West Cornwall has been long overdue a modern definitive guidebook. With the last guide published in 2000, this edition - written by Andy March - really demonstrates how much things have moved on in the years that have gone by. So much so, in fact, that many of the crags have never looked better: that warm glow of golden granite, jet black brilliance of greenstone, that magnificent yellow lichen, the endless blue skies, and the pure white of waves crashing
Due to the sheer number of routes within the area West Cornwall has,like the previous edition, been split into two separate volumes: Volume 1 covering the north and Volume 2 (due later this year) covering the south. The regular question that gets asked when a new guidebook comes out is whats changed?. It's a rather cynical perspective. The insinuation is essentially that the classics are still classics and those routes remain unchanged - so why buy a new guide?
"This new guide couldn't be more visual if it tried, with superb maps and exceptionally clear topos... aided by the move to A5 format"
With the guide in question there are a great number of reasons: for one it really does make things easier when it comes to finding the crags (the Cornish coastline is a complex thing!), and then once at the crag finding the routes (a task that is often easier said than done...).
The rather dated format of the 2000 edition didnt make the area overly easy to navigate either, being very text heavy. The new guide however couldn't be more visual if it tried, with superb maps and concise details on crag outlook, approach, environmental issues, and even the relevant coastguard identity. Whilst much of this information was in the previous guide, it was far less easy to digest. This has also been aided by the move to an A5 format. This has its lovers and its haters, but I'm all for it (see my recent review of Pembroke Rock for more info on the debate) - bigger is better when it comes to topos and diagrams.
Another reason to buy the guide, or upgrade from the previous edition, is that the guidebook authors really have - through use of exceptionally clear (large/A5)topos - brought some of what might have been considered the more minor crags in the area and turned them into major ones (n.b. thinking about it, for the locals maybe they always were major?!). To the uninitiated a good topo of a superb looking crag can be all that is needed to inspire a trip. Good examples of this include Freedom Zawn (which I'd criminally never even heard of), Carn Vellan (which weirdly I'd been to, but never seen a decent topo of - and my goodness it looks good!) and Robin's Rocks (which I'd also been to, but had no idea where half the routes actually went!).
Another cliff that I feel has been brought up to scratch is Lands End, which has always been something of a poor cousin to the likes of Boisgran, Sennen and Chair Ladder. Despite the occasional smattering of crumbly rock, pretty much every route I have done there has been one of the most memorable I have done in the area; Day Tripper in particular left me speechless,and considering I am predisposed towards the chatty end of the spectrum that is quite something.
Anyhow, esoterica aside and on to the classics: most notably two of the jewels in the crown of Cornish climbing - Bosigran and Sennen. Not only do the routes look great simply because they are great, but even more so due to the exceptional - not to mention plentiful - number of action shots. Furthermore, there are action shots throughout the grades, making thisguide equally inspirational for Diff and E6 leaders alike. A good example of this is Simon Cardy's shot ofBlack Slab (see above). Wild!!
Finally, the historical section reveals the fascinating and controversial development that the area has gone through, with a special in focus piece on the infamous bolt debates that took place throughout the 80s and 90s. There is also a generous quantity of information on the access and environmental issues within the area, with a particular focus on bird life. Whilst I am aware that space and weight are a precious thing within guidebooks these days, this sort of supplementary information really gives a guide that something extra, plus gives you something to read on those inevitably wet days.
Irrespective of whether you're a first time visitor or long-term regular theres something in this guide for you. The strong combination of a high quantity and high quality of action shots and superb topos means it has not only done the classic crags justice, but given the more minor crags the time and space they deserve - hopefully encouraging people to go off the beaten track a little more. I will eagerly await the arrival of Volume 2, which will no doubt provide further reasons for all of us to head down to the South West at some point over the coming year.
The Climbers Club was founded in 1898 and is a national club whose objectives are to encourage mountaineering and rock-climbing, and to promote the general interests of mountaineers and the mountain environment. We welcome applications for membership from committed and experienced climbers.
The club owns some of the best hut accommodation in the country and is the biggest publisher of climbing guidebooks in the UK, issuing guides to North Wales, Pembroke, Cornwall, Devon, Lundy and Southern Sandstone. We also publish newsletters, and an annual journal.
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