Articles - Baggy Point: Sea cliff climbing in North Devon
Photo: Mike Robertson
by Mike Robertson
Baggy Point; a place of legend, of cataclysmic storms, of huge, lichen-stained slabs towering above wave-washed bays of monumental architecture. Here the undulating, sun-caressed hills of North Devon slowly fall prey to the almighty Atlantic; here, the cracked slabs and weathered, diagonal shale bands are scoured clean by the powerful, grinding winter storms.
Baggy’s mightiest feature, Long Rock Slab (formerly, and incorrectly, known in the previous definitive guide as The Promontory) stands proud above the incoming swells, adorned with a mixture of cracks, corners and slanting breaks. It’s guarded on its landward end by the chilling, gaping maw of Baggy Hole. Here the mermaids lie in wait, the haunting melodies of Aeolian harps coercing landlubbers towards the ocean…
Apparently safe from such shenanigans at low tide, the 70-degree climbing here takes you through every grade: the incredible, classic Shangri-La (Sev 4a) tackles a 130ft cracked arête, with Last Testament (E6 6b) a scant few metres away – Long Rock’s hardest route to date, a tussle with minuscule edges, the order of the day. These lines are surrounded by sheer quality. Lost Horizon (VS 5a) is one of the finest pitches of the grade on the North Coast, taking a brilliant, long crack; Pickpocket is a stunning HVS 5b soaring the height of the crag at the seaward end; and Soft Touch (E4 6a) is an immaculate piece of slab climbing – and one of Baggy’s earliest testpieces.
It’s a land of sweeping blindness in places – the route-finding on the harder E grades can be both tricky and time-consuming – the 140ft Terrapin (E3 5b) is a an example of such a challenge.
Yep, Baggy is beautiful; here’s to that eclectic mix of deepest brown and bright green; the colours of late summer bracken lining the steep slopes above the jaunty angles of The Promontory, in Baggy’s most southern reaches. The rabbits nibble their way across the slopes of unadulterated green, whilst climbers below wrestle with that first and oh-so committing move of Kinkyboots (VS 4c, 4b), a stomach-tightening lunge across a void, to engage with that teasing flat hold so close… Baggy’s Promontory has many such challenges. Ben (S 4a) and Marion (HS 4b) are two of the finest intros to the area, with solid gear and good rock guaranteed, whilst, over on the taller stuff, you’ll discover such delights as the awesome Midnight Cowboy (HVS 4c, 5a, 4b); a grand outing, and possibly the slab’s strongest line – you’ll even have a choice of starts, depending on the tide. Further right, the superb Permafrost (HVS 5a) takes you up a superb, beautifully-positioned arête. For the crab-wise amongst us, you’ll want to scuttle across the adventurous Peeping Tom (E1 4c, 5b, 5a), the lower traverse line, and maybe best tackled with an attending sea to amuse…
North of Long Rock Slab – and the titanic Baggy Hole – the crag opens out into a huge, convoluted bay. Here you’ll discover features as crazily-named as Concrete Wall, Cheesegrater Cliff, and the 60-degree Scrattling Zawn. Concrete Wall is home to the formidable, 220ft HVS 4c of Concrete Rose, and the overhanging Cheesegrater Cliff offers up such gems as the brilliant Dark Angel (E5 6a), the exposed Emmental Arête (E4 5c), and the new-school E7 6b of The Nightfishing, Baggy’s most recent answer to the upper grades. Scrattling Zawn itself contains a further host of slabs, sliced into sections by brilliant and easy crack climbs; here, the historic 1890’s route Scrattling Crack (V. Diff) takes command, with the delicate and precarious HVS 5a of Chouinard’s Yard 1 finding its way up the bald slab to the left.
Baggy Point – rugged testament to the every-changing nature of our glorious British sea cliffs. It will draw you back time and time again; for the thrumming, white-topped waves, the piercing cries of gulls, for the countless, enticing moves on some of Devon’s very finest slabs. Baggy is simply unforgettable.
A tongue-in-cheek history
1799 HMS Weazle is shipwrecked off Baggy Point, with 107 people on board. The only surviving crew member is one very lucky Purser. One of the cannons stills sits at the local museum.
1820’s ‘Mayor of Croyde’: a bye-law is passed, giving the dubious title to the last inebriated patron of the Manor Inn to fall into the local un-walled stream. The post is unpaid, and is permanent – at least right up until the next unfortunate fellow…
1850’s The influx of mermaids to the area, headed by the Queen Atargatis, reaches an all-time high, with local facilities stretched to the maximum. Swimming schools are introduced; rivers and fishponds are improved to cope with the invasion.
1898 Tom Longstaff establishes Scrattling Crack (V. Diff); Baggy’s low-grade classic. Bizarrely, the cliffs of Baggy see no further development until 1968, when Pete Biven and team put up the companion route Moonshot (Diff). Now that’s progress.
1943 A solitary German bomb finds its way to the cliffs of Baggy Point. The only casualty? A dead cow.
1990’s Pressure from ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ and the public are key in prompting plans for a longer Baggy waste pipe and an updated treatment plant. The work is currently well under way.
2005 A Great White shark is sighted off Baggy Point by teenage marine biology enthusiast Chaynee Hodgetts; the national press are delighted, although experts are not entirely convinced. Deep water solo projects are abandoned until further notice!
2020’s Queen Atargatis, Baggy’s immortal and best-known mermaid, is granted custody of the entire Baggy/Croyde area. Gigantic, rocky swimming pools and underwater caves are built, and Croyde’s surf is cleverly controlled to perfection by satellite technology. Additionally, a free climbers’ bar and campsite is introduced, and climbers are handsomely paid to climb by ever-attentive tourists.
What you might want to know…
Situated immediately north of the ultra-cool surf venue of Croyde, on the Atlantic coast of North Devon. Where the waves swing by, the mermaids entice, and where the big, lichen-clad slabs desperately try to stay atop the mighty Atlantic ocean…
Official camping in the area is usually expensive. The campsite of choice these days is often the expansive Cherry Tree Farm, situated a mere 25 minute walk from Baggy Point, in Croyde. A further choice is the smaller Mitchum’s Meadow, catering for 2/3-man tents only, and found near the Baggy Point road – but both of these sites are around £12 per person, with the latter only open at certain times of the year (call 01271 890233). One last and much cheaper (£5) alternative is Billy Bud’s campsite, found behind the Post Office, although the field is a little sloping…
If you have a van, you’ll need to go exploring for a place to park up, as the ‘informal parking’ in the region is more regulated than you’d like. There are numerous B&B’s in the area – book in advance for August.
Food and drinks
Polly’s Café, situated high on a lawn above the north end of the beach, is the best cream tea venue, with free tea refills; find it just up from the National Trust car park, on the narrow Baggy Point road out of town. The Thatch in town is probably the best evening pub venue to meet up at, with a decent menu, terrific beer, and some of those quaint, low-slung ceilings (all very north-coastally idiosyncratic; the local Monks used to bed down their livestock here). There’s a breakfast café in town, along with the odd small supermarket and beer outlet. For a full compliment of supermarkets, banks and pubs, take a drive over to Braunton, on the Barnstaple road.
Baggy Point’s tide range is reasonably accommodating, with much more latitude than somewhere like Sharpnose; more important is to pay a visit during a low swell state. You can get a full brief of tide times on bbc.co.uk/weather/coast/tides/
Remember that neap tides give less swing and stay lower, whilst the bigger spring tides catch your ankles... The best-timed low tide would be one that bottoms out around mid-afternoon, giving you the maximum choice of routes between about 11am and 7pm. In short, Scrattling Zawn and Long Rock can be tackled at most states of the tide, with the Promontory proving to be almost as flexible.
With the above cliffs, a little ingenuity should always grant you your route of choice. As for the more affected: the base of Cheesegrater Cliff proves more problematical at higher tides, as does the base of Concrete Wall and Slab Cove.
Birdie bans fall within the usual March 15th – July 31st. The routes on Long Rock are affected, as are the routes around Cheesegrater Cliff; use your spring/early summer to tick the routes around the unaffected Scrattling Zawn and The Promontory.
Are few and far between. The Croyde/Woolacombe area does rather better with the supply of wet suits and surf boards! The nearest climbing supplies are found at the outdoor shop No Sweat, in Barnstaple.
Saying no to the seductive, troublesome mermaids (always a tough one). Watching the waves on ferocious days. Watching the surfers in Croyde Bay on ferocious days. Watching the climbers getting wet on ferocious days. But trying to surf is the very best entertainment, of course.
Guides to the area
North Devon and Cornwall (Climbers’ Club) is the best guide to the area, with some pretty decent maps and crag topos, and a full cache of route information. A further helping of the area can be found in South West Climbs (Pat Littlejohn); it’s a selective appraisal, with most of the Baggy classics found within its pages.