Pembroke

In 1993 I had the opportunity to join Cinta who was studying at University of Lancaster in Great Britain, for a few weeks of climbing when her course ended. Usually, when travelling to Europe, we head for places like France or Spain, drawn by the promise of perfect weather. This time we decided to take a chance and climbed in Great Britain at a number of places. We enjoyed 2 weeks of perfect sunny weather. The most memorable place that we visited was Pembroke in South Wales.

The Pembroke coast was beautiful, with an isolated feel to it. Varieties of seagull like birds, that were not seagulls, were everywhere. Some of these are apparently rare and need protecting. We saw seals swim by in the sea below. During the week it was rare to see anyone at the crag and on weekends about a dozen climbers could be found wandering around on the plateau. This was sharply in contrast to other crags in Britain where hordes of people seemed to be milling everywhere.

Pembrooke is a place that gets your adrenal glands working in overdrive. Hundreds of traditional climbs on miles of limestone sea cliffs are available. Sea cliff climbing is a unique experience, one that I had dreamed of for many years. Initially a rappel is required that hopefully brings you to tidal shelves, if you got the tidal patterns correct. These Rappels, off metal spikes hammered into the grass, are nerve racking. Often it is difficult to see below and there is a feeling of rappelling into space. If all goes well and a climber lowers down ok, the adventure continues as a climb out is required and success is mandatory. Climbs here tend to be exposed with the crashing waves playing games with a climberís head. A total freak out was a possibility.

At the time we were visiting, guidebooks were out of print and unavailable. Even the copies in the local library had been stolen. In most areas, it is not hard to find other climbers to interrogate, but here few people were around, especially during the week. We relied on eyeballing the routes and scant information provided by friendly, well meaning Brits who we occasionally encountered. These people spoke English, but with an almost incomprehensible accent. "Can you say that again slower" became our mantra.

Overall the rock took good protection and was pretty solid limestone. However, I did watch two climbers on a route with no protection about 30 feet of the deck. I was assured by a local standing nearby that the climber had missed the nut placement. At Pembroke, the rock did not have the mirror polish that limestone in other areas in Great Britain had. 

The formation that was most memorable for me was Huntsmanís Leap. Huntsman's Leap is a tidal gorge that is narrow at its seaward end and cuts about one hundred meters into the land. At certain times when the tide is low, a small pebble beach appears at the end. This is the target. The sea broils and churns far below in the narrow gorge, seemingly looking for a way to escape. Apparently some British people actually jump across this gorge at its narrowest point. Iím not sure why. Some local Brit advised me of a classic route on this wall. From the top, I optimistically eyeballed the route from every angle possible, taking care to not fall into the abyss. My resolve gradually left me as I rapped and after cowering on the pebble beach. I opted for the easiest route out, probably 5.10 and shook my way up it. It wasn't the recommended classic but was an excellent route never the less. It would not be a good idea to be trapped here when the tide comes back in.

Is the tide rising or falling I often wondered? Our inability to understand the tides fuelled our fear. Rap decisions tormented us? Should we go down or not? Is the tide coming in or going out?

Some cliffs had birds all over them. At first I thought that the white streaks on the rock was climbing chalk but it could have been bird shit. It was hard to tell from a distance. I peered intently at the rock trying to determine if a the rock was covered in chalk which would mean a rap in and potentially positive experience or covered in bird shit which would be horrible. Apparently there are seasonal nesting restrictions on some cliffs due to these birds. Without a guidebook and virtually no information, I didnít know which cliffs were closed. I was not going down on any of the ones with a great number of birds in any case because I was afraid of them. Apparently some cliffs can only be accessed at weekends when the army allow people on to their firing ranges that are on the top of some of the cliffs. This is also good information to have.

Since we didnít have a guidebook, I have no idea what routes we climbed. However, even if I did have a guidebook, I couldnít interpret the grades. I believe that you have to think like an Englishman to be able to understand this grading system, an evolutionary experience that I prefer to avoid. Apparently there is a new guidebook out which should help a person find their way around.

We were able to find the famous "St Govan's Inn" which is a good place to recover. The Brits drink a lot of beer here.  Overall we loved Pembroke. This beautiful area had a remote feeling, not many people and lots of nature around, along with wildly exposed and committing climbing. We also visited some other areas in Great Britain and had some memorable experiences.

Negative Experience - Driving anywhere in Great Britain was terrifying.

Negative Experience - It is impossible to park within 10 miles of the climbs at Llanberis on a weekend. After driving back and forth for two hours, we left.

Positive Experience - Climbing Gritstone at Stanage was fantastic.

Positive Experience - Pete Livesley served me a scone at a café somewhere near Malham Cove.

Negative Experience - Pumping out and falling off the polished holds at the rest of the easiest (warm up route) at Kilsney.

Negative Experience Ė Hordes of people everywhere, especially the constant flow of tourists parading past Malham Cove.

Bob Bennell
Oct, 2001


 
 
 
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