When I think of the Lake District the first thing that typically comes to mind are its mountain crags. Given their extensive nature its hardly surprising, but it's more than a little unfair to pigeonhole the entire area, because there's much, much more. Lake District Bouldering is proof of this and so too is the latest WIRED Guide to Lakes Sport & Slate, which showcases a range of different crags, styles and disciplines including trad, sport, dry tooling and even deep water soloing! But the big question is whether or not it would tempt us away from the more traditional areas, onto alternative pastures...
In order to best do the guide justice I've brought back the three criteria I used to assess the BMC's Guidebook to Peak Limestone North, which were Inform, Educate and Entertain.
The guide is split into four sections based on rock type - Limestone, Slate, Micro Granite and Sandstone. The various areas covered within each section have a wide geographic spread too, from St. Bees in the west to Coudy Rocks in the east, then Bramcrag Quarry in the north through to Barrow Scout Cove in the south. As a result of this huge spread, many of the areas in the guide fall within the Lake District's rain shadow, hence have the potential to remain dry when the mountain crags aren't. As someone that has sought shelter from the elements on more than one occasion whilst climbing in the Lakes, this does make it the perfect guide to pick up in the event of an emergency, as it offers a great many plan Bs; however, it also works perfectly well for someone seeking out an alternative plan A.
Each crag receives a full colour topo, although the quality of each is quite variable: some are crisp, whilst others can be quite fuzzy. This is particularly noticeable when flicking through the first chapter - Chapel Head Scar - where some areas are crystal clear whereas others (often those taken from further away) are quite blurry. Whilst this doesn't necessarily make route finding impossible, it's a shame that the quality is so variable, although I suspect that each would have likely been rectified if the authors had been allowed out during the spring - prime time for taking topo shots, but this year hampered by lockdown.
On the more technical side, WIRED have gone out of their way to make things easy when it comes to accessing crag information. There's QR codes both to the GPS of the crag parking and the BMC's RAD Access Database. In the intro to each crag there's an indication of the altitude and aspect, grade range, length of rope required, and the maximum number of quickdraws you'll need. Alongside the description each crag has a map attached and, in some cases, a drone shot with the approach and crag/area information overlayed (such as Runestone Quarry, shown below).
The guide makes an effort to provide a concise history to each of the various areas, outlining key routes and developments, as well as some of the characters involved. Alongside this there's an interesting set of Geology Notes, written by Dave Bodecott, which makes for rainy day reading.
In addition to the climbing history, there's an fantastic set of historic notes about the quarrying that took place both on the the Slate and Micro Granite, which provide further context to the places we go climbing, adding a bit more depth to the experience of being there.
It also - thankfully - includes first ascent information alongside each route, which further adds to its depth, as certain names come with a hallmark of quality: Pete Whillance, Rob Matheson, Al Phizacklea, and Ed Cleasby (just to name a few).
On the action shot side of things there's a great many inspirational images, but David Simmonite's stand out as some of the finest, every one being a five star photograph. Jonathan Doyle's image of Anna Taylor on Sky is another brilliant image, as is Jonathan Griffiths' picture of Will Sim on Dreaming of Red Rocks and Andy Rutherford's picture of Steve Johnstone on Quick Release at The Works. In short: you're not going short on inspiration if it's action shots you're after.
Top 50s are always entertaining, not least because of the discussion that likely takes place around what is/isn't in. Within the guide at hand each inclusion gets an additional golden star, as well as being outlined at the start of the book. For those that are new to the area these should act as a good starting point - especially when coupled with the Crag Guide, that provides a one-stop shop for all the basic info you need for every crag. Those who have climbed more extensively in the area may already be familiar with many crags, but it's likely there'll be a few that remain unfamiliar, and the Top 50 will give you a chance to tick them all.
I must admit, when I first heard that there was a guidebook coming out to Lakes Sport & Slate I was a bit cynical, because neither sport nor slate were what I traditionally went to the Lake District for. But climbing is a broad church and I suspect a great many will buy the guide for Bramcrag Quarry alone. For me, it's the Slate that's made me raise an eyebrow, so in that respect this attractive and useful guide has done its job.