Just got back from my first, short trip to Pembroke, so obviously take my limited impressions with a large grain of salt. I loved the limestone where it was still nice and rough — basically Mowingword, though I only got to do a VS (Curver) on my last morning — and also loved the sandstone in the north, where I thought Armorican and Ethos were both fantastic. But I found the climbing kind of horrendous where the limestone was polished — namely St. Govan's Head (particularly Army Dreamers, though I still got up it without issue) and Stennis Head (where I'm chagrined to say I bailed off Hercules because I couldn't bring myself to commit to the glassy, greasy side-pull for the big step right at the crux).
I imagine the polish was made worse by the bank holiday heat, but I'm now admittedly less keen to tackle some of the routes recommended to me previously, like The Arrow, Riders on the Storm, Manzoku, Cool for Cats, etc. For my next trip I'm wondering where to go for HVS/E1 limestone routes that are still nice and sharp — and where to avoid!? I hadn't even considered Range West previously, but as the far less trafficked area it seems much more appealing now. I'm also intrigued by the gabbro in the north. (Climbing higher grades would of course be another solution, but that may take a while longer.)
Sad face. "It's polished" is definitely not a common pembroke complaint.
You've somehow got on the only badly polished routes in Range East. Open a thread "Are there any polished routes in Pembroke?" and it'll probably start and end with Army Dreamers. That route is f***ed. Nobody would tell you to get on that.
You had some really good recommendations in your pre-trip thread. Give it another chance. Maybe try to go with someone who knows the way round so you can do a bunch of the better routes without spending ages trying to convince yourself you're at the right ab points (it can be really hard to be confident, or even to decide where to go on any given day/tide/weather until you get a familiarity with the crags).
Can testify that despite their popularity Manzoku and Cool for Cats are not polished. You can see where gear's been, but that's the only sign of traffic.
Don't let Army Dreamers put you off too much, it's definitely one of the most polished routes in Pembroke. I don't remember things like Cool for Cats or Manzoku feeling unpleasantly polished anywhere. They're very popular and you can tell they're well travelled but I don't feel like they've reached the point where it detracts all that much. I reckon you've just climbed a couple of outlier routes in unusually sweaty conditions. Though Range West is totally worth a visit anyway.
I am tired and grumpy today so my reply may well sound brusk.
What is polished for Pembroke is normal for Yorkshire.
Pembroke is big with lots of climbing to choose from, if you choose the honeypots and top 50 routes, what do you expect?
Go and find some venues to climb, like most areas walking a bit further will help.
Finally, when you find quiet, quality, unpolished climbing, don't spout on about it, keep it that way, instead exaggerate the benefits of St Govs and Saddle Head.
I need a nap.
Just my luck! But I will definitely give it another chance. Like I said, I did get on some good ones too — even at St. Govan's Head, I thought Tactician was very fun. But I do notice other comments about polish on, e.g., The Arrow...
I don't remember any polish on The Arrow, but other opinions are available.
In fact I struggle to think of any pembroke E1 that I'd call polished (Shape Up maybe??). And the lower-grade stuff at saddle head that gets lapped all day every day is somehow still sharp, so if you want a straightforward <HVS day (and queues) you can always go there. Be more fun going to do something like Quoin or Myola though if that's what you're after.
I thought Shape up was not polished, but I was only seconding so I may be mistaken as I don't think anyone pays as much attention to a bit of polish when seconding.
Army Dreamers is like climbing at Stoney for polish on a couple of holds but it's the only badly polished route I've done in Pembroke.
Riders on the Storm was super rough all the way when I did it a few years ago.
> Finally, when you find quiet, quality, unpolished climbing, don't spout on about it, keep it that way, instead exaggerate the benefits of St Govs and Saddle Head.
Wise advice. Newcomers please ignore what I said about M********d, C**** ******i and C*****-y-B*****.
> I thought Shape up was not polished
Not polished exactly, but certainly a bit glassy and unnerving at the bottom
Pembroke can be a bit funny in certain conditions and holds can feel a bit 'soapy'. It was warm and humid on the weekend and there wasn't much of a wind until Monday.
I retrieved some of your gear off Hercules and didn't really notice any polish that made it harder, though lots of holds have been tried lots of times on that committing move right.
Pembroke limestone is some of the grippiest limestone you'll find in the UK. If you thought it was polished, you'll have a torrid time on most of the inland stuff that has been climbed since the 40s. If it was too polished for you, pick places with a longer walk-in or seasonal restrictions.
The two places you went are about as close to road-side as you get, so will be a lot more worn than other places. I've only climbed at St Govan's once and did not like it very much; it was in very soapy conditions and any polish was exacerbated. UKC is a good place to check; if it's had 2000 logs, it's probably got a bit of a sheen.
Mother Carey's and the far eastern end are superbly grippy, and the north Pembroke cliffs have no such issues.
But yes, army dreamers is in no way a top 50 route given the polish. I'd say it barely deserves a star now.
I also pretty much hate that saddle head / first place you arrive at on range east area. It's the worst part of Pembroke by far. No magic at all, feels like you've gone to a climbing wall.
> I retrieved some of your gear off Hercules and didn't really notice any polish that made it harder, though lots of holds have been tried lots of times on that committing move right.
Oh hey, thanks for that! (And for the bits of advice here.) Yeah, I guess I thought the rock was otherwise fine on Hercules ... except where it really counted!
I’ve led both Army Dreamers and Hercules (2 years ago) and found neither of them particularly stressful due to polish. They were my first and second HVS! Perhaps it was particularly humid?
If you want polish, get on some of the VS at Pot Hole Quarry in North Wales 😛.
Agree with the comments that Army Dreamers is showing signs of wear, but not as bad as that VS/HVS to its right (Chieftain ?).
Thing is, though, that a lot of limestone isn't as instantly as grippy as, eg, granite. I don't think its a good reason to dismiss those routes - just a challenge to climb them in that condition.
What ever you do, never go on the popular routes at symonds yat. Or the first few moves on some of the popular easy routes at stanage.
Some of the smooth rock low down at St govans can get very soapy in the morning sometimes. I've lived in Pembrokeshire for 15 years and haven't yet worked out when this will happen.
I climbed army dreamers for about the 15th time early this year and the only bit where polish made me stop and think was on the foot traverse left. Even then it only encourages good footwork. Even though the foot holds are polished they are not too slopey.
> I also pretty much hate that saddle head / first place you arrive at on range east area. It's the worst part of Pembroke by far. No magic at all, feels like you've gone to a climbing wall.
Are you sure you are not thinking of Newton head? That's the first crag into range East and I agree isn't the best.
Saddle head is past Newton, stennis fjord, stennis head, huntsman leap and Bosherston head. And is great for routes severe - vs on (despite its popularity) remarkable rough, textured and featured rock in a nice setting with great views and often great sunsets.
You're right, St. Govs is horrible polished trash on stuff like Army Dreamers. I've kinda come round to the place now I know what to expect, but it's ugly, looks like a quarry and the classic easier routes are knackered. I hated it the first time I went. It's a quick access, non-tidal fast-food crag which isn't "really Pembroke" IMO, but in fairness the routes are pretty good.
The polish isn't really too bad, but everything in Pembroke is smeggy some of the time. This makes it feel very very slippy but on another day it's totally fine. Cool for Cats feels fine on a a good day, but slippy AF when there's smeg. Overcast days are often quite smegtastic. Some of the rock is just incredibly smooth too - dunno if you encountered any "lethal grey" e.g. Keelhaul wall, Misty Walls, Castle which is OK in low humidity, but a hint of moisture turns it into an ice rink. On the other hand, some of the rock is amazingly rough and prickly and solid, better than any other limestone I've climbed on anywhere. After a few visits you get to know the different sides of South Pembroke and there is something to like about all of them. But the best stuff, weaving in and out of caves, through roofs, swinging about on buckets over the crashing waves is world class. The only better sea cliffs I can think of are the gneiss crags of NW Scottish Highlands and Islands, which are similar but an improvement on the limestone. Nowhere near as many good routes with easy access though.
Pembroke really can't be beat, but St Govs and that crappy bit of Stennis isn't really Pembroke. Mowing Word is more like it, Mother Carey's, Triple Overhang, Bosherston Head, Stackpole, countless more...
> I’ve led both Army Dreamers and Hercules (2 years ago) and found neither of them particularly stressful due to polish. They were my first and second HVS! Perhaps it was particularly humid?
> If you want polish, get on some of the VS at Pot Hole Quarry in North Wales 😛.
Pot hole is hilarious 😂 short slippery routes with little or no gear (proper broken legs territory 😱 but a beautiful little venue - although not sure I’ll ever go there again 😂😂😂
I’m glad I got at least a taste of what’s great about Pembroke — definitely enough to lure me back there soon.
Where does Gogarth rank for you? I only got a couple of routes done there (Dream and Britomartis) but I thought the quartzite was amazingly good-quality given how much traffic they get.
Since you mention being intrigued by North Pembroke gabbro, I'll take the opportunity to say that Barad, on Trywn Llywd, is an utterly brilliant route, I think amongst the best sea-cliff HVS's I've ever done (now promoted to E1, but I think purely for the intimidation factor). It's on perfect rough rock, a fantastic situation, with a crux pitch that feels a bit like a hard 3 star gritstone VS jamming crack positioned 200 ft directly above a boiling sea. Twinkler, on the same crag, is also excellent, about a grade easier.
You could also try the neighbouring crag of Mur Cenhinen, though I found the 1 star HVS there, Cordelia, somewhat harrowing, feeling very remote, steep and poorly protected.
Swanage - no polish on the sea cliffs there and some truly awesome lines. Much less problem with moisture too (although still can be an issue) . Yes more type two fun, but that's good right?
I never really liked the pembroke sandstone, found the climbing too samey on horizontal breaks. The gabbro is good however.
> I’m glad I got at least a taste of what’s great about Pembroke — definitely enough to lure me back there soon.
> Where does Gogarth rank for you? I only got a couple of routes done there (Dream and Britomartis) but I thought the quartzite was amazingly good-quality given how much traffic they get.
It's a mixed bag is Gogarth. I went through a phase of loving it, finding it relatively fun and easy, and did basically all the classic routes up to E3, including a couple of the novelty-choss-specials like Red Wall. In comparison to Pembroke, I reckon it's a bit scruffy, which I suppose is part of its charm. Wen Zawn could fairly be described as "immaculate" and "aesthetic" in the same way that Pembroke has these qualities, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the place. The abundance of green pubes take the edge off the look of the place IMO. Upper Tier doesn't even look like a crag, it just looks like a hill covered in green pubes which apparently have routes in among them. Then when whole crags are made of a collapsing mixture of sand and talc, it's hard to imagine that a hundred yards away there's the gleaming white quartzite of Wen Zawn.
Gogarth is a strange place with many facets. It can be a lot of fun, but it can also be pretty ropey. Once I'd done a lot in Pembroke, Gogarth started to feel like its feral cousin. I've not been for years and probably going next week, it'll be interesting to see what vibes it gives off this time round.
I've been trying to find someone who has actually climbedCordelia (HVS 5a)b for years. It is the biggest adventure I've ever had in my time as a climber. I'm pretty sure it must be the most remote route in Pembrokeshire . Was there a peg on the traverse on your ascent ? All I found was a rusty stain. And the belay at the top of the bottomless groove on the same pitch? Admittedly the circumstances of my ascent were a bit unsettling, climbing it with a complete stranger, but that couple of hours will stay engrained on my memory forever.
> it's ugly, looks like a looks like a quarry and the classic easier routes are knackered...
You seem to be suggesting that you can polish a turd
'Swanage - no polish on the sea cliffs there'
The holds don't stay attached long enough to get polished.
Southern Pembroke isn't polished - bits of it are just slightly 'pre loved, that's all.
Atmospheric conditions are a much bigger factor on the grippiness than anything else.
If you really want razor sharp limestone, though, get yourself to a range west briefing.
No pegs anywhere when I did Cordelia, but I wished there had been one at that belay. I remember a couple of poor wires and the profound hope that my second didn't fall off. I've rarely been so pleased to get going on the next pitch.
It's odd that the character of the rock seems so different on that bit of the St Davids cliffs - quite unlike Barad, and just round the corner are the friendly slabs of Craig Coetan, but on that seaward face of Cenhinen it all seems so compact and unfriendly, with every crack seeming blind.