Back in 2016 The Climbers Club brought out the first volume in the eagerly anticipated West Cornwall series. However enticing this guide was (and it most certainly was) it was only half of the equation, representing just the northern areas. This guide, the second volume in the series, covers the southern areas, including the Lizard.
As a quick recap, I was mightily impressed with Volume 1: "The strong combination of a high quantity and high quality of action shots and superb topos means it has not only done the classic crags justice, but given the more minor crags the time and space they deserve - hopefully encouraging people to go off the beaten track a little more" (click here to read the full review). As such I had high hopes for Volume 2, but was equally conscious that expectation can be a dangerous thing - more than once before I've had high hopes dashed! In these circumstances my hopes were doubly high, as one of the guide's primary authors - Paul Harrison - produced one of my all-time favourite guides (Lundy, also by the Climbers Club). So with the weight of expectation at boiling point I opened the pages and was pleasantly surprised.
Firstly, I am happy to say that the quality throughout is very much on a par with Volume 1. Format-wise very little has changed, which is good for two reasons: firstly, because it was a good format and secondly, because it means they work well together, as a series, as they should do. The A5 size, which I now no longer feel the need to justify (hopefully the debate on that has now moved on) allows for larger and thus clearer topos, but not only that - they're all the more inspiring as a result. To coin a somewhat hyperbolic phrase: one could say they were immersive. Too far? Maybe not, when you compare it to the previous edition! A final quirk of the guide at hand is that it is split into two sections - Chair Ladder and the South Cost being one, and the Lizard the other - each with separate histories and indexes. Whilst I applaud the abundance of history, I think the indexes would have been better combined. But it isn't too much of an issue when you know where to look.
The full page topos lend themselves to the larger and more complex crags such as Chair Ladder, where the general scale of the crag is that bit greater. Smaller and more space efficient topos have been used for many of the other crags, but bear in mind that even the smaller topos are larger than the dimensions of the whole of the previous guide - as such they're not that small, they're actually quite big! There is only one double page spread topo, the inclusion of which I'd say was a little out of keeping (being that it's the only one). I am glad there is only one, as they inevitably lose a lot of space to the centrefold. The double page spreads that I do like (a lot) are the title pages for the various key crags throughout the area. These really seek to showcase what is so good about Cornish climbing (more so than the cover shot manages to, which I'll come onto later), with an abundance of golden granite, azure seas, bright white horses, and cloudless skies. Each one makes me desperately want to visit the area, but with so many good areas, which to choose? This feature is particularly of interest on The Lizard, where it brings to light some crags and routes that would otherwise have been reserved for the more esoteric end of the spectrum.
Nb. special mention needs to go to Tom Last, Simon Cardy, Mike Hutton, Tony Sawbridge, James Mann and Don Sergeant, who have some of the greatest photographic hits throughout the guide.
In keeping with my review of Volume 1 I'll move onto the matter of what's actually new routes-wise, albeit with a slight twist. The thing with this volume - and climbers in general - is that most who visit this particular area are likely only ever to visit Chair Ladder. As such, it's not just about newly developed cliffs for long time devotees of the area, it's about opening the eyes of those first time visitors to other areas too. Giving the likes of Pordenack Point, Carn Barra, Fox Promontory, Cribba Head and St. Loy a major overhaul has - I hope - increased the chances of people going there. For me the area of greatest interest was Basher's Harbour, as this wasn't even on my radar before - and now it firmly is! Of course there's still one major area that I haven't mentioned: The Lizard. This is where a lot of the new development has been - not just new routes, but entirely new crags and sectors across a wide variety of grades from Moderate to E6.
When it comes to the Lizard, one negative I could draw from my armchair is that a lot of the routes do look...how do I put it...crap... Maybe I'm being unfair and perhaps they're amazing, but from the outside looking in it looks like a whole load of first ascents that are very unlikely to receive a second. Perhaps this is a sign of the definitive guidebook times, with a balance needing to be struck in between what to include, but also - dare I say it - what not to include? This is undoubtedly a contentious viewpoint, but with more and more routes being put up the wheat does need to be separated from the chaff, and in the case of the guide at hand there appears to be a lot of chaff located on the Lizard.
Rob's Cornwall 'to-do' list...
- Sort my act out and visit Paradise Wall at Carn Les Boel (I've been meaning to for ages)
- Re-visit Chair Ladder, last visit in 2005 when I climbed South Face Direct - been meaning to return ever since
- Track down Bermuda Wall at Pedn-men-an-mere, because a) I've never heard of it and b) it looks amazing
- Return to Cribba Head for another attempt on Lovely, Lovely, Lovely, but without the foreign maniac in tow
- Explore the mysteries of Basher's Harbour
There have been a lot of positives so far: so where's the counterbalancing negative? Whilst they say it's wrong to judge a book by its cover, we all do so. The cover shot in question rankles me for a number of reasons. Compared to all the good shots in the guide that scream Cornish, this one doesn't seem to scream anything at all - it could be Pembroke for all you can tell. Whilst some have had issue with the list of crags featuring on the cover, I have not, as I think it can be done sympathetically alongside the right image; but this is not the right image. One final kick in the teeth is the change from the extremely classy matt finish of Volume 1 to a cheaper feeling gloss finish. All-in-all the cover leaves me feeling a little disappointed, but it is - lest we forget - merely the cover; the contents are really what a guidebook is all about, so maybe we should leave it at that and go climbing…
A worthy follow-up to Volume 1, ticking all the boxes with clear topos, good descriptions, inspirational photographs, and a whole host of crags that will appeal to both the honey pot hero and the esoteric eccentric.
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