Dan leading Pitch 1 of Olympica


Tuesday, 23 September 2014


M.S. Oldenburg casts off her mooring lines and quietly slips into the main flow of the Bideford estuary, bound for the Atlantic. A fuzzy smudge on the horizon, the granite island of Lundy bounces in and out of view as the North Devon coastline falls away behind us. We motor, frothing and foaming, into the rolling ocean. The Mynydd climbing club meet has begun. 


The Oldenburg has quite a reputation: what appears to be a poorly-designed ship (long, squat and narrow), it is the lifeline that connects Lundy to the rest of the world. Climbers, day-trippers, luggage, food, sheep - even Land Rovers - ride the ‘Vomit Comet’ over the ocean blue, bound for the sunshine isle. I briefly slept below deck on the crossing and hoped that the Oldenburg was unrelated to the Hindenburg.


The night before, I had dossed in a car park with only a one-eyed cat for company. It stared menacingly at me all night, sitting under a street lamp, and wasn’t very good at conversation. I slept badly, nervous of getting woken up by an angry local. Dossing in car parks sucks.


I had come to Lundy on a bit of a whim. On a recent trip to Gogarth with Dan Lane, he mentioned his club’s approaching trip to Lundy - and an available space. My brief research provided snippets of positive reviews and, without even seeing the guidebook, I booked a place. Next thing I knew, I was a Mynydd CC member, had booked a ferry to Lundy and was staring at a one-eyed demon cat at 11 p.m. in a dingy car park.


Lundy seems to be the one climbing destination in the U.K. that everybody has heard of, but nobody knows anything about. Let me shed some light.


The climbing ranges from Moderate to E9, on generally very good granite. The island runs from north to south, is 3 miles long and 1/2 a mile wide, and has a small ‘village’ on the southern end. The crags are all on the western side, and are typically around 30/40 metres high - although there are a number of exceptions. The majority of routes are around E1/E2, and the slabby, technical style is a delight once you get used to it.


Many of the crags are tidal and require an abseil approach. The rock architecture and scenery of the west coast is particularly spectacular: the grassy plateau of the island plummets dramatically down into the sea, forming chaotic caves, zawns and bays. The Climber’s Club produce the current guide.


After a week’s climbing on Lundy, I have presented my experiences. This shouldn’t be taken as gospel but will give a good insight. If you’re thinking of going: go!


Granite is a fantastic medium to climb on, with superb friction and plenty of macro and micro features. Some routes tiptoe through impressive territory and with wild exposure to match. However, a lot of the climbing seems to be on faces, and in particular: slabs! The Diamond, Deep Zawn, Devil’s Slide, Devil’s Chimney Cliff, Devil’s Limekiln... Many classic routes meander through satanically slabby territory. The front cover of the guide shows all: The Cullinan is a wonderfully-positioned slab climb. Just don’t be too fazed by the beelzebub themes!


For a jug-monkey like myself, it was a tough week but I thoroughly enjoyed working my weaknesses, squeezing my feet into too-tight boots and standing on minuscule granite crystals.


Diamond Life (E4 6a) was a pleasant introduction to Lundy slab climbing, and after a bad previous day I was slightly nervous. I faffed, tied my knots, faffed, put on my velcro boots, faffed, went for a piss, faffed a bit more and then finally... eventually... started climbing. Thankfully, it flowed delightfully and built up to a great finale. Confidence restored.


The Cullinan (E5 6a) was described in the guide as ‘compellingly dangerous’, so I slipped into my usual nervous routine: faffed, tied my velcro boots, faffed, put on my knots. I eased the tension by releasing some wind, and began climbing. This seemed to be contagious, and soon Dan encouraged me on by trumping every few minutes. I drifted upwards to the sound of ‘ppppaaaaaarrrrpp!’ and ‘whuuuuurrrrp!’


As it turned out, the gear was better than ‘dangerous,’ moves easier than anticipated and the positions: superb. There are some noisy seals down there!


Deep Zawn was worth visiting, but unfortunately the bottom pitches of all the routes were wet and/or smeared with grease. As I abbed into the base of the zawn, I could hear Richard chuckling and instantly knew why: the connies were definitely sub-optimal! Ankle-breaking hard starts and turbo greasiness meant we reverted to Plan C.


Instead, we did the top pitches of Supernova (E5 6b) and Antiworlds (E5 6a). Techy, sustained and well protected - some of the best E5 pitches I’ve led this summer!


A fantastic adventure can be found on Olympica (E5 6a), a three-pitch Littlejohn ‘masterpiece’ on the southern end of the island. The excitement kicked off right from the start: we abbed/downclimbed into a horrible choss-fest before finally getting to the base of the zawn. Dan led the first tricky pitch and I had the delights of P2 on immaculate rock. It feels pretty ‘out-there’ and climbs with a brilliant tempo.


There are sections of crumbly, chossy rock on Lundy but these are usually limited to the lesser-climbed routes and crags. Unfortunately, some classic routes on Lundy are becoming dirty through lack of traffic, and we had a bad time on The Ocean (‘a tremedous route of great length and character, and a true Lundy experience’ at E1 5b). It was very overgrown with giant tufts of grass and lichen, and had obviously not been climbed in a while.


I also bailed off Bosch Street Kids (E5 6a) due to the terrible rock quality and vaseline-grease which covered the entire wall. The photo in the guide makes it look incredible, but unfortunately it needs a good clean and a lot of sunshine.


Some other bits of beta:

The island is three miles long and has no transport available to climbers. Although it’s primo mountain biking territory, you have to walk everywhere and there always seems to be a fierce breeze blowing (I get the impression Lundy takes the full force of any Atlantic weather coming in).


It’s best to head to the northern end at the start of the week and stash kit, before working further south each day. Each morning we walked to the crag, wind blowing hard against the right side of our faces. Each evening we would return at dusk, the wind howling to our left. At least my cheeks were equally wind-burnt! The walking never got any easier, unfortunately.


The sea cliffs are some way below the island plateau, which usually require descending a long, steep, grassy slope before you actually ab in. Thus, you’re always lugging all you stuff back up endless thigh-burning slopes, particularly if you go to a couple of different crags during the day. Thankfully, the wind drops as soon as you descend off the plateau. It’s a bit like Ceuse, I suppose. 


Island Life

It’s true - time passes differently on Lundy. We frequently topped out of our first route of the day to find it 3 p.m! A long walk-in, locating the right buttress, a complicated abseil approach and a taxing route all add up, and we averaged only two routes per day. I was initially shocked, but that’s the way things go here.


The ‘village’ shop sells a good selection of produce, but has rather erratic opening hours and is only supplied by the Oldenburg, which arrives three times a week. The Marisco Tavern is a great pub and the centre of island life - everyone convenes each evening to recount their stories of the day, and the food is excellent. Take a look at the Climbing Logbook for a rich and recent history of the routes. (N.B. Don’t confuse the Marisco Tavern with the ‘Marisco Nightclub’ in Devon - that would be a horrible mistake!).


 Thanks to the Mynydd club for a cheap trip and great company, Lundy for providing the goods and Dan for a great haul of routes.

Tom LivingstoneComment