Cheesewring and South East Cornwall

Review by Review
Monday 1st February 1999
The Cheesewring Quarry occupies an ambivalent place in my affections. Recollections of the place where I learned to climb and forged friendships sit uneasily alongside memories of long run outs on smooth, almost slippery rock, protected only by manky pegs and the odd dubious flake. It’s a venue I have neglected for 25 years in common with a large proportion of South West climbers and as the crag is without doubt the most important in southeast Cornwall, the result has been that the whole area has never been popular, losing out to the more extensive and less esoteric attractions of Penwith to the west and Dartmoor to the east.

Sean Hawken’s new guide to the area, edited by Toni Carver, originator in the ’60s of many of Cheesewring’s classic routes, has a comfortingly (for this old fart) old-fashioned feel to it, something perhaps not unrelated to the extraordinarily long history of climbing in the area. Carver’s historical section reveals that one Thomas Bond recorded two routes on Kilmar Tor as far back as 1802, catalogues the explorations of Romanis and Jerram in the ’20s and takes a discursive ramble into the history of Commando climbing during World War 11 before eventually arriving at the ’60s and chronicling the first wave of development at Cheesewring. The historical baton is passed to Hawken in the mid-80s and he rounds off a history which, at 37 pages, is certainly the longest of any guidebook I’ve ever seen.

Cheesewring aside, the guide covers 20-odd crags with varying degrees of appeal. A previous guidebook writer observed that the southeast Cornish coast has superb fishing, a comment which, although a little unfair, aptly sums up the appeal of this coast for the climber. The curious delights of Dodman Point are probably for connoisseurs only and the same applies to Nare Head. Recent developments such as the deep water soloing at Pencarrow Head are entertaining and the bouldering at Downderry is superb, but the best routes are to be found on the granite inland.

The scattered tors of Bodmin Moor have been largely ignored in the past guides and their inclusion redresses a significant omission. There are some real gems such as Just Good Friends at Trewortha Tor, which stands comparison with many a gritstone classic, and Romanis and Jerram’s 1921 effort at the Devil’s Jump, South East Climb, which receives belated recognition as the three star outing it always has been.

The delightful schorl crag of Roche Rock, usually dismissed in a paragraph, receives a full and deserved write up. Less justified, perhaps, is the inclusion of full descriptions of the boulder problems at Helman Tor. One of the pleasures of bouldering is the feeling of discovering it for yourself and, as with other bouldering areas covered, a note to the effect that good bouldering exists would have sufficed. And when does a boulder problem become a climb? There’s no hard and fast rule, of course, but the description of 12ft and 16ft routes at Hark’s Tor is surely a case of the micro-route being taken to an absurd extreme, even without considerations of pedantry (or is it pendanticism, or perhaps pendanticness?)

The meat of the guide, however, lies at Cheesewring. Since the hiatus in development between the mid-70s and mid-80s, the number of routes in the quarry has almost exactly doubled, thanks largely to the efforts of Hawken, Andy Grieve and Nick Hancock. It must now rank as a major cliff, outdone for sheer numbers of routes only by Bosigran, Chair Ladder and Sennen.

A significant proportion of the new additions are sport routes, a logical development for a crag that lacks traditional protection, harder routes such as Rampage and Mauritius are magnificent lines and would doubtless have remained inviolate without bolts. The temptation to indulge in a spot of retro-bolting, has been avoided and thus established classics like Eyefull Tower and High Noon remain in their original state, although it is arguable that their old bolts — placed in the ’60s — are overdue for replacement.

Established routes have received a fairly comprehensive regrading and many of the old anomalies are eliminated. High Noon, for instance, originally graded HVS, is now E3, while Direct Route, a long-standing V Diff is now VS. I could have done with knowing that when I embarked upon it as my first lead in 1972.

The cover photo lets the book down, particularly when judged against the standard of the rest of the pictures. I could be picky and question the little animals (‘Wringo the Rat’ and ‘Cheesehead’) that clutter up the diagrams, and maybe the historical section could have been a bit more concise and relevant. That said, this guide is a lovingly produced record of an unfairly neglected area and has achieved what a guidebook should do — it has made me want to explore the area again.

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