Place your feet on tiny quartz crystals; deadpoint precisely into the deceptively sloping breaks and lock smoothly (or slap wildly!) up to the rounded top out, which is usually just high enough to be fairly exciting. This is your typical Dartmoor bloc.
All photos by Tom Hargreaves.
It is no secret that Dartmoor plays host to a plentiful supply of superb granite bouldering. Over recent years bouldering on Dartmoor has become a popular pastime with traces of chalk a common sight when out on the moors. The wide variety of settings, from woodland to moorland, offers thousands of quality blocs across a number of stunning venues. The sculptured features yield some of the best low to mid-grade (V0-V7) bouldering I have sampled countrywide. Dartmoor played a big part in my climbing apprenticeship and in spite of the sometimes improbably sharp holds, I still love the place over a decade later. Personally, I’d back many a dartmoorland bloc in a top trump battle against a more famed UK destination. Yet, it must be said the bouldering here does come at a price, granite isn’t merciful and will tear and shred skin at every opportunity, you have been warned!
The Haytor area is the most established climbing area on the moor; probably due to the ease of access, reliable conditions and quantity of blocs. As you approach the boulder capped tors along the winding rural road, your hands begin to sweat and mind race at the sheer number of boulders on offer. Several hundred recorded problems ranging from V0 to V12 make for a classy and extensive area. Saddle Tor, Hound Tor and Bonehill are the 3 main venues, however small less frequented crags such as Smallcombe Rocks, Easdon, Bell Tor and Turnhill are equally brilliant and worth seeking out, especially to those who enjoy a bit of exploration.
So, where do you start and which of the many lines on offer are the classics? My recommendations for a first port of call would be Bonehill. The approach offers a tame introduction into bouldering on Dartmoor, being a merciful 30 second walk from the car. Wondering around, it doesn’t take long to discover the jumble of rock provides the perfect playground of grooves, overhangs and arêtes. Beta is key for many of the problems and a powerful approach may not necessarily lead to success. The proud lines of Bonehill are on impeccable rock and most agree should be on any aspiring boulderer’s tick list.
On the eastern fringes of the moor, away from the tourists and cream teas, amongst disorientating and dense woodland, lies one of Devon’s best kept secrets. For those not in the know, Bovey Woods is a huge granite bouldering venue offering 1000+ problems! Expect lots of these to be trivial on fairly green rock, however lurking amongst these mediocre problems lies some of the best granite blocs in the UK. Locals managed to keep Bovey Woods out of the limelight by spreading vicious rumours for a decade, whilst they plugged away developing one of the biggest bouldering areas in the country. Bovey’s infamous reputation for being sharp is not as bad as the rumours suggest; it’s no sharper than standard moorland granite and most classics are fairly close to paths. That said, when disorientated, the initiated and uninitiated alike can easily waste a few hours wandering aimlessly in this wood, as local boulderer Mikey Cleverdon once found out. Whilst on-route to the superb Devon Sent (V10), one of the more hidden gems in the wood, Mikey’s dog caught wind of a different scent and ran off into the depths of the woods. Mikey quickly ditched all his possessions in pursuit of the errant hound. Unfortunately, this left Mikey with a three hour hunt for his belongings!
The initial discovery was made in 2001 when local climber, Tom Rainbow, had the most exhilarating dog walk of his life! Rainbow with friends went on to develop five main areas; Shaptor Rock, Bearacleave, Stonelands, Rock Copse and the huge expanse of Lower Shaptor. Each area has its own distinct character, but Bearacleave and Shaptor Rock probably provide the best rock and are good areas to open a Woods apprenticeship. I’d recommend a quick Google search on the area, then engage explorer mode and take a wander through the woods. You will see numerous blocs, and the classics are always clean and often chalked.
More information on all Dartmoor bouldering venues is available on Dave ’King of the Moor’ Henderson’s excellent website: javu.co.uk. This invaluable source of info to the area hosts inspiring guides, photos and news updates; a sure fire way to rally up psyche for a trip t’moor.
Top 10 Classics
Every climber loves a good tick list so here is one to work through on your next visit.
V0 (or VS) Suspension Flake | Hound Tor
The highball flake screams to be climbed as well as merging the boundaries between boulder problem and route. The result…heart in mouth moves near the top; it won’t be forgotten quickly.
V1 Mezzotinter | Saddle Tor
Good fun climbing – Big moves on big holds with a nervy top out. To the right is Bjon Again V3, equally brilliant but even more spice.
(V3) Breadcrumb Trail | Bovey Woods
Worth searching for? Undoubtedly! A perfect problem following a series of Metolius like blobs, it yields to a careful, considered and technical approach.
(V4) Hanging Flakes | Combeshead
Combeshead is a favourite venue for many despite the walk in. All the problems on this bloc are ace but Hanging flake is the must do here. Flawless! I bet you will climb it several times.
(V5) The Wish | Hound Tor
Crystal crimpin’! Strong fingers will be essential to securing an ascent. The original area testpiece is a sought after classic with a superb name. An essential Dartmoor tick!
(V6) Rowe’s Arête | Black Hill Boulders
This memorable hidden gem in an unbeatable location is arguably the best of its grade on the moor. Once you have sussed the stand you can repeat the experience from sitting at V7.
(V7) Slotted Wall | Bovey Woods
This problem hosts the best granite along with one of the coolest moves on Dartmoor. Guarantee for your all-time top 5 list.
(V7) Easdon Arete | Easdon
A short drive past Bonehill and Hound tor leads to another quality boulder off the beaten track. The striking arête is one of the best on The Moor. The high quality Easdon crack V5 to the left would also be worth a trip in its own right.
(V8) Scoop Arete | Bonehill
A super cool moorland rig that has seen little attention. Balancy, sequencey and technical climbing that may leave you frustrated or elated. A must do for those operating at this level.
(V10) Devon Sent | Bovey Woods
This proud line follows the obvious quartz veins up the centre of arguably best bloc in the Southwest. Classic hard granite – high, sharp and technical. Remember strength and power are nothing without control!