UKC

The Culm Coast and Baggy Point Review

© James Mann

Back when I started climbing, one of the first places I visited outside my local area was Baggy Point. That was almost 20 years ago now, which is something of a coincidence, because that was around the time that the area's last definitive guidebook was published. Since then trends have changed, not just in guidebook publication, which now favours big, bright and beautiful topos on almost every page, but also within climbing itself. Baggy feels like it's fallen off people's radar a little, and the Culm Coast as a whole has arguably suffered as the lack of a modern definitive guide, meaning that the masses have either headed elsewhere entirely, or stuck to the more selective honeypots. This new definitive guide from the Climber's Club makes up for it in spectacular fashion.

For those in search of adventure, a treasure trove of awaits within the pages of this guide. How deep you delve largely depends on your constitution (and trust me, there's some serious depth to dig into out there on the Culm).

My first trip to Baggy, heading up the magnificent Midnight Cowboy  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
My first trip to Baggy, heading up the magnificent Midnight Cowboy
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

As per several other guidebook reviews I'm going to stick to the BBC's 'inform, educate and entertain' theme, because gives the review a logical structure.

Inform 

Whilst it may seem obvious from the title, it's worth clarifying that the Culm Coast and Baggy Point Guidebook features - as the name suggests - both Baggy Point and the Culm Coast. The reason I repeat this, even though it may sound blindingly obvious, is because people often conflate the Culm Coast with the Atlantic Coast. Previously both were included within the same guide, but due to the development that has taken place this is no longer possible - hence the decision was (rightly) made to split them. As such, this guide begins at Baggy and ends around Bude. Climbers' Club volunteers are currently working on the Atlantic Coast guide, which - from what heard thus far - sounds similarly exciting, although we'll have to wait for a while until it's out.

The old and the new...  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
The old and the new...
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Not only does the Culm and Baggy guidebook feature all the area's trad climbing (as you'd expect), it also features the bouldering too, which - as a person who tends to flit between both disciplines - is great. For non-boulderers, this content doesn't take up too much space, and the guidebook itself isn't unduly large by modern standards. In a similar vein, although undeniably at the more specialist end of the spectrum, the guide also contains all the information on the area's ice/winter climbing. Given the balmy climate this is - as you might expect - limited to just a single page. Still, it's nice to have it in if only for curiosity's sake.

When it comes to finding the crags and routes are, not only are there a whole lot of maps clearly outlining where everything is, but there's also a series of stunning aerial shots that provide a unique insight into the geography. These compliment the mapping perfectly, partly because they show what's actually on the ground, where the smaller (unmarked) approach paths are often difficult to find (yet are completely essential, as they weave their way through the impregnable gorse wall that separates the coastal path from the cliff).

Educate

The guide itself has a wondrous 24 page history section, which will no doubt be of interest to those being rained off whilst the crags are being battered by the Atlantic (either that or whilst it's too hot and you're in need of something to read with your cream tea in Croyde). This will satisfy many, as it outlines the history of what is ultimately a very interesting area - and not just because several of its key cliffs have fallen down. For those wanting more, UKClimbing is very lucky to have had James Mann curate a more extended history in the form of the Culm Dancing articles. Here's a link to the first, just to get you started:

Another detail which has been omitted by other guidebook publishers in recent years is first ascent information. Thankfully the Climbers' Club have consistently included this beneath each and every route. Knowing a route's first ascentionist matters, because it brings a sense of meaning with it. 

Entertain

Shallow though it might sound, action shots make a massive difference to a guidebook. Whilst accurate topos and descriptions are essential for people to find their way, a good action shot can inspire you to climb one route - or in one area - over the next. Thankfully this is a book with a whole bunch of brilliant photos. James Mann and Mark Davies have both contributed a fantastic selection. There are also some crackers by David Simmonite, Ian Parnell, Dave Pickford, Mike Hutton, Mark Kemball, Rowan Bulmer-Spear and Adam Long. The cover shot itself is (sadly) a little on the fuzzy side due to an issue whilst printing, which marrs it slightly, but that shouldn't detract from what is otherwise a truly stunning publication.

On a personal note, having spent an extensive amount of time sifting through its pages whilst sat on the toilet, the following routes have gaied a prominent place on my Baggy/Culm ticklist:

Hawaiian Pipeline - where has this route been all my life?!
Wreckers' Slab - I've always wanted to do it, but have never found the time. A Patey classic too!
Breakaway - I'm not sure I've ever wanted to do this deep down, but I am curious...
Oceans - a line that looks like it goes on and on and on (and I want to do it)

Summary

Above all others, this was the guidebook I was most looking forward to seeing this year. Sometimes this sort of expectation can lead to a monumental let down, but in the case the opposite was true - it excelled even my highest hopes. To that end, its author - Mark Kemball and Mark Davies - deserve the highest praise, although no doubt both would contribute its brilliance to it being a team effort. My only hope now is that others go out and buy it, as it'd be great to see this fantastic, adventurous coastline get the love it deserves.

For more inspiration check out the rest of the Culm Dancing series, which recounts the area's rich history:



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It's a brilliantly well written guide, and a standard which other guides should seek to emulate. The review sums it all up perfectly.

12 Oct

A good review of a great guide.

@Rob Greenwood - Hawaiian Pipeline and Oceans are both excellent.

13 Oct

Neat review of a cracking guide. I was lucky enough to bump into Mark as we prepared to climb, Wreckers' Slab a few weeks back.

Thanks for the photos on the day too.


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