North Wales Limestone - the Definitive Guide Review

© On Sight publishing

The second edition of North Wales Limestone: The Definitive Guide, written by Andy Boorman and Ian Carr, has just been published. Building on the original book, now nearly 10 years old, the new edition adds hundreds more recent routes, helping to cement the reputation of the area as a major destination. Steve Long takes a look.


ne of my first guidebook purchases was written by a schoolboy. In retrospect a remarkably precocious literary opening gambit from Andy Pollitt, this book captured my imagination as a keen young climber only a few years older then the author, whom we befriended on a New Year's outing to Craig y Forwyn, shortly after the book landed on climbing store bookshelves. The frontispiece showed Pollitt silhouetted against the sky on a knife edge prow that dwarfed the climber. Wrongly labelled "New Dimensions" this image of the classic "Psychic Threshold" has haunted me for over four decades as a symbol of aspiration: the wall looked preposterous, impossible.

North Wales Limestone cover  © On Sight publishing

Do we really need another guidebook to North Wales limestone and (various other rock types along the A55)? The answer would be a resounding yes, even if it was only for the cover photo, a colour reinterpretation of that iconic image, which with a new camera angle captures the true, overhanging nature of this stunning prow.

Thanks largely to the renaissance documented in the 2014 edition, this region has continued to see steady development and re-equipping, transforming the area into a world class sport climbing destination. This guidebook also documents enough trad pitches to keep most purists occupied for years.

In all, some 2000 routes are included, of which about 600 are new additions. Grades and stars have also been reappraised for many longer-established routes. The tough hardback format of 2014 has been replaced by the ubiquitous softshell; I guess this keeps publication costs down, and the placeholder flaps can be useful. There are loads of great action photos, although sadly the two inspirational shots of yours truly gurning that feature in the 2014 edition have been replaced by (mainly) younger models!

It's hard to separate a guidebook review from the climbs, so let's start with the 600 additions. Worthwhile or scrappy fillers? Of course, there are some trivial outings like in any other area, but many (hundreds) of the new additions are real corkers!

Fedw Fawr region has gained dozens of lines, making it a worthwhile destination for a holiday in its own right. The microgranite quarries and escarpments of Penmaen-bach have gained (and lost) climbs on several levels and even some excellent trad routes. For winter sun we now have a wealth of bijou additions and reinvigorations, such as the instantly popular Tramstation Crag and the recent makeover of the previously spooky Manor Crag. Noticeboard Crag now has enough climbs to keep a keen team happy all day.

One of my personal favourite developments is the conversion of the Ormesman Crag into a sport climbing venue by the first ascensionist of most of the lines, Dave Lyon. Gloriously secluded and often accompanied by eerie seal song, this is a glorious place to spend autumn days for anybody climbing in the low to mid 7's. Immediately next door there are some excellent new voyages into the 3rd dimension including one of the best routes at 6b+ in the region. Above these, the easily accessible Lighthouse Crags have been transformed with some great cragging offering afternoon sun or shade within the many facets. The Diamond has of course seen loads of development and refurbishment from 7a upwards, sealing [pun intended] its position as a world class venue and now providing some high-tide sport accessible via the Gemstone handline. Gemstone itself, famed for blocking Steve McClure, has been converted into an excellent sport climb (however, since the thin crux is often damp I would recommend climbing it while the overhead old piton remains intact). Trench Wall is now worth a visit thanks to the recent addition of the Rainbow Wall. Craig y Forwyn remains a brilliant venue but please be aware that access is merely tolerated, so follow the access recommendations and try to remain inconspicuous and discrete – sound travels surprisingly far into the valley.

Further afield there are some crag additions, including plenty for climbers seeking routes within the 5-6 grade bracket at Pandy Quarry (Pen y Fron) near Mold.

For climbers who relish the choice of a phone app version of information, a sticker containing a unique code for three years' access can be found tucked away opposite the acknowledgements. Whether this will be updated with further additions as the new-routing bonanza continues to unfold remains to be seen – currently it's a long way from complete, but in recognition of this the clock doesn't start ticking until the uploading work is finished. You can tick ascents and recommend qualities such as grade, quality etc. Personally though I would prefer it to link to my UKC logbook rather than having to duplicate entries.

NWL 3  © On Sight publishing
© On Sight publishing

Focusing on the book itself, what do you get for your money?

First and foremost, every penny raised beyond production costs goes back into crag development and refurbishment. Purchasing this guide is a very simple way of contributing to the ongoing improvement of what the locals always knew could be a UK highlight for sport and adventure (sometimes both on the same route). The crag beta spreadsheet gives a much improved summary of the crag qualities, including seasonal recommendations and sunshine hours (although it took me a while to realise that the clock symbol appears to include the hours of darkness within the sunshine quota).

The layout is logical, working from Anglesey eastwards along the A55 and down towards Mold. Crags and sectors are described from climbers' left to right, although of course some are approached from the right. Throughout the guide, many grades and stars have been adjusted with good reason: the previous edition was notoriously tight on stars, and several parties have abandoned The Meadows crag after completing the serious approach and fighting their way up the supposed warm-up 6c, still no pushover at its revised grade. Incidentally this crag hosted one of the few errors in the guidebook: the west-most of the two abseil stations indicated in the guide had disintegrated – we only found this due to a combination of rainfall and a sad failure to fly by a local Pitbull Terrier obligating an abseil retreat and clean-up. Such is the pace of refurbishment that within a week of mentioning this to one of the authors, a shiny new station had appeared.

Events conspire to undermine every published guidebook, and rock is a dynamic medium. Recent rockfall on the two-star trad line "Great Corner" after the book hit the shelves has unfortunately rendered this route dangerously unstable – so perhaps it's good we're taking the opportunity that this review provides to spread the word before somebody gets hurt.

There are a few typos (mainly compound words) and minor caption errors – for example "Over the Rainbow" retaining its original grade in the caption on page 468, or very sharp eyes might spot the same climber (the sprightly Roger Bennion) placing a runner rather than stretching for a jug on page 395. Among the many improvements, the previously confusing Manhattan area of Craig y Forwyn is now clearly illustrated, along with QR codes throughout for access points and categorised route totals on the sketch maps for crags. Lots of information such as route and abseil lengths is incorporated into the topos rather than listed repetitively in the route descriptions.

In short, this new edition is a worthy replacement for my previous guides to the region, all of which can now be permanently consigned to archive.


30 Jun, 2023

The guide is a great improvement on the layout of the original and ease of use and I appreciate the efforts the authors have gone to.

I have no doubt it is the best guide to the area.

However, I’m afraid, it is still far from perfect. There are still quite a lot of issues with the harder (E5+) route description at Craig y Forwyn, including at the Manhattan Wall area, and a lack of usable topos for this major crag (ie very foreshortened perspectives - drone shots or even a camera on a boom would have improved this). Some judicious editing out of the “locals only” link-ups (Manhattan Highrise, cough, cough) might have helped too: I’m unconvinced that five highly starred routes can exist on a wall 4m wide.

But, I repeat, I have no doubt this is the best guide to the area.

30 Jun, 2023

Does this guide include bouldering topos?

1 Jul, 2023

There are a few of the longer linkups in Parisellas described and it mentions the shorter problems these pass through but really you need a bouldering guide. Unfortunately that’s awaiting a new edition (the current published N Wales bouldering guide only covers the inland areas).

1 Jul, 2023

Great review Steve. I love this guide not just because it is clear, up to date etc but because it exists at all. The amount of effort that has gone in to maintaining these crags with fixed hand lines, new bolts, lower offs, access negotiations and now into producing a second edition of the guide is really humbling. Well done and thanks to all involved.

3 Jul, 2023

I totally agree, despite the huge amount of anticipation I was disappointed too, it still hasn't got a topo of Space Mountain. Then there's the issue of the cover... Mind you, Pete Harrison's version was a really hard benchmark to beat, my favourite guidebook in UK.

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