My first encounter with the Culm was April 1981. Returning from West Cornwall to Manchester, armed with Pat Littlejohn's South-West Climbs, Bill McKee and I stopped off at Blackchurch. I led Sacre Coeur. What a great route, but burning calves and numb fingers in a strong cold north-easterly did not make for the most enjoyable experience. We left after the one route. Fast forward to a balmy July afternoon in 2020 on a photo-shoot for the guide, this time on the blunt end, I followed Tom Pearce up the same route. Superb!
I first visited Baggy in June '83. We were on our way from Manchester to Sennen. After dossing the night in the dunes at Saunton, again armed with Littlejohn's guide, we spent the day climbing on Long Rock and in Slab Cove. Undercracker, Urizen, Lost Horizon, Shangri-La and the then superb Pink Void were a great introduction to the crag.
In 1987 we moved to live in the Bude area. New parents, somewhat out of climbing practice, leaving our daughter with our landlady for the afternoon, Ali and I set off to explore Compass Point armed with my trusty Littlejohn guide. At Hard Severe, Fruichon seemed an ideal warm-up. It is if you have plenty of large cams... we didn't. Following an ignominious retreat, it was some time before I climbed on the Culm again, preferring to make the drive to the solid granite of Dartmoor.
The publication in 1988 of Iain Peters' guide opened up the Culm for me – so much to explore on my doorstep. Unfortunately, the details of my early climbs were lost when a friend dropped my original copy into the sea... It's a fun book, not always entirely accurate, but worth owning if only for Iain's description of Breakaway.
The dawn of the new millennium brought with it Dave Hope and Brian Wilkinson's new guide. Lee Bartrop had been lucky enough to get a photocopied draft version so we were able check out some of the more obscure venues before the mad rush - Nabor Point is well worth a visit if you enjoy an adventurous approach to a very isolated location. The new guide also made obvious some of the many unclimbed lines. Over the 20 years since then I've been plugging away at these. I was lucky enough to be invited to hold Lee's ropes when he found the bottle to leave the "Pitstop" on Penelope... Probably my best contribution was in 2005 when I celebrated my 50th birthday by leading The Old Man and the Sea.
In 2012, a group of us decided it was time for a new guide. A meeting was held at The Bush Inn, Morwenstow – a fine hostelry, great for a post climb pint or two. Climbers signed their names next to cliffs; we were on track. Mark Garland wisely suggested setting a deadline for people to complete their contributions. Unwisely, this was ignored. The likes of Stu Bradbury, Joel Perkin and Mike Thorpe were quick off the mark and their scripts soon rolled in. Others practised a more lackadaisical approach. The expression 'herding cats' springs to mind. By 2019, the Culm section was more or less finished, but progress on the Atlantic Coast was much slower. We decided to split the guide. Mark Davies volunteered to take on Baggy Point – he's done a fine job as I'm sure you'll agree.
Iain Peters had now moved back to the area, living in Welcombe and joined me in some of the final checking, adding a few more new routes in the process (in spite of our editor, Helen Barry's protests).
This of course, included the obligatory Peters' wade out from Smoothlands when once again we'd misjudged the tide! Iain took on writing the history, fortunately supported by James Mann who, by careful research, was able to separate most of the facts from the fiction.
Recently, Barry Clarke made the guidebook writer's work so much harder by adding a load of fine short climbs at Westcott Wattle and other places. Even more recently, Mark Garland discovered Lockdown Wall at Longpeak, just making it into the guide. At the same time my son, Solly, and friends have been adding ever harder boulder problems. There are still plenty of unclimbed lines and even small crags to be found – I'm sure it won't be long before the guide is out of date.
I suppose I ought to recommend a few route or crags. Well, if I could only climb one route in the guide, it would have to be Sacre Coeur, wonderful sustained slab climbing, good protection and great surroundings. What's not to like?
If you could only climb on one crag in the area, I think I'd have to pick Baggy (although I prefer the Culm). With routes at all grades it has something for everyone. Once, belaying on top of Long Rock, I watched the mist roll in off the sea and saw a brocken spectre. Which routes? On Long Rock, I'd pick Doors of Perception and Lost Horizon and on The Promontory, Kinkyboots, if only for its unique start, or possibly better – the Kinky Cowboy combination.
If you've never climbed on the Culm, the two must visit crags are Vicarage Cliff for routes up to HVS and a few harder ones and Lower Sharpnose for HVS and harder. At Vicarage, Box of Delights is a fine climb and Claire, an interesting experience at VD – worth at least looking at while it's still standing.
Many of the routes at Sharpnose are now well above my pay-grade but I'd recommend The Smile, Lunakhod and Fay (leading this was one of my climbing highpoints).
Dyer's Lookout is well worth a visit, if only to gaze in awe at The Walk of Life. However Blisterin' Barnacle gives some grand slab climbing and Crab Slab is good fun. If you like the fin climbing at Sharpnose, Lynstone is a miniature version. Iain Peters would be annoyed if I didn't name check Matchless at Oldwalls, the adjacent More than a Match is excellent too.
For boulderers, there's plenty to do at both Hartland Quay and Maer Cliff (Northcott) with the added bonus that, should they realise the error of their ways, there are plenty of fine "proper" climbs to go at. For those operating in the upper f7s to f8, the roof at St Catherine's Point has recently become very popular with (according to my son) some fine problems. Less well known to the south of Bude is Big Brother Bouldering – take a look.
A quick flick through the guide will show there's plenty more to go at – enjoy.