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South West Sport Climbing Part 1: Ansteys Cove
‘The Cove’ is a pretty special place which caters for all disciplines of rock climbing; deep water soloing, bouldering, scary trad, easy trad and of course, sport climbing! What more could you ask for from a crag?! Oh, a nice beach? Yep got that too!
Situated at the base of the M5 those willing to travel will be rewarded handsomely for their journey. What it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality; as the guidebook puts it “if Carlsberg did climbing crags……”. I would go as far as to say that Ansteys plays host to the best 7b, 7c+, 8a and 8b in the UK and all at the same scenic seaside crag! “Outrage”……. “how dare she”……. I hear you cry! Well, before you write me off, why not come down and see for yourself?
Ansteys Cove is situated on the dreamy South coast of Devon in the “English Riviera” of Torbay(dos). This compact limestone provides possibly the best sport climbing venue for routes 7a and above in the South of England. A collection of three superb sectors offer contrasting styles and difficulties, all set above a picturesque cove of clear blue water; idyllic. In fact, a pleasant day at the cove and you could easily be convinced you were above the Mediterranean!
The situation can be enjoyed in ‘t-shirt' conditions at almost any time of year - you'll want to wait for the shade in the summer, but a dry midwinter can yield outstanding days basking in low golden sunlight before commending yourself that flying abroad isn't always necessary to enjoy an experience of this caliber.
Finally, to complete the Ansteys experience, take a refreshing dip in the sea and don’t forget to stop off in Babbcombe for some well-earned, award winning fish and chips from Hanbury’s Chip Shop.
Mikey Cleverdon on Leather Whip Mick at Anstey's Cove
First developments at the crag started during the late seventies with the additions of classic trad routes like Cocytus E2 6a and The Mitre E3 6b, from none other than Pat Littlejohn. However, it was 1988 that marked the start of Ansteys vibrant modern climbing scene.
Throughout the late 80’s the in vogue cove saw much abseiling, cleaning, gearing, practicing and swearing, along with the revolutionary addition of Martin Crocker’s controversial drilled pegs. 1988 was also the year Nick White left his mark, adding numerous modern classics including:
- How the Mighty Fall 7a+
- Empire of the Sun 7b
- La Crème 7c+
- The Cider Soak 8a.
Moving into the early nineties and it was all about one man, local hero Ken Palmer. The steel fingered postman added desperate classic after desperate classic; Tuppence 8b in 1990, A Fisherman’s Tale 8b in 1991, Poppy 8b+ in 1994 and Postman Pat 8a+ in 1996.
Fast forward several years to 2003 and the arrival of Brian 8c+. Kenny’s awesome, and unrepeated, diagonal link-up of the Ferocity Wall provided Ansteys biggest number to date; an incredible effort and inspirational piece of climbing which remains the hardest route south of the Peak District. These days the cove is home to the South West’s next generation pushing both themselves and UK standards. Pete Dawson’s ascent of the Cider Soak 8a, aged 12, remains the youngest ascent of an 8a in Britain. The big question is, who will add their name to the history books by completing the awesome black streak project? All the moves have been done, but the link is still there for the taking.
So time to warm-up, but how do you get warm at a crag so steep and apparently hardcore?
Well, for many their first port of call is the hidden flow stone groove of 'End of an Era' at 6a followed by the classic 'Might and Main' 6c. This follows the arête to the right of Empire of the Sun and, with the recent independent finish, is a lovely climb. Alternatively, despite receiving a fluttery E5 6a in the guidebook, 'Devonshire Cream' is a great 6c+ if you manage to pre-clip the first bolt at 6m.
Next stop, 'How the Mighty Fall' 7a+. A bit of a marmite route; you’ll either love it or hate it!
Now sufficiently warm it’s time to move back to the Empire Wall and attack the big one, 'Empire of the Sun' 7b. This route is so good I would not hesitate driving from Ceuse to try it! Well equipped with good crimps and mini jugs, it’s best to take it at pace. If this goes down quickly then similarly its neighbor, 'Just Revenged' 7c+, ticks all the boxes and is another South West classic.
Max Ayrton on the testing moves on Tuppence
Swiftly moving through the grades, we find ourselves at the bottom of the Ferocity Wall; steep, crimpy and unrelenting.
The far end offers the steepest route on the wall, 'The Lynch' 7b+. A magnificent route with an undeserved reputation for being a gnarly crack climb. However, the route that entices most people to the southern end of the M5 is the neighboring 'Cider Soak' 8a; a route that should be on everyone’s tick list! Fanciful, flowing power-endurance moves lead to a heart-breaking finale; a credible contender for the best of its grade in the country.
'La Crème' 7c+ is also worthwhile with a crux that could be the hardest move on the wall if conditions are unfavourable. The strong may opt for the newer direct finish and as such will be rewarded with an 8a tick. 'Postman Pat' 8a+ is packed with class and follows the rising seam across the entire wall.
The favoured hard-man’s test-piece, 'Tuppence' 8b, is next. Three distinct cruxes separated by some quality climbing, be prepared to bust some shapes on this one. The extension 'Tuppence Ha’penny' 8b+ adds some meaty climbing to create a long, pumpy number. In contrast, 'Fishermans Tale' 8b starts with an intense bouldery V9 crux, above which the climbing eases but still requires some oompff!
Finally, 'Poppy' 8b+ links the start moves of Cider Soak into the top section of Fisherman’s via some slopey holds, a bit of trickery and the employment of a steely set of fingers.
If the Ferocity wall is a little too fierce, then don’t stress! The pleasant Cocytus wall will be more amiable.
The retro-bolted groove line from which the sector takes its name is 'Cocytus' 6c and offers a technical masterpiece. To its left is the tricky 'American Express' 7a+ and to its right, the delicate 'More Stream, Bigger Women' 7b, both are unheeded gems that test your footwork and nerve. However, looming over the whole wall is the impressive ships prow which provides the line of the crag.
Intimidating, aesthetic and one of the finest routes at the Cove, 'Boy George' 7c+ is a fine trip indeed and brilliant swing. After these top drawer routes, there are the numerous three star link ups to work through: 'Flo Rida' 7a, 'Helium' 7c, 'Triple Crown' 8a and 'Pet Cemetery' 8a+ should give you plenty to be getting on with.
Guidebooks: West Country Climbs, South Devon, South West Climbs Vol.2
Parking: local Pay & Display car park available.
Where to stay: Torbay is the English riviera and so campsite options are plentiful and AirBnB is always an option for those looking for more home comforts.