With the imminent publishing of the Climbers' Club guide to South Devon, author Pete Saunders runs through some of the area's attractions for visiting climbers.
Of all South Devon's varied climbing Torbay limestone is best known to visiting climbers. When the bird ban ends on August 1st Deep Water Soloing attracts a crowd in party mood from as far afield as Sheffield. Others come for monstrous multipitch trad routes such as Moonraker and Dreadnought. In the cooler months visitors (or grockles as we call them down here) enjoy top notch sport climbing at Anstey's Cove.
Additionally, Chudleigh is a great limestone trad crag close to the main routes into Cornwall and can make for a welcome stopover. The rest of the climbing South of Dartmoor is somewhat esoteric, suiting those with niche interests. If hanging off an ice axe on a crumbling sea stack whilst placing a Snarg is your idea of fun then East Devon is for you. Alternatively, exploring the beautiful bouldering beaches and quirky trad of South Hams might be incorporated into a family holiday.
Deep Water Soloing
Berry Head at Brixham is arguably the best DWS venue in the UK and is blessed with sheltered conditions in the summer months — just avoid easterlies. The best stuff is available from August 1st when the bird ban protecting nesting guillemots comes to an end. However it is possible to get cracking in Berry Head Quarry and London Bridge (Torquay) as soon as the water is warm enough for you .
Grading is the familiar French system used at your local climbing wall but with the addition of an S grade to denote seriousness. Note that humidity above 80% will make everything considerably harder.
Safe at most tides. Shouldn't have a high crux.
Care required. Check the water depth and fall out zone. May require a high tide. The crux may be high.
More care required. A high spring tide may be necessary. You may need to be proficient in shallow water landing. You may need to jump out to clear a reef. The crux may be high.
Fairly dangerous. Only a great deal of skill, control and perfect tidal conditions will enable you to safely splashdown. May involve long falls or shorter full length body splashdowns into the deepest water available. In fact, you'd probably be better off soloing above ground — at least you won't drown if you survive the fall.
Most will play on the superb sideways excursions which are less terrifying for those who haven't had a tomb-stoning apprenticeship or high dive instruction. Scattered around Torbay these come at every grade and some of the best are listed below:
The Long Traverse (Anstey's Cove) S1 F3 - this gentle excursion links the Cove with Long Quarry Point and passes beneath the spectacular Sanctuary Wall trad crag.
The Plimsoll Line S1 F5 - from Meadfoot Quarry is even easier at low tide.
Barnacle Traverse S1 F5+ - Berry Head, sunny and relatively friendly.
Magical Mystery Tour S1 F6a+ - a little daunting for its shady demeanour and the odd passage above rocks. It was originally finished with a swim but the exit via the Blue Grotto through-cave should be on the agenda when conditions allow.
Oz Wall Traverse S0 F6b+
Rainbow Bridge - a shortened diluted taster goes at S0 F6a+ whilst the full thing rates F7a+ - perhaps generous but it is hard to work a crux over 100 metres into the route. The DNF's in the UKC logbooks bear witness to this. DWS perfection.
The Wizard of Oz S1 F7b - links the best traverses with 800 metres of climbing on perfect rock. It is a contender for the finest route in the UK.
For those brave enough to venture upwards here is a selection of the very best:
Forrest Gump F6b for its exhilarating horizontal roof top-out.
Puppy Onsight F6b climbs a perfect smooth wall at a botty-clenching height.
Whoomze got der keys to me Beema F6b+ is a juggy romp on heel hooks close to the water.
Rainbow Scoop F6c - the cover shot of the new Climbers' Club South Devon Guide.
White Rhino Tea F6c/+ is very steep, short and justly popular.
Verdon Dreaming F7b - creamy pockety loveliness.
Soft Cell F7c+ - a beautiful journey through a cave ceiling to an outrageous dyno on the wall above.
Cutlass and Christine F8a are both immortalised on YouTube.
Developed in the 60s and 70s by bold pioneers such as Peter Biven, Frank Cannings and Pat Littlejohn the Berry Head routes rival Gogarth for scale and commitment. The Hard Rock classic Moonraker (HVS) should be on everyone's list and includes all the essential ingredients for epic status; a solo down-climb into a cave, a sweaty overhanging traverse of its walls to a hanging belay above the water, then 60m of vertical climbing — throw in some rain, fulmar vomit and a benightment for the full experience.
Dreadnought (E3) ups the ante by traversing the lip of the huge cave making escape problematic. Prusiks should be on your kit list. The Yardarm (E3), The Hood (E3) and The Quaker (E3) also come highly recommended. Mick Fowler's gob-smacking line through the huge roofs attracts talented teams each year but has a high failure rate indicating that Caveman is no pushover at E6.
Across the bay Torquay also has its claim to epic trad at Sanctuary Wall. The steepness of the crag is mind-boggling making escape a logistical nightmare. The rewards for venturing into such territory are well worth it on classics such as Sacrosanct (HVS), Incubus (E1), Call to Arms (E4) and Free the Spirit (E6). Recent additions Castaway (E5) and Southern Comfort (E6) steal from existing routes to take in much of the best climbing on the wall.
Those looking for a less terrifying South Devon Trad experience might walk to the sunny side of Berry Head for a nice collection of non-tidal routes from VD to E2 at Red Walls. There is a similar grade spread in the better coastal quarries such as Telegraph Hole and Meadfoot at Torquay. Daddyhole's soaring corners and arêtes offer a handful of outstanding climbs including Gates of Eden (VS), Last Exit to Torquay (HVS), Zuma (E4) and Suicide Blonde (E6). Possibly the best crag for repeat trad visits is Chudleigh. On first acquaintance many will comment on the polished nature of the compact limestone but once it has taught you a lesson in footwork you will find well protected routes at all grades. Recommendations include Wogs (S), Never on Sunday (HS), Sarcophagus (VS), Inkermans Groove (VS), The Spider (tough E1), Combined Ops (E2), Farewell to Arms (E3) and Black Death (E4).
South Devon has many charming venues on weird rock. Schist offers easy climbing on misshapen tors and pinnacles near Salcombe and at Bolt Tail and Gammon Head there are some desperate recent additions at E5 and E7.
The slate crags outcropping on the steep valley sides of the River Tamar near Tavistock can also provide a memorable day out. For those looking for a more mountaineering approach then East Devon offers crumbling red sandstone sea stacks and massive mud cliffs.
South Devon Sport
Anstey's Cove is the jewel in the crown with high quality climbing from F6b+ upwards. The bolting still retains a 1980s quirkiness in places so a stick clip might be a good idea. Cream of the crop include
Omelette Wall (F6b+), Might and Main (F6c), Cocytus Direct(F6c+), American Express (F7a+) Empire of the Sun (F7b), The Cider Soak (F8a), Postman Pat (F8a+), Tuppence (F8b) and Brian (F8c+).
Torbryan is a brilliant little venue stuffed with quality routes up its flowstone sheet. It is a shame it is not bigger. The best of the bunch are Boogie on Down (F6c), Mayday (F6c+), Barney Rubble (F7a), Thread Flintstone (F7a+) and Threadbare (F7c+).
There are a growing number of sport climbs and a few crag X's in the Shire courtesy of local activist Tom Rainbow. Churston Quarries now has 30 odd routes in the 6's and 7's.
Chudleigh and Anstey's Cove have a long history of bouldering dating from the days before climbing walls. The new guidebook documents over 300 boulder problems including several new areas developed on beaches which give a skin friendly alternative to Dartmoor. In the beautiful South Hams, Beesands and Torcross are highly recommended and Torbay venues such as Hopes Nose Beach are also well worth a visit. Some of the best at the grade :
f4+ Western Traverse Chudleigh
f5+ Slappy Arete Shoalstone Beach
f6a Gully Wall with Top Out, Chudleigh, Salmon Leg Beesands
f6b Mishap NP Sharkham Point, Generate the Generosity Extended Shoalstone Beach
f6c Basking Shark Pigs Nose Beach, Beesands Exit Torcross
f7a Shark Week Hopes Nose, Reasult Shoalstone Beach
f7b The Lighthouse Beesands,
f7b+ Gravitron Anstey's Cove
f7c One Winter in Paradise Torcross
f7c+ When the Days are Dead Anstey's Cove
f8a+ Prepossanne Ash Hole
When to Go
South Devon lends itself to climbing all year round and depending on the conditions there is usually something to get stuck in to. Torbay is blessed with a particularly dry and sunny climate and sea temperatures are good for DWS from June to late October. A key date for your diary is August 1st when the bird ban affecting the finest DWS and trad at Berry Head comes to an end.
How to Get There
South Devon is reached easily from the main route into the region; the M5 and A38.
Accommodation Advertise here
No Premier Listings found in this area
Sadly Fawlty Towers is not available but Torbay is awash with B&B options. Camp sites in the immediate vicinity of Torbay may not be keen on parties of males.
Sadly number plate recognition cameras at Berry Head mean staying overnight in a van will incur a hefty fine.
Food and Supplies
As resort towns, Torquay and Brixham will offer every dining experience from chips to good restaurants and gastro pubs. It is at this point that every Devon guide has to mention the legendary Devonshire cream tea. I'll leave you to research the etiquette of whether jam goes on top of cream and how to pronounce scone (don't ask a Cornishman).
Outdoor Shops Advertise here
No Premier Listings found in this area
Taunton Leisure in Exeter is the best local gear shop where you can get anything you've forgotten. There are Go Outdoors stores in Plymouth and Exeter and some of the local climbing walls stock gear and shoes.
What if it rains?
Indoor walls include The Quay at Exeter, Dartrock at Buckfastleigh, The Climbing Hangar in Plymouth, and The Barn near Tavistock.
ABOUT THE GUIDE: The topos and maps from this article are taken from the new definitive Climber's Club guide to South Devon. This eagerly anticipated guide is packed with 1800 routes and boulder problems with full photo-topos. These are partnered with stunning action shots showcasing this unique and fantastic area at its finest.
South Devon by Pete Saunders (2018)
Edited by Ian Smith
Design and maps by Don Sargeant
Photo diagrams by Pete Saunders
A massive 506 pages of text and photodiagrams
Read the UKC Press Release here.