. Passing through a roof at half height is the crux, but it is droppable all the way to the top!
8a+ Air Show - The original big hitter of the cove is Adrian Berry's offering. Start swinging around on jugs for 10 metres then get your crimp on for an additional 15 metres that will test your power endurance.
8b Achilles' wrath - This one is so much fun, compression style bouldering on a rope with 15 meters of heel hooks, knee bars, toe scums and just about any other jiggery pokery you can think of. Amazingly almost all the holds are big but it is probably 60 degrees overhanging!
8c Helvetia - This was the first route that I bolted at the cove but after an epic and prolonged battle on another project I never gave it a go. Luckily in strode Ben West who established the region's hardest route straight up the centre of the crag! The route is long and sustained offering little let up in its full length, but what would you expect for an 8c. Named after the shipwreck on the approach that is on almost every postcard of Gower.
What you need to know...
- Park at the National Trust carpark found at Rhossili, this is pay a display which is £3.50 for the day. From here follow the path next to the pub signposted beach, do not walk out towards Worms Head as many have done, it will not get you to the cove! Once down the steps walk 5mins out along the beach heading to the large cliffs on the left, the Southern end of the beach. You will quickly reach Black Wall and then Shipwreck Cove, a further 5 mins will see you under Mermaid Wall providing the tide is out far enough.
- The basics are the same as any sport crag, where a 60 metre rope will see you lowering safely off any route and 15 quickdraws will be plenty for a day's onsighting. As you will be climbing off the beach the local knowledge is bring a large Tarpaulin that you place underneath your chosen area to keep all your kit off the sand until someone's dog runs across it! The Crag is in the shade all morning and belaying can be chilly, although a short walk of 20 yards will have you in the sun and warming up for your next burn.
- The sand has lowered slightly since the bolts went in and as such a clip stick is useful for the first bolts but not essential. Other kit worth putting in the bag include suncream, plenty of water as walking back up the steps sucks, plus a belay jacket even in summer.
- The crag is tidal! So access is limited to 3 hours either side of low water, giving you 6 hours of climbing. This seems plenty as your arms will be screaming with lactic acid by this point. Mermaid Wall is more tidal as it is further out to sea and as such you only get 2 hours either side of low water (4 hours of climbing incase you were struggling). In fact Mermaid Wall is slightly more complicated in that it is not always accessible due to the fluctuation in tide heights. If the low water height is more than 2 metres then the tide will not drop enough to access Mermaid Wall, but all other sectors will be unaffected.
- Many climbers staying for the weekend will leave their quickdraws in their project overnight, but take the bottom two out as the tide covers the 1st one and if there is any swell it will undoubtedly get the second.
- From a safety point there have been some holds pulled off and you may want to consider wearing a helmet or simply do not stand under anyone climbing as there have been a few close calls.
- Once you are finished, the most important part of your trip includes taking all your rubbish home or certainly to the nearest bin found in the carpark. Don't be afraid to pick any up on the way out even if it is not your own. Personally I take a rubbish bag each trip as with popularity unfortunately comes litter, this is not necessarily from climbers but we can do our bit!
The Rockfax App will feature an updated guide to the sport climbing on the Gower and is due for release in August 2015.
There are many non tidal crags within ten minutes walk from the same car park with Trial Wall Area being the most popular. Again routes of all grades in an amazing setting, there is even a fun little DWS spot at Giants Cave if you have got the tides wrong!
Away from climbing the area is well known for its surf and Rhossili is a friendly place to have a dip, cheap lessons and board hire are available at Llangenith which is at the Northern end of the beach. There are many great places to eat with the King Arthur being the most popular and only a short drive back towards Swansea. Obviously if the weather is good evening BBQ's are a must, but if you are using a disposable one consider how you are going to get it to a suitable bin before taking it out into the wild.