It’s always a tricky balance when you go away to somewhere new; especially somewhere with a glut of recent development like Dartmoor. On the one hand, you don’t want to just head to the big obvious crags all the time and want to experience a bit more variety. On the other, the famous and popular crags are popular for a reason i.e. they’re the best…
As we pulled in to the car park at Bonehill on Thursday (the fourth day of our trip and third day of climbing) I was left pondering whether I’d made the right call in the venues chosen so far this week. My haul of climbs for the week hadn’t turned out quite as extensive as i’d hoped for thus far, meaning that neither my season goal of 900 problems, nor boosting my Top Ten Yearly Average, had gone particularly well. Still, on reflection, we’d actually been exactly where i wanted to go all along.
Let’s start a little further back. This half term was due to be a very important one: a huge release for us following the lockdown that kicked in at Christmas. Finally, we were free to head to my in-laws and give them a chance to catch up with their grandchildren. They’ve seen precious little of them over the past couple of years and so this was a chance for them to make up for lost time. For a week. While we disappeared off…
So after dropping the kids off (and having a nice weekend catch up) we took off south bound for Dartmoor. It had been nine years since i visited last (i think, there was an issue with the dates on the photos and i had little other records on when we’d gone) but that last visit was literally freezing cold, shown by some of the photos below. I didn’t get much done on that wintery week away.
This time was supposed to be different. Armed with the new CC Dartmoor guidebook rather than the limited Boulder Britain from last time – a great guide for what it is but nothing compared to a comprehensive book – and a rack of new developments over a decade, i was really hoping to get some good mileage in. Sadly, i hadn’t anticipated a heatwave…
There’s nothing you can do about conditions with a trip like this, especially in Britain. Weather forecasts are generally only reliable around a week in advance and most of us need to book our trips much further forward than that. As such you get what you get and this really doesn’t help with somewhere like Dartmoor where the granite really does require good conditions. It’s a shame for it’s appeal as a destination but it is what it is and one day, maybe i’ll actually make it down that way at the right time and finally get some harder climbs done.
With the sun beating down, it made sense to seek some shade and the one crag i was desperate to visit this week was Bearacleave near Bovey Tracey. The crag rose to prominence a few years ago with the problem Devon Sent 7c+ and had captivated me ever since.
We tried to be tactical and take a walk round before fetching the pads, although getting the turnings wrong at the start meant it didn’t really work the way we had in mind. Still, it was better than nothing so i grabbed the kit and we wandered back to the appealing Goalmouth Boulders. The crag reminded me very much of the Swedish hotspot Kjugekull, and although Bearacleave couldn’t quite match the 1000+ problems, the aspect felt very similar; bringing back fond memories of past trips and reminding me of some of the thrill of travelling to new places, regardless of what you get done.
It actually started very well and the Beckham problems were excellent; a great warm up for the rest of the trip. Sadly once we moved on, things started to unravel and finding something that appealed to me proved tricksome. Devon Sent was too high, too hard and too hot to mean it was worth bothering getting the pads out but the nearby Full Length Feature 6a (featuring brick-like features along it’s full length) was aesthetic and enjoyable. After this, the climbs became very green to the point of unclimbable on all but the most popular lines; some of which thwarted me from the offset.
It is a classic catch-22 with developing crags: people don’t want to climb there unless the climbs are clean but they’ll never be clean without the traffic of people climbing them. You feel that there is much potential at Bearacleave – and probably some of the neighbouring crags too, although we didn’t visit to know for sure – and hopefully some more traffic will lead it to be a leading crag of the area.
While Tuesday was baking hot, Wednesday was soggy wet; in the morning at least. This was Em’s trip too (i suddenly realise i hadn’t actually mentioned her in this post yet, oops) so we spent the morning driving the moors and visiting the town of Lydford. The gorge was out, due to Covid restrictions and the National Trust, but the castle and old Norman mound, coupled with the beautiful church made this a lovely change.
We then headed to Okehampton to have a look at a town but this possibly wasn’t the best we could’ve chosen. Nothing against Okehampton but a tourist destination, it probably is not. However, due to where we’d ended up, we opted to head to a crag that was on our way home: Gidleigh Tor.
Where the routes at Bearacleave were either clean or green, those at Gidleigh were almost all some level of green and many were unclimbable in their current guise. The Nose 6a was definitely one of the best problems i’ve done in a long time and almost justified the visit on it’s own, while i can see the appeal of A Fist Full of Slopers 6a. However the most i can say about the rest of the crag is that it is stacked full of potential.
Gidleigh will undoubtedly develop into an outstanding destination one day but it needs more attention. And while the Climber’s Club should be applauded in their attempts to document places like this, they really need to make sure they include the fundamental information for a guidebook. It was only once i got home that i found out The Nose was indeed a sit start problem. As obvious as this may well be when looking at the problem, boulder problems regularly have two starts and it wouldn’t have surprised me if this had been the case. The fact that some problems state the start and others don’t further confused matters for the week.
Hopefully, not only will Gidleigh receive some attention and some traffic but it will also find some documentation from the first ascentionists too. If it does, it could become a great little option.
Of all the rock on Dartmoor, the best for bouldering is found at Bonehill and by a country mile. For density of problems, quality and setting, there isn’t really anywhere that competes at all. With only one day of climbing left before heading home, there was only one place to head.
Slightly overcast conditions worked in our favour but despite the fact Em complained about being cold when the breeze blew, it was still a bit too hot for climbing. In hindsight, i should’ve looked closer at the climbs i’d ticked here long ago as it turns out that in the dozen-or-so problems i tried over the day, many of them were repeats. I probably should’ve been a bit more tactical in my choices too.
I was certainly hoping to have a more successful day than transpired. My lack of recent climbing this year meant my skin wasn’t really up to the challenge and both the Cube Traverse 6c+ and The Slopey Traverse 6c resisted my best efforts, taking enough of my skin in the process to kill off my high aspirations. I often think of bouldering of a competition of mano a roca rather than mano a mano with the problem actually trying to resist one’s attempts to succeed. It’s almost as if the rock is putting up a challenge to stop you and it is up to you to win the day. This Thursday, the rock won.
I am still keen to go back but after a second unsuccessful visit, it’s not high on my list. I think if and when i do return, i’ll try and do so when conditions suit and hopefully with an entourage in tow. I still feel there is scope for a great day here and that i’ve been slightly unfortunate not to catch Dartmoor on a good day but perhaps this is the park weighing in on the fight. One day maybe, one day.
One of the major things i noticed while we were away was the complete lack of other climbers. Yes, it wasn’t exactly prime climbing condition and it was mid-week but this was half term and i would’ve expected to see at least a few climbers. I spotted two pairs carrying pads, with Em reporting seeing one more which seems close to nothing for a moorland scattered with rock.
Is it that there aren’t any climbers here? Or are they hiding somewhere? I’ve no idea but surely Dartmoor deserves a bit more attention. Last time i was here (yes everything was frozen solid) i encountered not a single other climber leaving me to think that this just isn’t a popular climbing destination, perhaps one that fails to register with most climbers as a destination at all. It seems a shame as there is plenty here be a significant draw across the south of England.
On a more personal note, do i feel like this was a successful week? The evidence would suggest not but i’ve long since given up judging any trip by facts and data. Travelling is about far more than ticks in books and while some good ticks do imply a good trip, they’re certainly not the only metric for success. Yes, Magic Wood 2015 was a resounding success and much of this stemmed from the inordinate list of hard climbs i completed (Intermezzo 7c and Dynos Don’t Dyno 7b+ being just two lines done that year) but far more was the camaraderie developed with the other climbers in camp, the relationship built with Tomasz at the Edelweiss, and so on.
This trip lacked that sociable edge too but it did serve two major functions: it was the first trip away from home since Albarracin in February 2020 and was the first chance for Em and myself to have some child-free time for a long time. In both of these respects, it felt great. The destination was almost irrelevant but Dartmoor played host fabulously; an important reminder that you don’t need to leave this island to have a great time away. Hopefully this has got the ball rolling for more adventures around the UK over the next period of our lives.
The Destination page for Dartmoor has now been updated to incorporate the new information discovered this past week. It can be viewed here.