By Tom Newberry
The UK may not be blessed with the best weather, but it is certainly blessed with some of the world’s finest climbs. Empire of the Sun, the pride of Ansety's Cove, is one of these. Located on the dreamy South coast of Devon in the “English Riviera” of Torbay(dos) ‘The Cove’ is a special place which caters for all disciplines of rock climbing: deep water soloing, bouldering, scary trad, easy trad, and of course the main attraction sport climbing. What more could you ask for from a crag?! A nice beach? Yep got that too! What it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality; as the guidebook puts it “if Carlsberg did climbing crags…” Set above a picturesque cove of crystal clear water, the situation can be usually 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 day can yield an outstanding session basking in low, golden sunlight; idyllic. In truth, a pleasant day at the cove and you could easily be mistaken that you were above the Mediterranean.
First developments started during the late seventies with the additions of classic trad routes, from none other than Pat Littlejohn. However, it was 1988 that marked the start of Anstey's vibrant modern climbing scene. Throughout the late 80’s the in vogue Cove saw much abseiling, cleaning, gearing, practising 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 with Empire of the Sun being the best. Originally climbed as a Trad route at E6 6b, it went on to be retro-bolted due to its reliance on ageing pegs. After being re-equipped the route has gone on to entice numerous people to the southern tip of the M5; and rightly so. Fanciful, flowing power-endurance moves with a heart-breaking finale make this a climb that should be on everyone’s tick list; in fact, this route is so good I’ve even overheard people compare it to the world class routes of Ceuse. Those that have tried Empire will concur; flying abroad isn't always necessary to enjoy an experience of this calibre.
Rory Bascombe mid crux on the Anstey's uber-classic Empire of the Sun (f7b/+) | Photo: P. Chadwick.
The Empire Wall has a distinctly European feel, just over 20 metres long and continuously overhanging. The colourful streaks resemble that of an artist’s palette. This masterpiece lures you in with high quality yet amenable climbing for the first 20 feet. At the second bolt, a wide break allows a quick breather; the old school may even sink a couple bomber jams. Leaving the break, you enter the route’s short and sharp crux; a series of strenuous moves on sidepulls. Strong fingers help to lock the small holds at the waist before finally rolling up to the juggy pocket. Unfortunately, sharing the good part with two hands just isn’t an option and thus the pump sets in. It’s best to take this next section at pace, ignoring the air miles that you could rack up if you did pump out. Fortunately the headwall above is well equipped with good crimps and mini jugs. The thought Mother Nature put in when setting this route is evident: drop knees, roll throughs, go agains; Empire combines them all into one incredible flowing sequence. Watching on as people race up the streaky red wall is as entertaining as trying the route yourself; elbows chicken winging as they throw between holds, fighting, grunting and screaming. Rocking over on to the slab, vein ridden forearms are screaming as you pull the rope up to clip the chains. The pump - thick swollen muscle, freakish vascularity and a feeling that you are lowering off the route with a set of larger muscles than you walked in with. It is physical and visual proof that you just annihilated your forearms. It is a feeling of conquest that lends to an overdose of endorphins and a boost in pride. It is motivating, inspiring and comes complete with its own set of bragging rights. Bodybuilders call it the greatest feeling you can achieve. Lowering down into space you’ll undoubtedly come to the same conclusion, that this is the best sport route in the country. Ending the day with a quick stop for award winning, fish and chips from Hanbury’s Chip Shop in Babbacombe is a highly recommended treat.