In this review southwest climber and boulderer Dave Henderson takes a look at the new Dorset Bouldering Rockfax guidebook which has been put together by Ben Stokes, and published by UKC's sister company ROCKFAX.
Dorset, home to shed loads of sport climbing, deep water soloing and adventurous traditional climbing has never really been known for it's bouldering ... this book will change that.
As you would expect from the Rockfax team, the guide is an attractive full colour affair, rammed full of photo topos, action photos, logistical information and clear maps. I was surprised at the size (it's quite a mighty tome at 384 pages and 733 grams!) although this says more about my lack of knowledge of modern Dorset bouldering - I thought it was just the Neddyfields and the Cuttings boulderfield! The retail price of £29.99 is pretty much the norm these days.
Author Ben Stokes is obviously passionate about the area and whilst Dorset bouldering is no way near as good as the neighbouring Devon (note: I'm from Devon so may be slightly biased) he's succeeded in clearly and effectively documenting the huge wealth of bouldering now found in this wide county.
The bulk of the guide deals with the 'Isle of Slingers', Portland. Like some giant disintegrating iceberg, Portland 'calves' on a regular basis to create huge boulder fields beneath (and of!) the popular sport climbing crags. At some point in the future you may be able to climb the cruxes of old routes in isolation from the ground. I'm even getting quite excited just thinking about the possibility of a 45 degree overhanging section of Reptile Smile found amongst a collapsed Blacknor Central in 2024 - get quarrying boys...
Portland is also home to various quarries and some very appealing sea-level coves (the best looking stuff on the island?) to provide variety. Further east, more bouldering is found at Lulworth (already well known for it's deep water soloing), St. Aldhelm's Head, around Swanage and most easterly at the incongruous sandstone boulder of the Agglestone. All in all, plenty to keep you busy and the clear descriptions and topos will the get you to your chosen destination and problems efficiently.
Looking through the photos you can't fail to notice that a prevalent theme is the bad landings beneath many of the problems. There are, of course, exceptions but when you get in the boulder fields you will need at least a couple of mats and mates to make things even remotely safe. This will be less of a problem to many modern boulderers who seem to move in packs with multiple mats but those looking for flat, grassy landings should go elsewhere.
Ben Stokes has opted to be very comprehensive, detailing over 1500 problems, hence the size of the book. My personal preference would be for something slightly less detailed and more compact (and cheaper!). Having said that, I expect a lot of boulderers these days prefer everything to be listed so mine is almost certainly a minority view.
Overall I was very impressed with the guide and the amount of effort that has clearly gone into it's production. My minor reservations are due to my old fashioned preferences, a lack of bouldering mats (I've only got one) and friends!
If you're visiting Dorset you will be missing out if you don't take this book with you.
Dave Henderson lives in the South West and runs the local climbing information website www.javu.co.uk
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- The Climbers' Club Portland Guidebook 30 Sep, 2008