top of page

Swanage a Reflection

Updated: May 27

Finally, an AMC meet I’m available for, and it’s my old stomping ground, Swanage, the place where I learned to climb as a schoolboy 44 years ago! I always seem to come away from here with a bigger tick list than when I arrive, and I arrived with quite a big list! Swanage is not for everyone, being a bit loose and scary in places, but if you stick to the starred routes, the experience can be adventurous and ‘memorable’. Managing to get Friday off, I arranged to meet Paul Marsh and we headed to Boulder Ruckle. The forecast wind over the weekend was strong, and though I’d climbed in ‘the Ruckle’ many times before in stronger, we were dismayed to see a huge swell running, breaching the protective barrier of broken rocks and reaching out its frothy tentacles to drench the base of all the routes. Bugger! Still, we bravely(?) abbed in anyway, just to check it out, and took a stance on a small slopey ledge 5m up the start of the classic HVS combo, Director’s Groove/Ashes and Diamonds finish. I lead the first pitch with a worrying crux on some damp holds. This avoids an awkward bulge, traversing delicately left over a void above an overhang, to good holds and an easy slab. A zig-zag in the route here makes use of a belay ledge, proving better than the ‘awkward stance’ of the guidebook. It’s all about expectations! Paul followed quickly and set off up the final wall. He seemed to spend a while fiddling in a small wire and a micro-cam, but when I followed, I could see why. The last 5m runs it out above these on small, scoop hand ledges and tiny feet. Maybe because it had started raining by now, but I felt it was quite bold. Great climbing though, and a solid lead from Paul. Whilst I was struggling with this, a friendly face popped up nearby, Andy, and the 3 of us went to see how the conditions were affecting Subluminal, justifyingly the most popular area of Swanage. Without a protective boulder field the entire face was being bombarded by spray, and the belay ledges 5m above the sea were being swept dangerously. It would be a no-go zone there tomorrow.

PM traversing the crux, P1 Director’s Groove/Ashes and Diamonds Finish, HVS 5a, 4c, in a spray-washed Boulder Ruckle.


Because of the swell, we went to see if the boulder field at the base of Guillemot Ledge area would offer better protection; the photo in Rockfax seemed to indicate the central part might. Indeed this was the case and in fact as the tide dropped during the day most of the central lines became splash- free, including the HS 4a, ‘Legend’ that Jon and Laura came to see, but the belay ledge on that was getting occasionally soaked when we arrived , so they wisely chose to join the others at Hedbury. Paul and I were left alone to get adventurous. The base of the regular abseil was also getting rinsed, so we abbed directly into the central part, down the line of Manãna, HVS 5a *, and chose this route to climb first. Easy climbing leads to a huge roof. The description talks about a groove line to the right of this, but on the abb in I had seen a flake/crack line on excellent rock breaking through the narrowing right side of the big roof. On lead, I glanced right at the easy-looking groove and decided, at ‘Swanage HVS’, the route probably went up the cracks. With good gear I launched up these, into an off-balance lay-back. Brilliant climbing, but def not HVS. Subsequent perusal of the guidebook revealed the grove to the right was the correct line, so with no line described on UKC, I claim first ascent of ‘Manãna, left hand variation’ E1, 5a *’! Next up, the 3* E1 5a,5b, ‘The Spook’, Paul’s big lead! The first pitch is the money pitch, with superb sustained climbing taking the roof and overhanging book-shaped corner, in which the crack can be jammed or lay-backed, with occasional bridging to help rest the arms. Dispatched with great style and only minimal Elvis leg, I think Paul thoroughly enjoyed it, judging by his big grin! Pitch 2 starts a bit precariously, with just adequate protection, until a tough move around an overhand leads to a solid finish. Just brilliant. Inspired by Paul’s excellent lead of The Spook, I decided to have a crack at ‘Sapphire’, E2 4b 5b **. Upgraded to E2 from E1 due lack of peg in the roof, but armed with a big cam, I took the money pitch which is pitch 2. Leading up from the belay into the dusty cramped area below the roof, I almost regretted my decision (‘bring a brush!’ I read on UKC afterwards!) but after sussing out how to manoeuvre around into a position to reach over, I pulled up on good holds, passing a shiny new peg to a rest under the 2nd set of roofs. These are passed on the right, with good pro, into a groove leading to the top. Stella! I extended the belay so I could lean out down the route but could barely hear Paul and couldn’t see him. After the pre-arranged 4 solid tugs on the rope I took in each of the twin ropes gingerly, feeling each one like a puppeteer, so as not to drag Paul on the traverse under the roof. However my efforts didn’t prevent vague yelps on the breeze, which I thought might be ‘slack’ but couldn’t be sure. I decided to give slack one rope at a time, just in case. Then he was off, swinging helpless under the roof, which I could just see by hanging out from the belay. ‘Probably best if you just lower me all the way to the ledge’ he said, but with a smile. Apparently the second attempt was a rope faff too, but eventually he appeared on top, still smiling. Good lad!

PM Abbing into Guillemot Ledges. What a big rack you have Sir!


Our hopes for Boulder Ruckle today were dashed as soon as I looked out of the YHA hostel window (great view of Swanage bay!) where I could see the wind blowing about force 5-6 and a bigger swell than even Friday. While the rest chased Trad at St Aldhem’s, Paul and I chose sunny sheltered sport at Winspit. On first sight, this quarry is a bit broken in places, and our first route, a short 6a, proved polished and fingery, but all subsequent routes were top quality.

Routes done were: Nine year’s Absence 6a *

Stone Mason 6a+ ** (Excellent)

Unseen Ripples of the Pebble 6b***

Jargon Eater 6b+** (dogged by me, flashed by PM)

Resin Revolution 6a* (really good; would’ve been a better warm up than Nine Year’s)

Queen Annes’s Men 6c** (dogged by PM, looked desperate)

PM contemplating the crux on ‘The Spook’, E1 5a, 5b ***, Guillemot Ledge

PM topping out on The Spook, Guillemot Ledge.

PM making bold delicate moves up to the sentry box belay, P1 Sapphire , E2 4b,5a**, Guillemot Ledge.

Winspit Quarry. PK belaying PM on ‘Jargon Eater’, 6b+**,

Will on ‘I know what you mean, Pal’ 6a*, Winspit.

Connor Quinn, ‘I know what you mean, Pal’ 6a*, Winspit.

8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page