Articles - Beginner's Guide: Pembroke:
Photo: Mike Robertson
by Mike Robertson
Although South Pembroke is well known for its hard classics, it’s most definitely not all about the big grades – the glorious, seemingly endless sea cliffs of Pembroke have a veritable plethora of juggy walls, slabs, cracks and grooves. With a little ingenuity and cunning – combined with a little adventurous spirit – there’s plenty to go at, from the compact slabs of Flimston and Rusty Point to the steep cracks of Mother Carey’s; from the grooves of Crickmail Point to the classic walls of Saddle Head…
South-West Ridge (V. Diff ), Rusty Point
80ft of absorbing slab climbing marks this terrific line, venturing up an airy ‘ridge’ formed by the edge of a compact slab. The tidal access situation is flexible here, although quiet seas and mid tide is desirable. The superb Rusty Point (just east of Lydstep) can be seen from the landmark of Beck’s Point, a little to the west of (but not in) Penally’s Army range.
Sea Tube (V. Diff ) Rusty Point
As the name suggests, this tiny classic ascends an amazing sea tube feature, something a little like The Hole at Trevallen. Quite brilliant, and just that bit different! Access at low tide only. Most subterranean.
Flimston Slab (V. Diff ), Flimston Bay
The central line on a huge slab poised right above the sea; great rock, and terrific positions. The lines on this slab can be seen from the jutting buttress immediately to the east, where your abseil line can be viewed in its entirety (i.e. no character-building surprises!).
Flimston Crack (V. Diff ), Flimston Bay
This terrific Flimston Bay route ventures up the ground just right of the previous route, although there’s not really a crack as such, hmm... but more of that big rough grey slab can’t be bad! Best starter route.
Time and Tide (Sev. 4a), The Castle
An excellent leftwards-slanting crack on great rock. One of Pembroke’s rare, good quality Severes, and accessible at most states of tide, but at the upper extremity of the grade – consider it almost Hard Severe.
Caribbean Cruise (Sev. 4a), The Castle
An enjoyable, well-positioned rising traverse. As with the above route, use an abseil approach to gain the base of the superb, pink-flecked wall.
Threadneedle Street (Sev.), Mother Carey’s
A classic weave around some of Mother’s madder features; a three-pitch blast up one of the best seacliffs in South Wales, and at a very unlikely grade for the terrain! Bear in mind that, although Mother Scarey’s is known as a low tide venue, many of the routes can be comfortably tackled by way of a well-positioned abseil rope – use your loaf!
Best three-pitch route.
Pembroke folk 1: Dave Cook
Photo: Ken Wilson
Something of a Pembrokeshire legend, Dave was at the forefront of a push to gain access to the Army commandeered crags of Range West, and came up with all sorts of inspired, anarchic tactics in the years from ’83 – ’91. Indeed, his first new route whilst trespassing (in the region he himself dubbed ‘Greenham Common’) was a VS by the name of Range Free. In 1991, on what was to be his last new-routing foray into Range West, he found himself arrested, along with activist Steve Findlay (see below). Dave’s name for his new route of the day cheekily echoed the blinkered and narrow-minded arresting officer’s words; Daft as Well as Deaf!
Dave, known for his huge generosity and indomitable spirit, was more than just a climber. He worked full-time for the Communist Party for a number of years, and was renowned for his crazy cycling trips – braving Iraqi secret police and truck-snarled roads the length and breadth of the globe – sadly, it was a run-in with a Turkish truck that finally snagged him, in early 1993. But not before his ’89 – ’90 solo bike ride to Australia – returning to the UK to pen a book about his long and gritty road experience, Breaking Loose. Now that’s legendary.
Misty Arête (Sev. 4a), Misty Walls
This one’s on its own at the grade, poised in a 100fthigh, atmospheric position on the left extremity of Misty Walls (its neighbours are all fierce E’s). A short, lower groove is followed by a long and much easier arête.
Way Out! (Sev. 4a S1/2) Stennis Ford
A remarkable line in an amazing place! Who would have guessed at a line so easy in a place so steep? This route rises from the mouth of the ’Ford some 25ft right of the Godliness bowl on the east face, effectively finishing at the huge wedged boulder at 50ft. Take a high tide with you; the climbing’s fun, and the holds are simply massive.
Myola (HS 4b), Huntsman’s Leap
A big rightwards-slanting line, and another very unlikely grade for the venue! This thoroughly absorbing route rises from the southern extremities of the magical ’Leap. An abseil approach at low tide.
Rusty Slab (HS 4b), Rusty Point
Another ‘rusty’ feature to add to that first two – how rusty can it get? This one slips straight up the slab just left of centre, linking some amazing ‘rusty’patina holds. Brilliant!
Diedre Sud (HS 4a), Mowing Word
One of the most sensational routes of its grade in the UK. A long, two-pitch groove, starting from right down there at sea level. Just brilliant! As with sex…if you haven’t… you undoubtedly will.
Bow-Shaped Slab (HS 4a), Flimston Bay
A massive and superb slab pitch, one of the best in the south-west. All all-tide route if you have an abseil rope, and at a perfect grade. Go to it!
Bow-Shaped Corner (HS 4b), Flimston Bay
If the last route wasn’t brilliant enough… this corner is almost as good again! In the right side of the big slab there resides a 150ft corner – you won’t get lost on this one. Best corner!
Brass in Pocket (HS 4a), Flimston Bay
This oft-ignored route gives some of the best positions of the grade in Pembroke, tracing a line up the left arête of one of the finest slabs in town (a veritable teeter on the edge of nowhere).
Pembroke folk 2: Steve Findlay
Photo: Bernard Newman
Referred to in the CC guide as Steve ‘Mr Universe’ Findlay, this remarkable and well-muscled Bristolian activist was once a member of the Clean Hand Gang – a group of folk dedicated to non-use of chalk (members of the gang included Graham Desroy and Pat Littlejohn). The group finally ‘disbanded’ in 1984, when Pat succumbed to the evil dust with his ascent of The White Hotel (E6 6c) in Huntsman’s Leap. So Steve, as the only surviving member of this once-tribe, found himself an integral part of Pembroke’s blossoming new-routing scene (his first ‘new’ outing was seconding Heat of the Moment (E5 6b) at the Castle, with Nipper Harrison in 1982).
Steve went on to pay many a visit to the greater ranges, venturing up to the dizzy heights of over 7,000m a number of times; he used yet another of his nine lives when he narrowly avoided drowning in that monstrous Thai tsunami of Christmas 2004, having to untangle himself from ropes whilst trapped beneath the deck of an upturned boat... And of course, there was that day back in late October of 1991, when he found himself arrested along with that fine chap Dave Cook. Steve’s new route name of the day? It’s a Fair Cop!
Ganymede (HS 4b), St. Govan’s East
Surrounded by bigger, tougher brothers, this one is the only steady route in this atmospheric and rugged area. Good climbing.
Sea Mist (HS 4a), Saddle Head
Despite the copious attention paid to this route over the past two decades, it’s still a line of great quality, and very well-positioned indeed. Avoid bank hols!
Sea Groove (HS 4b), Mother Carey’s
A line of immense purity, taking a lengthy and perfect groove on the east side of Carey’s amazing White Tower. Steady climbing all the way; I’ve stuck my neck out and downgraded it from VS. So shoot me!
Razzle Dazzle (VS 4c), Crystal Slabs
The main event here? A brilliant line, linking the Crystal Slabs’ many cracks. Nice and long, with pretty good gear; a must-do.
The Gadfly (VS 4c), Crystal Slabs
Almost as good as the above route, but a little harder. Make sure you place some good gear beneath the bulge on all the Crystal Slab routes; wires have a habit of lifting out.
Too Little (VS 4c), The Castle
A short, compact face climb on excellent rock (one for the indoor climbing brigade…). Brilliant moves, but, at just 45ft high, is it really too little?
Catch (VS 4b), Crickmail Point
A steady start up an easy corner leads to a good top section, taking a wide groove. Save some energy for the tricky upper section.
Blue Sky (VS 4b), Saddle Head
This well-respected line might well be the best route of its grade in South Pembroke. It has just about everything you could ask for – two pitches, fantastic rock and out-there exposure. Unmissable. Get on it at dead low tide for the best experience.
Best two-pitch route.
The Cracks (VS 4c), Mother Carey’s
I’ve taken the opportunity to add a couple of grades to this line, which currently appears as Severe in the guides, and proves to be quite a test-piece. It’s good, but no push-over – let’s face it, us Brits don’t excel at cracks, do we? Take plenty of big gear!
Eight Gauge (VS 4b), Mother Carey’s
An unsung route that gets little attention (do we really need all those distracting stars in guides?!). This cunning little line takes on some very varied ground indeed.
Joybringer (VS 4b), Bosherston Head
Adventure, with a capital A. Embraces the biggest wedge of a very intimidating cliff, but with no real hard moves in either of its three pitches. A traverse into the start (relatively serious) would make it the adventure of your weekend!
Aero (VS 5a), Crickmail Point
A brilliant line up a sustained wall, but at the very extremity of this article – consider this your last VS (umm) before embarking on the treasure trove of South Pembroke’s many HVS’s!
South Pembroke – what you might want to know…
Situated: In the great land of cool coastal breezes in far West Wales, somewhere beyond Cardiff. Limestone utopia, wire placements to die for, and tea made in the old-fashioned way.
Digs: The campsite of choice these days seems to be Glebe Farm, just on the edge of the infamous village of Bosherston. It’s £3 per night, with limited facilities available. Second choice is the shower-blessed St. Petrox site, although the sizeable drive from the pub (some 2 miles or so) makes it a ‘less safe’ alternative. If you have a van/camper, the possible informal venues are widespread, and, at the more expensive end of the scale, it’s worth noting that the St. Govan’s Inn now offers a B&B facility.
Gear shops: Are few and far between. Some supplies are available over at the somewhat-distant ‘city’ of St. David’s (errhmm, well, it does have a proper cathedral…), and chalk/guides are sometimes on sale in Bosherston, at Ma Weston’s Emporium… I mean café.
Food: Best Bosherston teapot venue just has to be Mrs Weston’s Ye Olde Worlde Café, where the firing times can be observed atop the post by the gate, and you will almost certainly bump into most of your friends… The usual pub meal scenario applies to the area’s pubs, with chish & fip shops perhaps best represented by the establishment on the south-west road out of Pembroke town. For general supplies, Pembroke’s Somerfield store is the easiest to hand. Breakfast for sausage and mushroom lovers is still an issue in the area, especially for early risers – as a last resort, get down to the often-noisy Tesco store, over at the north side of Pembroke town.
Tides/Birdie Bans/Army: Ah, these things are sent to try us… Tides can be swerved away from, clung to or better understood by the procurement of a tide timetable (fishing tackle shops are perhaps your best bet or check out the extremely useful bbc.co.uk/weather/coast/tides/before you set out), whilst the bird bans are not so different from those detailed in the existing guides (keep an eye out for specific birdie-chough-posts with further maddening instructions). As far as the Army are concerned – maybe we should all turn up for a mass trespass in Huntsman’s Leap sometime in August – after all, why shouldn’t we have just one measly month of the year to simply enjoy access to Range East during the week? Oops, now I’m in trouble.
Further Entertainment: You know the score. The annual streak through the crowded St. Govan’s Inn generally falls on the August bank holiday (attend/get involved at your peril); ditto the swimming pilgrimage to the lily ponds after a pint or five of Abbott’s Ale; lastly, try your hand at kart racing (wet days are especially exciting).
Further Reading: Pembroke Rockfax (1995) by Alan James is a well-mapped selective guide ideal for a general visit; and the Climbers’ Club guide of the same year gives precise details on everything else, including all that madcap esoterica. Be a devil and purchase both.