I started climbing when I was 13 and, without transport, the early vertical adventures for my group of climbing friends and I were the crags near home. One of our parents would drop us at a Peak District crag in the morning and pick us up at night. It was a small world for a while, but it was a great start that fostered a love of exploration.
As soon as we were old enough to holiday independently we started heading further away. The Lake District and Snowdonia were soon followed by Scotland and then, within a few years, our first overseas trips to the Alps. In due course the world opened more widely and we climbed away whenever and wherever we could.
Once I met my partner Caroline nothing changed. We did brilliant trips and climbing was still always at the core of our adventures. If the climbing was good it went on the list. No climbing and it wasn't an option. With this blinkered approach we have probably missed a lot of fascinating places but we've been to as many that, without climbing as our focus, definitely would have passed us by.
Road trips have often been a fundamental part of these adventures. Sometimes it could be loading up the car at home and heading off then other times it would be flying somewhere and using a hire car. A car, a selection of guidebooks, some camping and climbing equipment and the road atlas have been the recipe for many great memories.
Children came into our lives a decade ago. This certainly created new logistical challenges and, although the ethos of exploration remained, road trips suddenly weren't so practical. Recent family trips have usually seen us heading to a base rather than travelling between venues. Sometimes we've taken the kids along and persuaded grandparents to join us as travelling babysitters. At others we've joined groups of friends who also have families and so we've shared the climbing opportunities around the group. A number of times the kids have stayed with our parents while we've whizzed off for a trip ourselves.
Now they've grown up a bit the idea of resurrecting the road trip gradually seemed more appealing again. This year we thought we'd make the most of this great British Summer and head on a climbing and biking trip to the West Country. This is an area I'd not visited for many years so it seemed ripe for reacquaintance.
Heading south west from the Peak District on a scorching mid August day is easy enough if you have enough travel sweets, some good music and air conditioning. Our first destination was Cornwall and a stay at the beautiful Count House which sits in a great position above the cliffs of Bosigran. The Count House is a private Climbers Club property although, if you are heading that way and planning to camp, there are several great value small campsites that we saw around the area.
This side of the coast is fantastic and there are a host of venues to explore. The excellent West Country Rockfax and Climbers Club guidebooks cover the area really well. At Bosigran there are a host of easy to mid grade multi pitch climbs along with the superb 9 pitch very difficult grade Bosigran Ridge (often referred to as Commando Ridge after it was used as a military training venue between 1940 and 45). Most of the routes at Bosigran are about 3 to 4 pitches in length with good size belay ledges.
During our visit we climbed at several other family friendly crags. There's Carn Barra which offers a host of non tidal single pitch easy grade routes. Hella Point which offers a few adventurous routes (although there's a scramble to the top of the point and an abseil down to a tidal shelf needed to access the climbs). Near Hella Point there is also which has a cluster of easier grade routes and a reasonable scramble descent.
There is also the very family friendly venue of Sennen Cove. Sennen is pretty much perfect and we made several visits there during our trip. It has a very short walk in of about 5 minutes, there is plenty of parking in the village (although the harbour car park gets very busy), access to the base of the crag is very easy (either via a simple scramble or single abseil) and there are a host of high quality easy to mid grade single pitch routes in a stunning location on high quality granite. It really does tick all the boxes. Sennen also has a good supply of cafes and a great patrolled surfing/swimming beach. The only problem with Sennen is that it is so perfect, and perfect means busy! It is regularly used by the army as a training venue as well as obviously being popular with recreational climbers.
Cornwall isn't so great as a mountain biking venue although we found some nice links ups of bridle ways and country lanes to make circular routes and for roadies I guess it would be paradise! Of course, in between the climbing and biking there's lots of other things to do. Cornish cream teas, surfing, Cornish pasties, a visit to the famous outdoor Minack theatre, bird watching at the RSPB base at Lands End, a boat trip to the Scilly Isles, Scrumpy, body boarding, exploring Cornwall's mining history, kayaking, shopping in Penzance, fish and chips, fishing, barbecues by the sea........or maybe even sometimes doing absolutely nothing! We had a brilliant time in Cornwall.
After Cornwall we headed to South Wales. The plan was to visit some of the mountain biking areas we have never managed to visit. The first one you hit after crossing the Severn Bridge is Cwm Carn. This is a purpose made area based around a forested area. The amount on offer is fairly limited at the moment but there's a reasonable length red circuit and an uplifted downhill. I think there are plans for more in the future. Fortunately, they both proved to be good value although you may want to do a few laps on the 15km red loop to make it feel like a decent run. Logistics at Cwm Carn are easy. There is a campsite, run by the forest service, and situated right at the trailhead. It is fairly small although we used one of their camping pods which made it easy. There is a Tesco just down the road and they have secure bike storage lockers for hire.
From South Wales we headed to the New Forest. We have visited the area around Monmouth and Ross-on-Wye a number of times for climbing and canoe trips but this was our first visit for mountain biking. We arrived to find a great biking centre based close to Monmouth. It has some great downhill runs (with uplift available) and a selection of cross country trails in the red to blue range. There is also a skills area and great facilities including a bike hire, bike shop, plenty of parking and a good cafe. The New Forest centre is definitely an area we felt we'd revisit.
After that our circular road trip had to come to an end. If we'd had more time available we could have completed a loop through mid and north Wales but that part of the loop will need to wait for another time.....and, judging by the success of this trip, that other time won't be long coming!
Posted by Paul