When the Climbers' Club released their Dartmoor Guide back in 2017 they began something momentous: a long awaited update to one half of Nick White's 1995 South Devon and Dartmoor guidebook. In the review I discussed at length the magnitude of this task, as it was essentially a project to replace the irreplaceable. But it was far more than that too - it was also a much needed update with bagfuls of character. Since then we've been eagerly awaiting the other half; and now that it's arrived, what a half it is, coming in at a whopping 504 pages, and really showing just how much the area (and guidebook production) has come on since 1995.
So where do we start with South Devon? First off the cover, which - lest we forget - we should always judge a guidebook by (joke, but also not a joke…). Thankfully the guidebook's author, Pete Saunders, has chosen a beauty, with Ben Silvestre cranking his way up Rainbow Scoop at Berry Head. For me this is a tip of the cap towards the modern, sexy side of South Devon, with gorgeous rock, blue sea, and a rope-less climber donned with nothing but rock boots, a pair of shorts, and a chalkbag. Yes, it's not trad climbing, but hey - these are modern times we live in… On the flip side the rear cover is something of a disappointment, but perhaps not as disappointing as the amount of drag the leader pictured must have suffered by the time they finished the pitch...
As you open the pages the first thing that hits you is the guidebook's orientation, which - like the Dartmoor Guidebook - is in landscape (i.e. you turn it on its side during use). Whilst I was convinced for this layout for the Moors, I am less convinced by it for the 'bigger cliffs' of South Devon and would - I think - have preferred the more standard (vertical) alignment to make the most of the book's height. That said, it's nice not to have any creases getting in the way of the lines, with just one topo spanning a (glorious) two pages, and as you can probably tell already - the format hasn't ruined my day. It's a great guide irrespective of this and who knows, if it were to be in a different format maybe it wouldn't be quite so good - or here at all? I for one am grateful we've got it at all!
Moving further through the guide the next thing that is apparent is the sheer volume of photographs, with the geology, natural history, and climbing history all blessed with a huge number images both old and new. This really brings the guide to life and this liberal use continues throughout the rest of book, not just for action shots, but for landscapes and approach too. Barely a page goes by without a whole load of colour and inspiration jumping out at you. What's all the more remarkable is that many of the crag shots will have been taken from the sea, so full credit to the author for all those late night canoe trips around the Devonshire coastline.
Barely a page goes by without a whole load of colour and inspiration jumping out at you
When it comes to contents, it covers a whole load of cliffs you'll have probably heard of (Berry Head, Anstey's Cove, Chudleigh, Torbryan, and Daddyhole - just to name a few) and a whole load more you probably hadn't. There are several crags which have been developed in recent years such as Churston Quarries (courtesy of Tom Rainbow), which offers accessible sport across the grades, and New Quarry at Babbacombe, which has a lot for the mid-high extreme leader. There's several other crags that have been 'brought back to life' courtesy of a judicious tidy-up, with notable examples being Berry Head Quarry (courtesy of Pete Saunders, Tom Rainbow, Bruce Woodley, and Nick Biven) and Daddyhole Upper (courtesy of Chris Ebbutt and Simon Wooster). It's great to see such not only such development continue, but for it all to be documented here, and - perhaps most important of all - to cover such a wide range of grades and styles (it's not just the hard climbers that reap the benefits for a change!). For those that are tired of living a conventional life there's always the South Hams coast, Ladram Bay, and Beer Head too.
However, were there to be one area in particular where this guide shines it is on the deep water soloing, which it really has gone to town on - not least because there's a LOT of it. Berry Head, with its legendary Magical Mystery Tour and Rainbow Bridge, are done justice with extensive topos of all the routes (and there's a LOT of routes). The Wizard of Oz (aka. The Finest Route in the Country?) is also given four stars, which - having done the route - is hard to argue with. Away from Berry Head this guide really does open up the lands of opportunity, with countless other crags and areas documented of which I've only had a chance to sample a few: Long Quarry Point, London Bridge, The Watchtower Traverse, and the Babbacombe Crags. Again, not only is there a topo for each and every one of them (no mean feat!) but there's also action shots aplenty. The effort put into achieving this cannot be understated!
I always say a guidebook is only as good as its author, and Pete Saunders can certainly sleep at night knowing he's done the area a great service (and justice) in putting this guide together; however, knowing Pete he'd probably say a guide is only as good as the area's route checkers and developers, hence special mention needs to go out to them, but in particular Simon Wooster, who not only authored many of the crags, but also made special efforts to clean and re-equip routes along the way. There's a great many other names to mention, but I'll leave that to the guide.
As a final sweeping summary, here's a few random bits and bobs that took my fancy, but didn't seem to fit coherently into the rest of the review:
- Ken Palmer, still a legend after all these years...
- Jollies Route - the least PC name in the guide - at Chudleigh is finally upgraded to Severe (presumably because of the polish)
- White Rhino Tea - the softest 7a in the south - is finally downgraded to 6c+ (presumably because it was never 7a)
- Dave Talbot and Henry Castle's pictures of Big Picket at Ladram Bay: wild, horrifying, and inspiring in equal measure!
- Why have I never heard of The Pinch Direct at Cradle Rock Buttress before?!?
- Ben Silvestre's Caveman poem
For more inspiration on South Devon check out the following:
And just in case you've never been DWS'ing before:
Getting into Deep Water Soloing, by Mike Robertson
About the Climbers' Club
South Devon offers a wealth of varied climbing. This sister guide to Dartmoor (2017) covers all the climbing outside of the granite mass. Whilst the main attractions for visiting climbers are the adventure routes and Deep Water Solos on Torbay limestone, there are enough sport climbs, boulder problems, and trad climbs to keep locals busy for years. Now THE comprehensive guide to climbing in South Devon; with details of 74 crags and over 1800 routes, including recent developments.
- South Devon by Pete Saunders (2018)
- Editor Ian Smith
- Design, page layout & typesetting/pagesetting by Pete Saunders
- Photo diagrams by Pete Saunders & Simon Wooster
- Map artwork by Don Sargeant
- 504 pages of text and photodiagrams