Grit Blocs - book review
- Tuesday 14th February 2023
Grit Blocs: 100 of the Finest Boulder Problems on Pennine Gritstone
By Dave Parry Vertebrate Publishing £25
Review by Ken Daykin
I love this book. It is great to read, great to look at and great to dip into. What we have here is 100 of the best boulder problems on gritstone, chosen by the author using the criteria that he clearly lays out in the introduction. If you like it is a tick list, but beautifully presented and with a big emphasis on the photographs.
The book opens with a foreword by Dan Turner, where he eulogises about the ‘grit experience’ and invites us to become more aware of how lucky we are, both for the circumstances of how the boulders formed and matured into what we see today but also for the access we have to them.
In the introduction Dave Parry speaks of the inspiration he gained from Bleau Blocs by Stephan Denys even though he couldn’t read French: “All this was based on the strength of the photos alone”. And so it is with Grit Blocs; the excellent photos do more than enough talking of their own. He explains the criteria used for selection and he gives a gentle reminder of our responsibility to care for the rock we climb on and not to climb grit problems when they are wet.
Each problem gets a double-page spread, where most of the space is taken up by Dave’s superb pictures. He has a knack for capturing the vital moment and freezing it in time. Almost universally the pictures feature great light and great composition. In many of them, it is the rock that is the star, sharply in focus, so that you can see and almost feel its texture. There is a climber in there too, frozen in the act of making a move, but it is the rock that is being celebrated.
It’s not just a picture book though, Dave has written a short essay about each problem. These are very enjoyable to read and I found myself coming back to the book, over and over again. They are engrossing and interesting, even for a non-boulderer.
The problems are spread over a wide geographical area from Northumberland, down through Yorkshire to Lancashire and to the Peak District, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. Almost every page features a different venue to the previous one and so we are given a guided tour of what is available. To my eye there appears to be more Font 7s and 8s than 5s and 6s so this book is more an extreme bouldering rather than say classic bouldering, although we all can enjoy reading about the problems too hard for us to do – and for those with plenty of years left to work on their technique the book has an aspirational quality to it. However there are routes at grade Font 3, 4 and 5 included as well as Font 6, 7 and 8, so something for everyone to get their teeth into. Thorn Crag on my doorstep has three problems included and there is even one from Wilton, but I would guess that for most readers there will be more venues they have never heard of than old favourites. The book, therefore, serves to open our eyes to the wealth of venues available.
It is not a big coffee table book like Hard Rock etc, it is sized somewhere between A4 and A5, which makes it easy to hold when you are reading. There are no maps (except for a complete overview map at the back), no directions to the boulders, and none of the info you find in guidebooks. Instead, it is purely a celebration of these boulder problems. It brings northern bouldering out of the shadows and firmly into climbing literature and will be a hard act to follow for anyone contemplating a similar book in the future.
In the epilogue, Dave says “The best days on grit are the best days climbing you will ever have”. I might have said “the best days bouldering you will ever have”, that comes down to personal preference, but I can see what he means.
This would make a great present for the boulderer in your life. Whether that is you, your partner or a friend.