South West Tour

Mel Evans

This month pride of place must go to the ‘South West Climbing Trip’ organised on behalf of WBMC by Ken. Initially ten beds were booked in the Climbers’ Club Hut, ‘The Counthouse’, at Bosigran, half way between St Ives and St Just, on the North coast of Cornwall but, for a variety of reasons, just Ken and myself left late on Sunday afternoon for what turned out to be an absolutely fantastic week of climbing.

Monday saw us wake to see dense sea mist clinging to the cliffs, but as the morning wore on this slowly evaporated to reveal a gloriously clear sky. These conditions were to be repeated for almost the entire week. By 8.30am our number had grown to four! Dave Covington, a member now living in Cornwall, had joined us for the day and, after spending the night on an adjacent car park, Nick emerged refreshed and rarein’ to go. He had driven down in the early hours after spending an exciting weekend at the ‘Gower Climbing Festival’. Over breakfast he proceeded to whet our appetite with tales of climbing with local activists on ‘King Wall’.

By mid-morning we were strolling beneath Bosigran Main Cliff on a terrace 45 metres above Porthmoina Cove. On the opposite side of the cove ran the long, pinnacled, Bosigran ‘commando’ Ridge. What a fantastic landscape.

Dave and I began by tackling ‘Doorpost’, a 3-star 60m climb detailed in the iconic book ‘Classic Rock’. I set off up what the guide book describes as, ‘the perfect Cornish climb’, following a rightward rising traverse-line to the first belay. Dave followed through and up twin cracks before the final rib was finished on large knobbly holds. By the time we topped out Ken and Nick were already back down after completing ‘Ledge Climb’. They then followed us before moving to a third route ’Ochre Slab Route II’ on the Seaward Cliff while Dave and I enjoyed a leisurely chat before ‘Ledge Route’. He then returned home leaving me to savour the late afternoon sun while sitting high above a perfectly calm sea. A fantastic setting and a fantastic first day.

Walking off, the stillness was suddenly shattered by an increasingly angry voice gradually taking on a more and more desperate quality. First to be spotted was the young leader sitting comfortably at a top-out with seemingly not a care in the world, enjoying life to the full, living the dream; directly below and underneath an overhang, jammed in a large corner well out of sight was his female companion. Was she mad? She was livid. She was literally hanging on for dear life, completely stuck, while her partner seemed more interested in enjoying the late afternoon sunshine? Finally, after what seemed an eternity, there was movement and, chuckling, we left them to complete their route and further explore a somewhat fraught relationship!

Tuesday morning saw us on ‘Commando Ridge’ which, at 210m, must be one of the best VD / scrambles going. The afternoon saw us drive to ‘Chair Ladder’ southeast of Land’s End. The base of these cliffs is tidal so we planned to arrive in time to scramble down and be ready to climb at low tide, 5.30pm. The short walk in saw us acknowledge the coastguard in the lookout on the headland; it was good to know that our presence had been noted.

Our aim was ‘Bulging Wall’ and the 3star 60m route ‘Pegasus’. Leaving sacs on the cliff top we descended the East side of Zawn Rinny picking a route down the various walls and ledges. The guide suggests this is a moderate climb, if the easiest route is found! We ended with an abseil down the final section to large platforms which the retreating seas had just exposed. Had we missed the easiest route? I sat knackered on top of the largest boulder I could find, well above the gently lapping waves, leaving Ken to traverse across still soaking slabs to where we thought the climb started. Once moving I soon realised that although parts were still sea washed the rock’s friction remained superb and confidence gradually grew. How privileged we were to be in this timeless landscape.

Ken was soon on his way up the initial steep corner crack and heading for an overhang and belay ledge. He was in his element, totally alive and in tune with the surroundings whereas I was still in awe. As I belayed, with feet subjected to the occasional rogue wave, an inquisitive seal popped up no more than 5 metres away! We topped out just before dark to the sound of a not so distant fog horn, it had been a close call for by the time we arrived at the car it was almost pitch black.

Next day we drove to Sennen Cliffs in steady drizzle. A quiet coffee and long chat saw off the rain and, as predicted by the car park attendant, the afternoon saw us enjoying perfect climbing conditions. Nick had rejoined us for this expedition. We abseiled to the large, non-tidal platform which formed the base of numerous climbs. We each led climbs, nothing too strenuous, just very enjoyable on the warm, grippy, Cornish granite. This time other climbers were about and everyone was in a relaxed chatty mood. One pair of characters from Pembroke seemed to be in a continual state of rolling their own and puffing away with not a care in the world.

This mood continued as we enjoyed a pint in a St Just bar, enjoying banter with others in from a day on the cliffs. By next morning Nick had returned home. Our stay at The Counthouse was also over and we set off on the long drive to Portland and some Sport Climbing! On the way we stopped off at the ‘Dewerstone’, Dartmoor’s premier crag. Located 8 miles north-east of Plymouth this sheltered wooded valley proved to be an absolutely magical climbing venue. In the Devil’s Rock area, the largest exposure of granite on Dartmoor, Ken led a superb VS, ‘Leviathan’, steep and sustained it proved a real challenge. This was quickly followed by another stared route, ‘Route B’ which had an excitingly airy top pitch. It had been a great few hours.

Arriving in Portland we met up with Jo, Jason and Mark who had arrived early and spent the day climbing and generally getting a feel for the place. Next morning we headed to an area they identified and enjoyed ourselves on a couple of fine sport routes. In the afternoon we made for the ‘Cuttings’, a much talked about popular area but found the climbs difficult and in many cases the bolting was suspect. Perhaps Ken and I were simply climbed out. Perhaps we had been somewhat spoiled by natural landscapes. Either way, climbing at Portland failed to tick many boxes. It had been a great week and the ‘Dewerstone’ is certainly worth a second visit.

This article was written by Mel Evans and published on this website on the 17th July 2015