Around the Bloc: Bonehill Rocks, Dartmoor
- Friday 29th May 2020
Words by David Henderson and David Simmonite
High on the exposed uplands of Dartmoor in the south-west of England is the bouldering nirvana of Bonehills Rock. It is one of many bouldering areas amongst the plethora of heavily weathered granite outcrops thrusting from the moorland scrub above the quaint village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor.
A great all-year-round venue with a temperate climate compared to its more northern cousins, indeed when a high-pressure system hangs over the moors in the depth of winter you can easily enjoy a bouldering session with supreme conditions clad in just a T-shirt. Conversely, on a hot summer's day when a breeze blows around the rocks it can be the most pleasurable of experiences. Possibly the most popular of the Dartmoor venues, due in no small part to the minuscule walk-in, but also to the amount of excellent problems in a compact area and to top it all the quality of the quick-drying granite. Don’t worry, it's only ‘popular’ by Dartmoor standards and much of the time you can have the Tor to yourself. With carpet green areas scattered amongst the boulders, it makes for a brilliant family venue, a nice picnic, a few problems and plenty of Brownie points; what’s not to like for the family climber.
The views into the distance are sublime and it is such a stunning landscape that clearly had a profound effect on the legendary film director, Steven Spielberg, who actually filmed around Bonehill and said: “I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced during the filming of War Horse on Dartmoor... And, with two and a half weeks of extensive coverage of landscapes and skies, I hardly touched the surface of the visual opportunities that were offered to me.” I digress but I wonder if he pulled on a problem or two? And he’d have many to choose from with over 100 problems offering up a good spread of grades from easy up to V12. The majority of have agreeable landings and the climbing is very interesting and diverse.
For a first time visitor the area is a little complex but local authority and Javu website master Dave Henderson knows this area intimately, indeed adding many new problems across Dartmoor including all-time classics, so who better to give you a rundown of his favourite problems and the ones to look out for (the grades used are a combination of V and English Technical)?
Take it away Dave:
I was lucky enough to start bouldering at Bonehill in about 1993, back in the days when bouldering was not the specialist activity that it has now become and the ‘last great problems’ on the moor were still aplenty.
A few tips:
- Climbing as precisely as possible will preserve your skin.
- Trying the same problem over and over will destroy your skin.
- A good bit of wind is the key to good conditions.
- Excessive chalk ticking is frowned upon.
The Recommended Problems
Warm Up Crack (V0)
Being a bit slabby this is not actually a very effective warm-up but does provide a fine easier problem. Good, positive holds lead you up to a slightly rounded and quite high top-out.
Trench Traverse (V1)
A common warm-up for locals, this gently overhang traverse provides a pumpy problem on positive holds although is hard for the grade. The worrying and rounded top-out can prove amusing for bystanders; luckily it’s easy to step off if you don’t fancy it. There are options for reversing the problem and looping it in with the lower traverse if you want to get a pump on.
Twin Cracks (V1)
This steep problem has everything: a good line, flat landing, interesting moves and enough height to give a buzz at the top. Old school climbers with the ability to jam will make it look easy, others won’t.
Umpire Wall Left Arête (V1)
This would feel much easier if the landing was better, although the climbing is technically low in the grade, falling off is probably best avoided and the problem almost deserves a route grade of E1/2. Having said that, it’s an excellent and rewarding climb with the choice of two finishes, either direct through the niche/crack or taking the break rightwards on good holds until you can step off to the right.
Baby Slab (V2/3)
A technical little problem up the right side of the slab requiring careful use of the feet. Although a little bit eliminate, it provides insight into the harder crystal climbing on the moor. There’s a slightly easier (V1) central line and an extra bit of fun can be had with a run and jump across the top of the slab from the flat boulder on the right.
The Rippled Wall (V4)
This perfect, gently leaning wall is one of the most attempted problems on the moor. The crux is the first move and poses an interesting choice of going with the left hand or the right. Generally, the left is the slappers' sequence and the right can, if you get the feel for it, be executed in a more controlled static manner. As is common with many Dartmoor problems the grade has changed a little, a small foothold broke on the start a few years back making it marginally harder. Although the top section is easier many fail, usually due to the effects of altitude addling the brain and ability to climb. Feels pretty hard for the grade due to the height.
Caed’s Problem (V5)
This often overlooked problem takes the rising line leftwards to the arête from a low start just left of Twin Cracks. There’s a knack to it which revolves around getting the right foot placed correctly. A good combination of strength and technique is required for this bad boy. Sometimes feels easy, sometimes feels hard. It might not actually be Caed’s problem but he’s the first person I saw doing it.
Slopey Traverse (V5)
If some of the other problems on the list give you the fear then this is for you – much of the difficulty comes from keeping your feet off the ground with some manly moves on slopers with small footholds. A heel-hook can be used but probably doesn’t make it easier and will make you look like a cheat. Feels low in the grade, probably due to the lack of height.
The Wave (V6)
A rite of passage for any aspiring Dartmoor boulderer and the benchmark English 6c. The problem takes an impressive line up a steeply overhanging wall against a backdrop of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Poor footholds and a sharp crux hold (the ‘monkey paw’) add to the frustration... and when you finally get up the start you still have to contend with a high and scary finish for the full tick – keep a cool head and stretch up right for the ‘dog’s dick’. When you have this problem wired you can have a look at Tsunami which comes into the same finish from the low traverse on the left. There's also the Left-Hander variation.
Left Arête of the Scoop (V7)
A beautiful problem on unlikely holds, as close to Fontainebleau as you get on Dartmoor. Careful placement of the fingers, thumb, feet and body coupled with good conditions are the keys to success.
Guidebook and Website
Without a doubt the one to get Dartmoor (The Climbers' Club 2017) with all of the problems described. Niall Grimes's Boulder Britain also has a good selection of 50 of the problems. For information online www.javu.co.uk is an indispensable resource for climbing in the area with information to Bonehill and many others..
Accommodation and Supplies
A good couple of websites for information are www.discoverdartmoor.co.uk and www.dartmoor.co.uk with info on everything from camping to luxury accommodation. Also check out www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk where there’s a downloadable booklet on camping and the campsites, camping barns and bunkhouses available in the Dartmoor area.
For reference, the closest campsite to Bonehill is the Cockingford Campsite at Widecombe-in-the-Moor (Telephone 01364 621258) and there’s the Dartmoor Expedition Centre in the same village (Telephone 01364 621249). There’s also the Wayside Café there for lovely food plus the amusingly named Hound of the Basket Meals snack van a short drive away in the car park below Hound Tor. There’s the visitor centre under Haytor which has toilets if you feel the urge rather than defecating in this beautiful place. The nearest indoor climbing wall is Dart Rock down in Buckfastleigh and it's well worth a visit if the weather is iffy or you fancy a bit of indoor climbing. The coffee and cake are very good too.