Tom Hutton takes a look at the long-awaited selected guide to Gower Rock.
Title: Gower Rock
Author: Stuart Llewellyn and Matt Woodfield
Anyone who's climbed on the Gower will have at some stage or another been frustrated by the lack of a good dedicated guidebook to the area. For a spot with so much quality climbing, it has almost kept itself a secret over the years.
So it was with open arms that I, and most of the guys I usually climb with, greeted this new book. But as with any long-awaited item, there then comes this horrible moment when you wonder whether it will or won't be the answer you are looking for.
In this case it only takes a quick scan of a few pages to realise that it almost certainly is. Although the proof's always in the eating so it's only when you actually get to the crag (or just out of the car in some cases) that you realise its true worth.
I have to confess to knowing the authors personally, having worked with them on BMC matters. So I knew how much enthusiasm and knowledge they brought to their subject. But I also knew that neither were experienced guidebook writers so this was going to be a big challenge to them.
All I can say having read it pretty much from cover to cover now is 'well done fellas'; you've done yourself and your local patch proud. And don't take my word for it, I have now spoken to a few climbers who've bought the guide and used it, and I've yet to hear a single negative.
The book itself is a selected guide designed to highlight the best trad and sport routes on the peninsula as well as some bouldering and some good deep water solos. I couldn't find a total route count anywhere but counted over 200 below HVS/F5+ and there are probably just as many above that, so there's definitely plenty to go at. As you'd expect, the routes are spread across all the main areas including a fair bit of new stuff that hasn't been in a guidebook before.
Each section features a good sketch map of the approach as well as a description. It then provides an overview of the kind of climbing you're likely to find, a description of the descent routes, and any restrictions or tide problems that may affect you. Clear photographic topos then accompany the simple route description - eliminating any chance of error. The routes are colour-coded by grade which makes it easy to see what you're after.
At the rear there's a really useful at-a-glance chart which lists for each area the amount of climbs by grade, the length of the walk in, any restrictions (including tides) and even when it'll see the sun. This is a great way to choose your destination if you only have a day like we did last time we were down there. One gripe on this though is that it doesn't list page numbers so having chosen your crag, you still need to go back to the index before you can turn to the right page.
The opening section covers safety and emergency procedures – a good one really as many that use this book will be from out of the area and unfamiliar. And there's an informative section on access and conservation which is wholly appropriate in an AONB and an SSSI – it also shows the National Trust, who own and manage a lot of the crags, that we do take our responsibilities seriously.
But so far, this review has been about how the book performs and that really is only half the story. The other half is the way it looks: it is a gorgeous little book - absolutely chokka with quality pictures which were on the whole taken by the authors or other local climbers. It's cleanly laid out and some of the page designs are excellent – particularly the Minchin Hole one which deserves an award on its own.
In conclusion, this is an incredibly useful guidebook that has been well-researched, well-written and well-produced and anyone picking it up will find themselves wanting to make a visit to the Gower next year to sample a little of what the area's all about. Sitting in a dark office on a damp and cold December day writing this review, it made me realise how much I miss long sunny days by the coast at this time of the year. It also got me adding routes to my UKC wishlist...
About Tom Hutton
“If I'm not in the hills, then I'm usually dreaming about them or writing about them. I'm probably in the right job then as a writer/photographer and outdoor journalist. I started climbing late in life and then handicapped myself further by taking a few years out with injuries. But what I lack in ability, I make up for in enthusiasm, and there's still plenty of time to get better. I guess I prefer long mountain routes to straight cragging but then again I love the sea cliffs too.”