Llanberis Slate by Ground Up Productions
Ground Up are a North Wales based company who produce North Wales guide books. As such they know their stuff. They also clearly knew that the slate quarries were desperately in need of a new, and better, guidebook. The catalyst to have made this book happen is clearly the fatc that the area has recently undergone a bit of a renaissance, with old bolts replaced (the photo of an old bolt next to a new one on page 11 literally sent shivers down my spine when I consider some of the run-outs I’ve subjected myself to in years gone by in the quarries!), 200 new routes, and a general raising of awareness of the place. I was born just down the road in Bangor and grew up in Snowdonia, passing by and even playing in these behemoth piles of discarded slate for nearly twenty years. As such it didn’t occur to me until very recently that they are actually a fairly ugly bolt on the landscape. Personally I love them.
If you’ve never climbed on the slate then I would advise you to do so. It’s certainly unusual, unique even, demanding a decent pair od edging boots, a lot of flexibility and some technical nouse. If I’d written this review 5 years ago I would have also stressed the need for a cool head, but the retrobolting has helped to change this, with a more sensible approach than was practiced by the first ascentionists in the eighties and nineties who seemed to take it upon themselves to out-compete each other for boldness simply for the fun of it. I’ know that some are un0happy with the retrobolting, but for the majority it will be a welcome step practically, if not ethically.
So on to the book. It’s a big one. 370 or so pages in an A5 format. A lovely shot of Pete Robbins on the iconic Quarryman groove on the cover. I’m pleased to say that the pictures, topos and maps are all in colour – the North Wales scene sometimes seems to go a little overboard on reflecting the harshness of the slate quarries in its endeavours, with black and white guidebooks, and monochrome branding for the Llanberis Mountain Film Festival. The pictures are impressive, but not always pin-sharp. The topos are the same, but are perfectly good enough for finding your climb. Dali’s Hole deservedly has its own chapter in the book due to the redevelopment of its Emerald Slab which now sports a plethora of lower grade sport climbs. Thankfully the access issues suffered by the sector, and currently being negotiated with the landowner by the BMC, have been noted in the book. Fingers crossed that the BMC can sort things out. The same fence that has been erected to stop access to Dali’s Hole unfortunately blocks access into California which not only sports some fine routes, but sees the start to the esoteric and wildly entertaining ‘Snakes & Ladders (And Tunnels), an exploration of the quarries requiring no actual climbing skills, but a decent level of competence, with abseils, caving, lots of ascending of loose ladders, and a bit of nerve. Described on page 315 of the book along with a few other routes, I would highly recommend this, but not in the wet! Review here.
Aside from the meat of the book – topos and route descriptions there are a few other worthy bits and pieces: there’s a hefty 3 page graded list of the best routes, a selection of excerpts from Martin Crook’s diary (of a slatehead) which provide some light entertainment from the 80’s scene, and a thorough historical record with first ascent details, and an indication of the development of the various guidebooks to the area over the years.
All in all a must-have guidebook if you like climbing on, or like the sound of climbing on, the slate quarries. Retails at £24.95.