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Rockfax Pembroke | Guidebook Review

By Dave Westlake

When Rockfax released the new 2009 edition Pembroke guide, they made a point of making comparisons with its predecessor – published way back in 1995. This black and white guide was the first privately produced guide in the UK, and as such it can be seen as the first stage of a revolution in guidebook production. A whole host of radically different guides to crags across the world followed from Rockfax, with each one built upon the last but all based on the style and format that Pembroke (1995) established.

A quick flick through any contemporary guidebook, from any of the main publishers, reveals the impact Rockfax have had during this period. Detailed photo topo’s and the use of symbols are now the norm, and these are just two of many areas in which Rockfax have moved things forward. As well as forcing other publishers to raise their game, Rockfax themselves have made big improvements during their reign, and Pembroke (2009) underlines these.

The photo topos are now crystal clear, and they are accompanied with detailed descriptions for when you are at the top and want to know where to rig your abseil rope. They also seem to have been taken on beautiful sun-drenched days, which add to the myth (?) that the weather is always good there.

One common Rockfax trademark, which even featured in the 1995 edition, is the symbol system that gives you a hint of what the route is like. I never know what to think about these, personally. It is nice sometimes to be reassured that your chosen line didn’t get a ‘heart flutter’ symbol, I suppose. However, racking up below a route knowing full well you’re going to need you’re best technique to pull powerfully on small holds, while pumped stupid and all with the mother of all run outs, does little to calm the nerves! Blissful ignorance is usually my chosen method of cop-out avoidance, but I’m sure those who prefer to know what’s in store will be glad of these.

Cool for Cats (E1)Particular aspects of this guidebook that I liked were the cover flaps that make it easier to bookmark, and the map of Pembroke town with its useful annotations (“kebab”, “Pizza”, “Supermarket” etc). This will be invaluable for occasional and first time visitors to the area – it’s always useful to know where to go for food after a tiring day, or a long drive to get there on a Friday night. The ‘Logistics’ section at the start of the book seems pretty comprehensive and will provide a good reference point for many.

As with their other recent offering, Haute Provence, this volume is well endowed with action shots of the highest quality. I find that these are essential for the all important pre-trip motivation, and they help massively when compiling a to-do list. The front cover of Pembroke (2009) is an interesting choice, being a photo of a rather pleasant looking Hard Severe at Saddle Head rather than one the countless awe-inspiring extremes they could have gone for. The photo itself showcases all the reasons you want to visit the area – perfect rock, great atmosphere, exposure and warm temperatures. The fact that it highlights the breadth of grades available, and the sheer quality of the routes at the milder end of the spectrum, makes it the perfect choice for a cover shot. Anyone wanting a visual clue as to what the harder routes involve do not need to look far – for a photo of Tim Emmett pulling on a mono during his E6 link at Stennis Head can be found on page one!

The size of any guide to a place like Pembroke is also pretty important, as it is likely that sooner or later you will find yourself stuffing it in a pocket while you climb. I imagine this guide would fit comfortably in a reasonably sized chest or trouser-cargo pocket, and it’s thin enough to go unnoticed.

In summary, Pembroke (2009) is a great new addition to the Rockfax series. Guidebooks are no longer boring and dull, with long descriptions that take a genius to understand; they seem to be becoming increasingly coffee-table in their style. I think this is a great development, and it makes trip planning so much more enjoyable. Pembroke (2009) is easily one of the best guidebooks I’ve come across and definitely worth investing in.

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