My Pembroke - A Local's Perspective

Stefan Morris offers a personal perspective on growing up in - and growing out of - Pembroke.


I wrote this after meeting UKC's Rob Greenwood on Stennis Head. Offhand, he remarked ‘I didn’t realise there was an actual scene down here.' This isn’t a rundown of the scene, or even a coherent narrative, more of a – ‘My Pembroke.’

‘Yeah but it’s shit in the winter…and there are no jobs.’

Top roping on Stennis 2008  © Stefan Morris
Top roping on Stennis 2008
© Stefan Morris

I’ve found myself saying this a lot this summer. Living in Pembrokeshire, a 15 minute drive from what Steve Mcclure recently referred to as ‘Hands down the best climbing in Britain’, I keep feeling like I have to tell visitors…it’s not always like this.

Pembroke is all about one thing, the balance of disciplines resting squarely with trad. There are zero sport routes in the county and the bouldering is limited to one or two small outcrops with a few problems apiece.

I started climbing here with the local club ten years ago, joined two years later by my older brother, Edmund, who then outstripped me by a large margin. Through introducing him to climbing, I overcame the first hurdle of the Pembroke scene: partners. I have been very lucky in that 1, Edmund is better than me (29 E5s and E6s this season – someone please sponsor him his clothes are falling apart) and 2, seconding his leads is great training because the nearest wall is miles away and in a leisure centre sports hall.

Edmund on White Heat E5 6a  © Stefan Morris
Edmund on White Heat E5 6a
© Stefan Morris

In a way, having such a small scene is great and due to tides, weather and the lovely Pembroke ‘greasiness’ we often end up at the same crags. I say ‘crags’, it’s usually St. Govan's.

Edmund seconding ‘Pan’ at No Mans Zawn  © Stefan Morris
Edmund seconding ‘Pan’ at No Mans Zawn
© Stefan Morris

However, this year we’ve sought out some superb, less travelled crags and routes. ??? is a narrow slot just down the coast from Manorbier. A micro Huntsman's Leap giving 40m pitches up beautiful limestone with a kicker at the end of each route as the wall tilts to just over vertical for the last few metres. Go there, you’ll love it.

photo
Man of the moment Tom Livingstone on Class of ’86
© Stefan Morris

Another route worthy of some gushing is Arettica, a soaring E5 arete right next door to the Green Bridge of Wales. Threads and good gear are plentiful and the exposure is something else. Pembroke’s biggest single pitch? Certainly one of the most ‘out there’. WOW!

Edmund on the stunning ‘Arettica’ E5 6a  © Stefan Morris
Edmund on the stunning ‘Arettica’ E5 6a
© Stefan Morris

With the summer being quite kind this year, we’ve fallen into a solid climbing pattern. Most of our climbing is done between work shifts or after work. We did a full day over a bank holiday once, it nearly killed us. How do people climb in the sun!?

Each day one of us has a route in mind and the other is belayer. The next day, we swap.

photo
Perfect Pitch – 5 mins walk from the Zawn
© Stefan Morris

It’s my lead, I climb too fast, gibber and sweat profusely with Timothy Dalton's line from Hot Fuzz ‘My, he is tenacious isn’t he’ echoing inside, forcing me to stay on.

Tenacity is the key.

It's Edmund’s lead, he skips around, carefully shaking out, placing rock hard RPs. ‘Watch us here Stefan’ followed by a micro shower of chalk as he revs up for it. The only hint he’s trying hard being a sound like an exploding valve as he crimps through sustained 6b cruxes. I am watching, almost as intently as the seal. Bobbing like a cork, his black eye sockets stare unblinkingly at us, I stare back.

‘Safe Stefan!’ The shout breaks the moment and the seal slides back beneath the swell.

photo
Luke Skywalker E5 6b
© Stefan Morris

Leaving the crag we usually ignore the refreshments on offer at the St. Govan's Inn ‘How much for chips?!’ and think ‘we’ll get something at home’. By the time we arrive in Pembroke this has evolved into a desperate sugar craving leading to a pillaging of the corner shop and chatting to the late night shop girl, who cheerfully tells us she doesn’t care anymore because she’s off to Uni.

‘Do we know her?’

Not to mention the sporadic purchasing of scratch cards in the hope we’ll win so the dreary Pembroke winter can be swapped for Spanish sport.

Big Swell at Pembroke  © Stefan Morris
Big Swell at Pembroke
© Stefan Morris

Tomorrow I’ll be back on the building site hoping to find a job out of here before the winter comes. I imagine Edmund sat behind the reception at the Manorbier YHA, sipping his coffee, recounting his lead to Martin and trying to hide the chalk between his fingers. We’ll be on it again this evening.

Damp autumn is invariably the prequel to a soggy winter giving maybe one or two days where it stops raining enough for things to dry and stop seeping. Trees along exposed ridges bow under the battering of winds sweeping in from the Atlantic. Patches of grass will squelch until March and another few thousand tons of limestone will shatter into the sea, now a depressing shade of inky black.

Night falls and winter sets in over Pembroke  © Stefan Morris
Night falls and winter sets in over Pembroke
© Stefan Morris

That shirtless sweaty ascent of a Rockfax Top 50 seems a distant memory as waves as high as the crags pound relentlessly against fortress Pembroke.

Even the sheep look pissed.

But then, all at once the weather clears…crisp, clear blue skies peak out from behind the clouds and we scramble for gear. Haul ourselves up a route and proclaim satisfaction at having climbed on New Year’s Day…maybe it’s not so bad?

It’s snowed three inches by the time we reach home.

This article was first published on Stefan's blog.


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Fantastic, I didn't realise this article was even in the pipeline until Natalie brought my attention to it! Really nice to meet you both over the bank holiday weekend, I remember making that comment regarding the Pembroke scene too. Think your response was "we are the scene", which I quite liked. I've always lived by the Ghandi philosophy of "be the scene you want to see in the world". Your scene and my scene sound quite similar, insofar as they both stand for going out and doing it as much as possible (only you're both younger and more talented). I'm envious of your close proximity to Pembroke though... I was also chuffed to see you'd done Arrettica too (spotted it on the logbooks), Dunc and I did that on our last day and I thought it was one of the most underrated E5s in Pembroke (previously this award had gone to The One Eyed Man). Hannah, the route you recommended, is very firmly 'on the list' now too, although if you found it difficult I suspect I'll be in for a hard time! Then there's Gorak, plus the other 1001 routes I'm yet to do in Pembroke. Always something to look forward to eh?? Hopefully see you both again soon.
28 Sep, 2016
Great article!! Was good to meet you guys that day at Stennis! Looks like you got some great routes done! Very jealous of No Man's Zawn shenanigans and White Heat (I racked up for that the day after meeting you but the massive swell was very threatening once we got down there so we bailed). Hope you both win big on the scratch cards and maybe I'll see you out in Spain over the winter! I'm hoping to get out there for an extended trip to get fit for UK... OK I'll be honest Pembroke... trad ;) Hopefully see you guys out crushing again soon! Dunc
28 Sep, 2016
Glad you like it! yeah this seasons definitely proved the 'just get on with it' thing works pretty well. We saw yours and Duncans comments on Arrettica, so had to go take a look. The size blew us away on the ab in. I'm sure Edmund was grateful for all the threads you replaced! I also meant to mention the time a girl mistook me for you in The Heights and started yelling 'rob! rob!'. Bit of a weird one that!
28 Sep, 2016
You poor, poor bastard. That's the ultimate insult eh Rob ;)
29 Sep, 2016
What a lovely article. I met Edmund once, back in 2009, in Becks Bay. I spent whole a summer bouldering there and he was the only other climber I saw. He was still at school I think. It's great to learn he has become so good. Reading this makes me want to race back down there. Keep climbing. Keep writing.
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