There are many hot topics within today’s society, but three in particular - at least in my eyes - that stand above the rest: Brexit, the BMC re-branding and, most controversial of all, the new edition of the Borrowdale guidebook featuring - wait for it - an A5 format. Thin end of the wedge, or thick end of the guidebook? Read more to find out…
I’m going to tackle the issue of sizing first, simply because it appears to be the most contentious, but also the most entertaining. Having just got back from a long weekend in Pembroke, using the various guidebooks that augment the area’s climbing, I can say with hand on heart that while I love that traditional ‘pocket size’ guide, when it came to perusing and most importantly using a guide it was the larger A5 format that I reached for every time. For those complaints that I’ve read on the forums about the preposterously bulky nature I offer the following information:
I’ve never been too hot on my maths, but that’s 150g difference.
Now I’ve been shaving weight off my rack for years, converting snap gates to wire gates, nylon slings to dyneema etc… and what I can honestly say is this: 150g is a drop in the ocean. Week in, week out, I see climbers carrying small rucksacks up routes, trainers on the backs of their harnesses, and if the various online pundits are trying to tell me that this grotesque addition of 150g makes all the difference I’d suggest they take a step back and get a grip!
In fact, I would go so far as to argue to that upgrade to the larger size/format has been a blessing. Never has Borrowdale looked as good as it does in this guide (other than in reality perhaps...). The front cover shot of The Bludgeon sets the scene nicely, with lovely colours and fantastic use of depth of field. The topos are larger, which not only makes them easier to use but also more inspiring, as you can extract that bit more info from the lines, and get a bit more of a feel of the rock quality and the landscape surrounding the crag.
To me, a far more interesting discussion revolves around the omission of several of the more esoteric crags in the valley, which are now consigned to the online archives of the FRCC. This, at least in my eyes, is a far more contentious issue than the A5 format.
Arguments for inclusion are that it is a definitive guide and should therefore contain all the routes in the valley. The argument against is that many of the routes omitted - with no offence meant to the first ascentionists - are crap*, and would have most likely continued to be unpopular even if they had been included! The fact of the matter is that this edition contains 99% of the crags that both visitors and locals would wish to climb at. Were the FRCC to have included all the routes that have ever been climbed I think think I would have to scrap the opening paragraph, as the guide would most likely weigh twice as much and be half as good. Still, lest we forget, the vast majority of people buying this guide will be buying this guide almost exclusively for Shepherd's Crag...
* I discussed this with Ron Kenyon, FRCC President, who kindly shed a little more light on the matter: "you mention that the routes not included are crap – most are crap – but due to being overgrown and unclimbable (which is probably the same thing as crap)". I thought this qualification was both accurate and entertaining, hence worth including within the review.
Moving on to the historic information, first ascentionist's names are included neatly alongside each route (where they should be) and there's a good history section at the back. Other neat features like ‘Ray McHaffie’s Borrowdale Enchainment’ and Top 5 Routes from a number of Lakeland protagonists are nice touches too, giving the guide a bit of character and the readers a bit of inspriation.
Crag aspect, elevation and approach time are all neatly listed at the beginning of each chapter and also within the crag guide at the start of the book. Another idea I liked - in theory - was the addition of coordinates for the parking spaces in the valley on the inside tab of the cover. For irregular visitors in particular this should be a really nice touch. However, the sat nav coordinates seem to use a different system to anything I have used previously, and I can't get them to come up with anything on TomTom or Google. As such they are somewhat ineffective!
One area where I felt the guidebook could have improved was in the action shots. Despite there being a great many good ones, there are also many which were distinctly average. Whilst I am aware that good action shots can actually be surprisingly hard to find, particularly for the more esoteric crags, it is still sad when a publication such as this has something of a mixed bag. It was also quite noticeable that the demographic of climbers was quite limited to a) men b) old men and c) old grey men. There are a handful of exceptions, but it would have been nice to see more youth pictured in the guide, not to mention a few more women (there are only three).
This is a superb guide that should inspire both first time visitor and local alike. Its A5 size should be considered a positive, being that it is both easier to use and a much nicer book to look at - both at the crag and in the pub. The omission of some of the more esoteric crags within the area is a wise move on behalf of the authors, as it has kept weight to a reasonable level whilst still containing virtually every route that any individual - shy of exceptionally well climbed locals - would wish to do in the valley. It would have been nice to see a few more vibrant and socially diverse action shots though.
What the Fell and Rock have to say:
To climb in Borrowdale is an absolute joy. The rock is generally good quality, featured volcanic ash and the situations are amazingly varied and, with few exceptions, exquisite. Borrowdale’s crags stand serenely above the steep tree lined valley sides, they hide away to be discovered amongst the arborial ferns or imperiously dominate the bare fellside of the higher combes.
Arguably the most beautiful Lakeland valley, Borrowdale is understandably popular, not just with climbers. The valley is well endowed with quaint hamlets, country pubs, welcoming cafes and sylvan campsites all linked by a network of good paths. Most of the crags are reached by a lovely walk and, once there, the situations and views are stunning. The downside is the difficulty you may have parking your car, especially on fine summer days. Don’t be put off by this popularity, if you venture a little further there are many attractive sunny crags where you can find solitude, your only companions being the ewes, the ravens and the wind in your hair.