Having fun in Dorset
For some the mere mention of climbing at Swanage instils fear and dread! OK, so it is generally steep, intimidating limestone sea cliff climbing and doesn’t have a wealth of quality low grade routes akin to the Peak District gritstone fleshpots, but good times can be had if you’re prepared for the whole ‘experience’ and not just route ticking!
Here is an account of a typical IMC Swanage trip.
We eventually arrived at Tom’s Field about 11.15pm Friday night having spent thirty minutes just getting off the A12 onto the M25! Steve and Guy had already gone to bed as they had arrived on Thursday and had been climbing all day Friday. Simon Chandler, Alex & Andy had arrived not long before us and had their tents up.
A disturbed night followed with some truly awful neighbours being very noisy in to the early hours of the morning.
Saturday dawned with fog and a general damp feeling in the air so much faffing ensued. Simon and crew went off to Subluminal in typically optimistic spirits whilst Steve, Guy, Christina and I pondered some more. About 10ish the sun was doing its best to break through the fog so it was finally agreed to walk to Blacker’s Hole as Steve had some stuff he wanted to have a go at and there are a few VS’s for C and me to have a crack at. And there is the added bonus of a scramble approach rather than abseil, in the event of any escapes required! The fog cleared on the way and things were looking good. Steve and Guy set off to warm up on Tobacco Road (VS 4c) but got seduced by an E1 (can’t remember the name – Rufty’s Roll Up E1 5b ** Ed.), which left Tobacco Road for C and me to bag. What a great route – although a bit steep at the final headwall. While S and G went off to do another E1, C ‘n’ me did Zig-Zag (seems like a popular route name!) which used to be S4a but now upgraded to VS4c as the second pitch has apparently suffered from various rock falls. Not easy to protect perhaps, and a bit wobbly near the top, but definitely not VS4c – a good route that is nice and low in the grade.
After that, as S&G set off for Tobacco Road, C ‘n’ me walked over to Guillemot Ledge to do Batt Crack (VS4c) as recommended by Mr C – hereafter known as Sandbag Steve! All started well as a nice couple let us use their abseil rope, which saved a little time, and we found the start of the route with no problems. But, all good things must come to an end – what a chuffin’ nightmare that route is (VS4c MA!). We both did at least manage to get to the top of the thing but not without a Herculean struggle and much sitting on gear in the very strenuous corner crack of the first pitch – this is more like the Swanage we know and love! We topped out at around 18.30/18.45 just as the sun was sliding round the headland. As we were walking back to Tom’s Field Sandbag Steve – complete with headtorch – came wandering up the path looking for us (but no rescue team – we weren’t THAT late!), and we got back to tent about 19.15 after a brilliant day out.
All the rest of the IMC contingent were back, fed, watered and waiting to go off to The Square & Compass in Worth Matravers as a change to The Kings Arms in Langton Matravers. So, a quick heat up and scoff of curried chick peas (yum, I hear you cry!) and we were off on the two mile walk to said hostelry
What a wacky gem of a pub! Stacked full of country charm with so many delights: gravity fed ale from the barrel; real ciders and parries; a room full of fossils and stuffed animals; furniture made form driftwood; friendly locals mixing with weekenders and off-grid eco-warriors alike; and with the added bonus of live music most Saturday nights.
This particular Saturday’s entertainment was “Moveable Feast”, a brilliant folk-based band with a phenomenal fiddle player (stunning cover version of The Devil Goes Down To Georgia). Needless to say, we all stayed longer than expected and didn’t get to bed until nearly one in the morning – but at least the noisy neighbours from the previous night had moved on.
Sunday dawned without a cloud in the sky. Despite a little cider-induced resistance, I managed to convince C that we really should go for a last long training run before the following Sunday’s Felixstowe half marathon. We got back to the campsite just after 9am to find S&G packed and about to leave for Durlston Country Park (keen burgers!). Simon & crew were not so sharp off the mark, which was good really as we had arranged for Simon to travelling back with us as his friends live in Cambridge. By the time we got sorted out and a decision made it was about 11.30 before we arrived at Dancing Ledge for a spot of sport climbing. Well, how hard can it be?
I did at least manage to dog my way up John Craven’s Willy Warmer – supposedly the easiest route on the crag at F5+ – and got up a F6a that Simon had lead after I had backed off it. In the end it was decided that the place was not for mere mortals so we packed our bags and moved along the coast to Hedbury Quarry. Tip of the day – do NOT rely on the Rockfax diagram and approach directions! Eventually we arrived at Hedbury at about 4.30pm and had a play on some much more amenably graded routes, although Simon did manage an excellent looking F6a+ over some beautiful flowstone that no one else wanted to second.
We left Tom’s Field at 6.30pm but still got caught in traffic queues on the A31 and batches of slow moving traffic on the M3.
For the more adventurous, this is how Steve C described his Sunday.
Guy and I headed off to Boulder Ruckle (far East) on Sunday to try a few routes around Old Faithful. Our original plan to start on an HVS was scotched when we saw the route – it was described as fingery, but the guidebook failed to mention overhanging and unprotected. We’d done the other HVSs in the area so we picked an E1 called October Lady. Guy led the 1st pitch with no problems but the excesses of the previous night caught up with me on the crux pitch and after much whimpering and dangling on gear a convoluted abseil off in 2 pitches was arranged. We made it out, via Old Faithful, for lunch at 3 pm in the end. After a bit of refuelling we decided to head down and do battle again and managed to restore some honour with an ascent of Snowdrop – this time with Guy on the crux pitch!
To find out what happened on Monday follow the link.
The Cake of Mortality
Having started this piece saying that good times can be had, the astute reader will have spotted that none of the routes mentioned are below VS. That’s not to say there aren’t any lower grade routes, but we’ve all climbed most of them before and the quality climbing is generally (although not exclusively) at VS and above. It’s definitely not good for beginners, but there are some areas that are reasonably easy to access with some V Diffs and Severes to have a go at. So, why not work towards getting on one of next year’s Swanage trips? Just cut your leading teeth on grit, hone some skills on the more readily accessible inland limestone, and give it a go!
….. but finally, a cautionary postscript. The Cliffs of Swanage have a reputation to defend and will do their damnedest to catch you underwears!