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The Sandstone Outcrops of the Forest of Dean

Review by Review
Tuesday 12th September 2006

The Sandstone Outcrops of the Forest of Dean by Martin Crocker
Climbers’ Club Guides to the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Volume III

Compared to some of the more well known climbing areas in the UK the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean doesn’t always standout.  On a recent trip down south one of my friends who frequents the grit on a daily basis described the area as a ‘disappointing pile of choss’.  As West Country lad having spent many a summer’s day enjoying the limestone cragging of the Wye area it was to my surprise and delight that a medium that I didn’t know existed has a guide to it.

Written by Martin Crocker who has to be one of the most active climbers in the South West if not the country the ‘Sandstone Outcrops of the Forest of Dean’ guide is meticulously researched.  It is written in that quirky style that symbolises the guides produced by the climbers’ club outlining the history and emotions that represent the development of a climbing area.  The introduction to each area begins with a little anecdote from the main protagonists that will amuse some and annoy others.

I really like the way that an OS grid reference is given for each area.  Having previously struggled for hours to find limestone climbing in the Forest this is a welcome attention to detail.  However the content of the maps seems only adequate and they are often squeezed into half a page which in my opinion is insufficient.  I often wonder why guides don’t focus more on detailed area mapping and this is clearly one of their primary purposes after route descriptions?

Each area is clearly divided by the use of colour coding on the top right of each page which allows for quick and easy reference.  The introduction to each area also describes the type and quality of the climbing (use of a simple star system) as well as approach descriptions to supplement the insufficient mapping.  Crocker also informs the reader of the best times to visit to make the most of sunny conditions and avoid dampness.  Each route is graded using traditional grades or bouldering grades depending on the type of route.  As many of the routes have been put up solo all grades are solo grades unless indicated.  The use of a green triangle symbol also highlights routes with gear potential or need.  At the beginning of the book a small table describes the solo grading system used that relates technical difficulty to the height of the route.  The grading of solo ascents is often problematic and Martin has attempted to resolve this.

Disappointingly the quality of some of the photo reproduction is not up to the standard of other guides however they do clearly depict the nature of the area and the type of pebble and pocket pulling climbing that you can expect.
Crocker describes the best climbs at Huntsham Crags as arguably ‘no less fine than Peak grit classics’.  This clearly is a big claim and aficionados of ‘god’s own rock’ may find this difficult to believe but it certainly makes you want to go a check it out for yourself which is what I’m off to do…maybe I can persuade my Northern friend to come along?

You can find a little more information about the guide, and download 3Mb worth of sample pages from the Climbers Club website.
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