Number 18 in our Top 20 crags of England and Wales...
If I could climb in one place only, I think it would have to be in a climbing calendar. Every year I find myself gawping at a ring-bound collection of images of impossibly beautiful rock wondering if I would ever find it for real, or whether I would have to resign myself to climbing on ‘real’ rocks which have lichen, dirt, and rust marks to remind us that we can’t yet ‘photoshop’ the real world.
Occasionally, however, it is possible to have a ‘calendar’ experience. They don’t come very often, so it’s well worth recognising them when they do. Lower Sharpnose is probably the closest you are likely to get in Britain to this state of aesthetic climbing nirvana. When you first set your eyes on the exquisite fins of grey rock, streaked with quartzite bands and cracks like lightning forks, you can’t help but feel you’ve stepped into a photograph. If you’ve previously seen a photo of climbing at Lower Sharpnose, I can assure you that, yes, it really, really does look like that. There are no tricks involved. This is calendar country.
Lower Sharpnose Point is situated on the west-facing north Cornish coast just north of the town of Bude. Although you won’t find it on any maps, it is just below a GCHQ listening station. Apparently, the Ordnance Survey employ someone to make sure that such places don’t appear on any of their maps, which is a good job because if the Ruskies ever found out about it we’d be in big trouble - let’s hope they don’t get a hold of Google Earth and enter 50 degrees 53 minutes 10 seconds north, 4 degrees, 33 minutes, and 13 seconds west…
The crag itself is surely one of the wonders of the British coastline, consisting of three narrow fins of rock that protrude from the land. How they remain standing is baffling, though I’m sure that the fact that they face the Atlantic edge-on probably gives them a sporting chance. This unusual shape is pretty much perfect for climbing, giving a large surface area, with no run-off, easy drying, and the choice of north or south facing depending on whether you want to take advantage of any and all winter sun, or lurk in the shade, away from the summer heat.
The climbing at Lower Sharpnose is sustained, but on good holds and adequate protection. Generally, the grades are very much on the soft side, and being fit will make them feel even softer. Having said that, you would want to be climbing at least HVS to justify a visit. The main restriction on climbing here is the tide: the fins form narrow zawns that are completely cut off except for three hours either side of low tide. That said, many of the climbs can be topped out - just make sure you don’t forget your pack!
This is a popular holiday destination and there are plenty of campsites a short drive away. On my visit I was particularly impressed with the good facilities and laid-back attitude at Bryder Farm Camping (01288 355 382) which was also very close and only £3 per person!
The routes take more cams than they may appear to. Other than that, just a normal rack and double ropes will suffice.
When to visit
Before it falls over! But seriously... the ability to choose north or south facing routes gives Sharpnose a year-round appeal, although it would be advisable to try and time your visit to coincide with mid-day low tides.
The north Cornish coast has plenty of top spots, if Sharpnose is a bit stiff, consider Compass Point. Alternatively, if you want even more commitment, the most atmospheric cliff nearby is probably Pentire Head, where you really want to be climbing E2, and preferably E5. Those who know their crags will clearly be able to spot Lundy from Sharpnose, the ferry runs from Ilfracombe.
The Top 20 Crags in England and Wales,
as chosen by Adrian Berry
1. St. Govan's
1. Birch Quarry (spoof!)
3. Landing Craft Bay, Lundy
5. Dinas Cromlech
6. Gogarth Bay
7. Malham Cove
11. Huntsman's Leap
12. High Tor
13. Clogwyn Du'r Arddu
14. Mother Carey's Kitchen
18. Lower Sharpnose
19. Pen Trwyn
20. Llanberis Slate