This review is long overdue. I'd originally started writing it way back in December 2019, around the time that we included it in our Christmas Book Recommendations. Shortly after that my appendix decided to rupture, putting both my brain and body out of action for a while, then shortly after that COVID struck and the world went into meltdown. I'm not saying that the release of Franco's guidebook to the North York Moors was the cause of this - it's more just a long list of excuses as to why I haven't got around to writing this review; however, it does seem like something of a coicidence, and there's defintiely magic in the Moors. So here we are, more than 12 months on, and finally able to travel outside our own postcode. The big question is: does the guide at hand make me want to visit the North York Moors?
Spoiler alert: it does…
I've frequently said that a guidebook should inform, educate and entertain, and Franco Cookson's guide to the North Yorks Moors does each in abundance. It also features what could well be one of the most awe inspiring cover shots of all time, which is quite a statement in itself*. However, its greatest achievement is simply to lift the lid on an area that was previously considered to be a bit of an esoteric backwater, and show that there's no only bagfuls of quality there, but bagfuls of variety too - sandstone/limetsone, natural outcrops/ quarries, trad/bouldering, moorland/coast, slabs/walls/overhangs/roofs. Clearly, this is both a guide and an area to take note of.
* I'll leave the thread that follows to debate which other covers would challenge this claim
Lovely though all of the above is, it isn't of much use unless it tells you what the routes are, which ones are good, and how to get to each of them. Thankfully Franco has put a lot of time and effort into all that, with clear, well-presented, colour-coded topos, which are coupled with an abundance of maps, 'what three words' references/links to where they are (which some people seem to like and others seem to hate). At the beginning of the guide there's a 'Crag Selecta' which gives a good overview of each of the different crags, which are split within their various areas. For someone that hasn't spent a great deal of time climbing in the area I've found this a massive benefit, because you get a good grasp of each crag/area courtesy of its brief description. The 'selecta' also includes the length of the walk-in, how exposed it is, how many people you're likely to see there, and what aspect it is. It also includes each crag's grade range, as well as its relative significance (local, minor, major).
Franco has also introduced the 'H Grade' for routes which have no yet seen a ground-up or onsight ascent. Whilst I can't see this catching on, and would have much preferred to see more meaningful Font or French grade used instead, it's novel, different and a bit of a laugh.
There is a lot of information packed within its 416 pages, but some of my personal highlights are the history section and the various bios that are intermittently featured throughout the guide. Both seek to tell the story of the people that have made the place, and - generally speaking - these are stories that don't really feel like they've been told. The North York Moors are - I think it's fair to say - esoteric, but their history is all the more interesting as a result of this. After reading this guide, I challenge anyone to say that climbing doesn't have characters anymore…
If history sections aren't your thing then there's plenty of other randomness within the guide that'll keep you coming back to it time and again. Whilst I don't wish to spoil the many easter eggs that are hidden within, the ones in the map on page 2-3 tickle me each time I see them:
- Dalby Forest - Preserve of the southerner (£7 toll)
- A170 - ay-yan-sayzar-nowt
- A19 Prounounced locally "Ay-mether-a-bum")
Dave Warburton's Top 100 is another beauty: with routes ranging from Diff to E9 it's sure to become a ticklist for the specialist few.
Finally, the photography. Considering these are the amateur efforts of an area enthusiast, Franco has done a great job both of taking and collecting a series of fantastic images that really showcase the area both for the easy and the hard, as well as the good, the bad and the ugly.
If you fancy something a little different, this is a guidebook for you, stuffed with bagfuls of alternative ideas. Author Franco Cookson has successfully injected his own personality and the spirit of the moors into a single volume that makes me smile each time I delve into it. The fact it has the coolest cover going, and that its contents are similarly inspiring, means that I really should make more of an effort to actually get there later this year…