Gogarth South Review

Do yourself a favour and steer well clear of Gogarth South, both the book and the place. The end. Still here? Well, I warned you. The problem with this guidebook is the problem with all good guidebooks: they remind us that there are too many routes and not enough time. Gogarth South is an excellent guide that makes plain that I – and probably you - haven’t spent enough time climbing above the Irish Sea.

Gogarth South cover shot, 139 kb

Half the book cruelly details the great routes on cliffs that are already famous, perhaps notorious: Mousetrap Zawn, Red Walls Left and Right, Castell Helen, Yellow Wall and Rhoscolyn. Just those pieces of rock have enough best-of-a-lifetime routes to keep anyone busy. But the other half of the guide mercilessly brings to light a bunch of good looking climbs on easily accessible cliffs that I have happily ignored until now, assuming that they were only of interest to bold enthusiasts of loose rock and awkward approaches. Now Ground Up have revealed cliffs like Blacksmith’s Zawn, solid and easy to reach, adding far too many routes to my wishlist. I’m going to have to get stronger and live to be a hundred to get even a small fraction of them done. Thanks for nothing to the Ground Up team.

The format of the book is the same as that of Gogarth North. It is beautifully printed on high quality paper and the binding feels robust enough to keep the guide intact over years of sea cliff exploration. Functionally the guide is a triumph, the text accompanied by many clear maps and photo diagrams to make finding and following your chosen route simple. Unfortunately, due to a mistake by the printer, a few of the topos in books from the first print run have some extra lines added. The printing company has accepted responsibility for the error and has produced a second run, so anyone with an imperfect copy can exchange it for a corrected one.

"I’m going to have to get stronger and live to be a hundred to get even a small fraction of the routes in this book done"  

The guide details crags offering a wide variety of climbing experiences. At one end of the comfort spectrum there‘s the easy access, solid rock and clifftop cafe of Castell Helen. At the other end of the scale there are plenty of brittle, fragile and sometimes plain loose challenges in Mousetrap Zawn and parts of the Range. Rickety Cliff anyone? No, me neither. The photograph of George Smith eroding his way to the top of The Complete Works on Rickety Cliff is enticing but not enough to draw many to “[t]his profoundly loose climb”. There are plenty of XS shale horrors described for the few devotees of snappy rock but the surprise of the guide to me is the number of solid lines in the more esoteric corners of Gogarth South. Penlas Rock, Blacksmith’s Zawn, Smurf Zawn, much of the Range: they are all packed with routes boasting relatively easy access, reliable rock, and bragging rights in the pub. 

Sample page, 205 kb
Sample page
© Ground Up

The guide is crammed with photographs of cliffs and of climbers in action. If the route descriptions don’t draw you to the Gogarth South cliffs, the pictures will. Almost every photograph had me flicking through the pages to the matching route description, and often then wondering, “How can THAT get only one star?” I also wonder if George Smith owns any clothes that aren’t black or grey. He must have lost the red T-shirt he wears on the front cover of Gogarth North. 

There are a few pieces of entertainment, education and history scattered through the book. I particularly enjoyed Ed Bellthorpe’s story of exploring the underworld beneath the Red Walls. I laughed aloud at his encounter with a flotsam shoe in the zawn’s depths. 

Sample topo, 220 kb
Sample topo
© Ground Up

Despite the many photographs, it is still a compact book. A Gogarth guide must be weight-conscious, capable of being carried with you while you climb, and this edition is slim enough. Consideration of the guide’s weight leads me to a sad conclusion: this is likely to be the final comprehensive guidebook to Gogarth. The last Climbers’ Club guide was published in 1990. Gogarth North came out in 2009, and Gogarth South completes the edition six years later (it was published at the end of last year). That’s twenty-five years per generation. At that rate the next guide will be out in 2040. The reason I don’t think there will be a next guide is due to weight and technology. Gogarth South weighs around 450g; more than three times the weight of my smartphone. A quarter of a century from now, will there still be a market for paper guidebooks? If this does prove to be the swan song for Gogarth guidebooks, Ground Up have done the cliffs proud.

Gav Foster on the first pitch of Castell Helen classic, Rap VS 4c
© Simon Panton

Back cover blurb:

The glorious sea cliffs of Gogarth, situated on the western tip of Anglesey, provide an impressive range of exciting traditional routes. Nowhere else in the UK will you find such a concentration of classic and adventurous climbs.

Gogarth South covers the series of cliffs running southwards from Gogarth Bay past the South Stack lighthouse, around The Range and on to Rhoscolyn. It includes famous cliffs such as Mousetrap Zawn, Red Wall, Castell Helen and Yellow Wall, but also showcases several less well known zawns.

• Over 630 action packed routes

• Full colour topos

• Extensive area maps and individual crag approach maps

• In depth history section

• Atmospheric and inspiring action shots from the best climbing photographers including: Ray Wood, Mike Hutton, Al Hughes and Tony Loxton

The Ground Up team who contributed to this guide includes: Simon Panton (editor), Tim Neill, Adam Wainwright, Martin Crook, George Smith, Pete Robins and James McHaffie.

A sister volume, Gogarth North (covering all the sea cliffs running northwards from Holyhead Mountain and past North Stack) was published in 2009.

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