15th Aug -
22nd 23rd Aug 2020
“I’m off for a climbing holiday on Lundy”, I would say.
“Where’s that?”, would invariably be the answer.
Until recently, I thought Lundy was either somewhere near the Channel Islands or maybe in the vicinity of the Isle of Man. I also didn’t know that Lundy is one of the greatest climbing locations in the UK.
But I do now!
It's a little windswept island, just 3 miles long, sitting in the Bristol Channel between north Devon and Pembrokeshire. It has 1 pub, 1 shop, hundreds of shipwrecks, 3 lighthouses (see previous point!), a few holiday cottages, a camping field, some curious seals... and some truly world class granite sea cliffs.
It’s an adventurous place to climb, even getting there on the MS Oldenburg feels like a mini-expedition. All six of us (me, Paul, Tom, Matt, Simon, and Mark) managed to pass the ‘Find-the-Quay’ Test in Ilfracombe in the torrential rain, and not miss the departure. Although apparently it was a bit tighter than I realised (SOS coffee and muffins were totally required).
We had a huge pile of luggage, the total amount of which bore little relation to the alleged weight limit per person. Tents, camping and cooking gear, racks, ropes - the pile got larger and larger, but all was aboard and we set sail in high spirits. The sun was shining somewhere, but not on us that was for sure and we all got a bit wind-blown and rain-washed during the crossing (which takes just under 2 hours). Our first glimpse of Lundy was of the eastern side, shrouded in low-lying fog. Sea cliffs and pinnacles of rock appeared out of the gloom, giving tantalising hints of the epics awaiting us on the wilder west side of the island.
Our first day disappeared in fog and mist, so with little prospect of dry rock we went for a long amble around the island to get our bearings. Navigating around Lundy should be easy - there are only two main paths heading up/down the island, one on the east and one on the west. And as you walk you cross several drystone walls, conveniently named Quarter Wall, Halfway, and Three-quarter Wall. Should be simple right? Somehow it's surprisingly hard to remember how many you've actually crossed though, so there was plenty of debate as to where we were when all we had as ‘landmarks’ were horses, goats, and highland cattle. Pub dinner and an early night in a slightly soggy tent finished off our first day, but we were full of enthusiasm as a decent forecast promised plenty of dry granite to come.
Over the next few days we got to grips with the Lundy crag approaches - ‘descend the grassy gully’ often turned out to be guidebook code for ‘go up and down a few times and peer over lots of dodgy cliff edges and realise you’ve got totally the wrong place’. Our first taste of Lundy granite was at the aptly-named, super-classic Flying Buttress - a huge obelisk leaning drunkenly against the main cliff, forming a natural sea arch through which inquisitive seals were swimming. We had a great time ticking off some of the classics of the crag. Strong lines and gear-friendly cracks made it a fun first day, working up the grades to finish with Double Diamond - a Hard Rock tick and no pushover at HVS 5b. I got a bit stressed out on some overhanging slimy rock close to the shore-line, whilst Simon got a bit anxious eyeing up the incoming tide. All was well in the end! And the crag has some excellent ‘natural features’ for anchors at the top - great big cannons, used to signal danger when the lighthouse was ironically hidden in fog. Bomber!
We climbed all over the west side of the island, mostly managing to dodge the short, sharp showers that swept in across the Bristol Channel. The forecasts turned out to be mostly unhelpful - I definitely got sunburnt on days when apparently it was meant to be black clouds and heavy rain all day. With the weather being on the unpredictable side, we chose the best-looking day for a visit to the iconic Devil’s Slide. This is one of the showpieces of Lundy - an immaculate sweep of granite slab, rising straight out of the sea for 100 metres before steepening up like the crest of a huge wave. It is surprisingly lacking in major cracklines - on one side, the slab meets a side wall and creates the satisfying lay-back VS, Albion. On the other side, intersecting cracks form the super-classic HS, Devil’s Slide, which culminates in a run-out exercise in ‘smear-trusting’ on the final traverse under the crest of the granite wave
Side note: if you haven't seen Johnny Dawes' attempt at a hands-free ascent of this epic you really should!
In the middle of the slab, scanty thin cracks provide the ‘gear’ for the thought-provoking E1, Satan’s Slip. The guidebook describes the second pitch of this route as ‘a lonely lead’. It certainly wasn’t well-endowed with protection, and I muttered to myself “Just keep climbing” as I moved two, then four, then six-plus metres above my last dodgy placement. Fortunately granite is super-grippy - bizarrely, I felt more intimidated when I finally reached the safety of the Albion lay-back corner, mainly because I think I’d forgotten how to actually climb with holds and gear after 30 metres of smearing!
We were definitely grateful for a sunny dry day to have our slab-climbing adventures. The weather kept building during our week on Lundy, culminating in several big storms with epic winds and wild seas. The MS Oldenburg was unable to sail, leaving many refugees stuck on the island. We were unbelievably lucky because we’d booked into the luxurious barn for the second half of the week - all the campers ended up escaping to the safety of the church and sleeping on the floor for the rest of their holiday, after several tents failed to survive the conditions. The big seas were truly amazing!
We had to pick and choose our crags, and sometimes plucking up the courage to abseil in above the huge waves crashing below us wasn’t easy! But we were always rewarded with brilliant experiences. When the weather finally got too windy, we explored some of the inland crags and the eastern side of the island. These were fun, and a pleasant escape from the intimidating sea conditions, although definitely the poor cousins compared to the big west-side sea cliffs.
We joined the band of Lundy refugees when our boat back was also cancelled by the weather, and we lucked out with an extra day of climbing and another night in our cosy accommodation. The barn usually sleeps 14, so we had plenty of room for the obligatory social-distancing, and it was a really lovely place to chill out with coffee, chocolate and games.
We used our bonus day to head to the far north of the island, visiting a fun little crag with plenty of excellent technical routes. The northern tip of Lundy has yet another lighthouse, this time accessed by little bridges and steep steps weaving through the cliffs. We got a great view of the big seas, whilst being pretty sheltered in our secluded crag. The biggest bonus of the day was the lift we managed to grab with the lighthouse engineers on the way back - bumping along the track, wedged in place with our climbing bags, we had fun chats all the way back down the island. Cheers!
The captain of the MS Oldenburg gave the all-clear for the sailing the following day so it was all-aboard and farewell to Lundy. Despite climbing every day, we felt like we had barely scratched the surface - there are so many brilliant adventures still to be had.