A Conversation With David Flanagan

As regular or recent readers will know, i recently went to Ireland for a trip to the Wicklow mountains and was a little scathing about the guidebook.

Well, a comment appeared underneath the post from a Mr David Flanagan, author of said guidebook. He was, let us say, less than impressed by my review.

That is totally understandable; guidebooks don’t make the authors much money and are a labour of love so having some random internet guy write horrid things about it online can’t have been pleasant.

Thankfully for us both, David has been very understanding and we’ve been chatting via email about my post, the guidebook and his thoughts and explanations. I said in the comments, i’m genuinely grateful to get called up on my post and for him to get in touch. He’s been very open to conversation and we’ve been talking it through. So here are some of the reflections since we’ve started talking:

Areas covered

Firstly, a mistake i made with my review: we only went to Glendalough. We didn’t travel to any of the other areas – and i’ll talk more about this in a minute – and certainly didn’t make it to the North, South or West of Ireland. So to judge the whole guidebook based on my experience in Wicklow, nay Glendalough alone, was unfair.

So all of my previous comments related purely to this one crag. As such, i apologise for this mistake. In due course, i’m hoping to explore a little more but until that point, i need to remember to specify.

Maps in the guide

This is the point where David had the most trouble and something we’ve since talked about quite a bit. I have argued that there is a gap in the mapping – with a large scale overview and a very small scale map to get from the parking – and that there should be one in between.

His counter to this: “I think that to find any area would be pretty straightforward on a gps enabled phone” and he has also suggested, “A good road atlas is worth getting. Probably don’t need the OS maps unless you are exploring new areas”.

While i completely understand, i still feel a map with a scale in between the two on offer would pay dividends and it is something that most guides do offer. This is the point where we seem to disagree and that’s fine, we’re entitled to our individual opinions. There are some map-related retractions from my posts and they can be seen below.

Problem descriptions and Photo Topos

Here we get a bit more subtle and into the minutiae of the guide. Again, much as with my first point, it is important to remember this all stems from the relatively small number of problems i encountered; 12 pages out of 230. As such, for me to offer an opinion on Ireland as a whole was unjust and i apologise.

We discussed the problems i had tried and struggled with and some of the issues i’d had and again, to his credit, David listened and accepted what i had said; for example about the back of the Big Jane boulder. Likewise for BBE he agreed that commenting that the rock plinth was in would be worthwhile.

There may be a third edition on it’s way so these subtle differences could well be included.

For me to say, “photo topos for boulders are scant” is harsh and not the case. There are boulders that could do with more attention, as mentioned above, but there are plenty of photo topos in the guide.

Grades

Grades are always a contentious issue and this is a conversation we did have but one that didn’t interest David that much. You’ll always get this, where someone disagrees strongly with the area’s grading but to use three days of bouldering to come out with the comment, “listen to me when i tell you, dear Irish climbers: your grading is just pure wrong” is misguided and with my experience – especially when i then use that to back up the comment – i should’ve known better.

I maintain the grades in this area lack consistency and could do with some outside influence but there is scope for that online in the form of online logbooks and there are not many opinions on problems. Until Ireland and specifically Glendalough attain more international attention, this will be an issue for travelling climbers. Even then, i am willing to concede that i may be wrong.

This is not uncommon. I’ve been to places both famous and not and this is always an issue. It’s normally worse for locals who can debate the intricate details of each problem for a much longer time. As for Glendalough, i still don’t think it’s perfect and i still think Andy’s Arete should be 7a but that is one area in a whole country and my comment, “the grades in Glendalough are shit” was uncalled for.

Overall

Anyone who writes for the public – journalists, essayists, bloggers, forum users, anyone with a social media account including twitter and facebook among the myriad of others – should be held to account for the comments they make. With the advent of the internet and the ease with which we are able to make public statements to be heard by the masses, the more extreme comments can come to the fore much more easily.

I have often dismissed comments of this nature by others as “keyboard warriors” who don’t really care or think about the consequences of their words. This episode has highlighted to me how easy it is to drift into that state of mind without realising.

I’ve been lucky: the guy i slated has had the strength of character not only to call me on it but to discuss it like a professional and i hope i’ve conducted myself in a similar fashion. I can only apologise for making rash comments. A friend said to me, when talking about penning this post, that when he read the originals, he thought i’d get hate mail and to be honest, in hindsight, he might have been right.

I have left the original posts unedited deliberately. As with print media, once you have said something, it is said and i don’t want to tamper with it to try and make myself look less culpable. However, i have posted an addendum onto the post to point people in the direction of my retraction.

As for the guide, it is not, as per my original judgement, a “crap guidebook”. Yes, i’ve used better but i’ve also used much worse and we were able to find the crags i was most interested in and plenty of problems to climb. Yes, the maps don’t live up to my high expectations but they do work, in conjunction with another road map as eluded to in the opening chapters. To pass such harsh judgment based on Glendalough alone was simply wrong and i should’ve been more specific.

The most important point is this: don’t let my review put you off going. The climbing in Glendalough is worth the trip alone and i’m sure some of the other crags in the area are similarly excellent. The guidebook, as new editions emerge, is becoming better all the time and got us to and around the crag with ease.

If i did go back, would i want the guidebook with me? Absolutely and i think that says it all.

Some Retractions

The following are comments from my two original posts that David highlighted that i wish to retract.

  • “it is massively lacking as even a half decent guidebook”. This is harsh and untrue.
  • “There are practically no maps, photo topos for boulders are scant and the descriptions for the problems that aren’t photographed are often useless”. There are maps, as discussed above, there are several photo topos and often descriptions are perfectly suitable. If there are individual problems with routes you find, the guidebook author is amenable to feedback.
  • “try and find anywhere less obvious – like every single other crag in the area – and the guide lacks even the slightest bit of quality”. I didn’t actually try to find places, we relied on climbing at Glendalough and so this comment was unjust.
  • “i would suggest that even at this wonderfully accessible location, i would’ve really struggled to find anything”. In hindsight, we did find the crag and several problems without help and locals generally gave more specific information on individual problems.
  • “the crap guidebook didn’t actually show us where any other crags are”. It does, you just need to try a little bit. I was being lazy and this comment is not based on any evidence.
  • “the grades in Glendalough are shit”. A snap judgement, possibly born out of frustration at my own performance, that wasn’t backed up by attempting enough climbs. A lesson not to judge grades by one’s own performance over a short period of time.
  • “listen to me when i tell you, dear Irish climbers: your grading is just pure wrong”. I did not try enough climbing in Ireland to make this statement.

Once again, many thanks to David Flanagan for taking the time to discuss this with me.

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