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BMC Froggatt to Black Rocks | Guidebook Review

By Dave Westlake

When the task in hand is to document a large part of one of the most popular climbing areas in the UK, you had better get it right. Perhaps this is why Froggatt to Black Rocks has had the ubiquitous ‘work in progress’ status for so long?! The guide features a comment from Pete Robins - that he was route checking for the guide when he was 17. This, I think, was some considerable time ago, so it really has been a long wait!

The good news is that now the waiting is over, and it seems to have been worthwhile. The BMC have once again raised the bar with 528 pages of beautifully produced material that showcases this important climbing area in all its glory.

Editors Steve Clark and Lynne Robinson note that the guide is a collection of “the famous and the forgotten”, and this sums it up very well. As well as documenting the well known crags like Froggatt and Curbar, the guide also reveals the more esoteric splendour of lesser known venues. Places I’ve never heard of and others that were barely more than rumours to me are all here; Shining Cliff and Cocking Tor, Whatstandwell and the many crags of the Amber valley. It’s certainly very comprehensive, containing the definitive list of routes and boulder problems in this area of the UK’s most popular national park. This means the guide contains a total of:

2,200 routes ranging in grade from Mod to E9
1,100 boulder problems between V0 and V12
Such exhaustive coverage also means the book itself is quite thick, but it should still fit inside a large coat pocket (just) for those girdle traverses.

The style of the guide is a near perfect mix of practical info and indulgent graphics, along with a splash of humour (read Graham Hoey’s account of a day at Shining Cliff on p.499!) and a pinch of historical interest. This really is a fine example of the do-it-all style of guide that is steadily becoming the norm: coffee table book-come-practical tool for the crags all in one smart package.

Various aspects of the guide set it apart from others I’ve come across. In particular, the short editorial excerpts from members of the guidebook team detailing their recommended routes, often accompanied with amusing anecdotes about their experiences climbing them. I imagine these will be handy for locals and visitors alike.

The “Bouldering for Black Belts” sections that are similarly dispersed through the book are also a neat idea – directing those looking for the best problems in the font 7 and 8 grade range towards the classics. Also for boulderers there is the nice addition of six font-style circuits that promise to give you a logical tour of what is on offer – a nice touch I thought.

Being a bit of an anorak, I always like a guide to give me a sense of the history of the area. This is something that rarely features in selective guides and one of several reasons to favour the definitive volume, especially if you are a local or regular visitor. Like the area it represents, Froggatt to Black Rocks is big on history and much of this is drip-fed to the reader through the cunning use of subtle boxes dotted throughout. Of course there is also a very readable history section near the start, which is brought to life by action shots like Bancroft on Strapadictomy and Pearson on The Groove.

These are just two of the many inspirational photos that really get the reader motivated, and the lesser known crags are really the ones that benefit most from this. The photo topos for all crags are clear, and they sit well alongside the various diagrams that supplement them.

Finally, I think one the major achievements of the BMC guidebook team in this case is the way they have managed to convey the ‘feel’ of the climbing in this area. The history, boldness and reputation of many of the routes really jump out of the pages of this guide. For an example of this take a look at the photo of Harry Pennells on page 79 – the look on his face is reason alone to take this one to the checkout!

To summarise, it is clear that the obvious hard work has paid off, and this is certainly a guidebook that lives up to the quality of the climbing it documents. Well done the BMC, you tenacious old buggars!

Purchase the BMC Froggatt to Black Rocks Guidebook