Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Boulder Britain - a bolder guide



You know those people who push peanuts up a hill with their nose? Or Sisyphus rolling his rock? Such is the magnitude of the task and the strain on sanity which Niall Grimes was prepared to shoulder millenia ago, it seems, when the idea of a 'British Bouldering Guide' was a cute little puppy of a concept. Of course, it grew into a slavering beast of a project. And this colourful beast - the first and only bouldering guide to Britain (all 488 pages) - is now amongst us, like a bright new boulder that just materialised at your favourite venue. The book is, to quote a word Grimer likes, 'stunning'. Stunning rocks, stunning photos, landscapes to drool over, evening sunlight hitting rock... I could meander amongst its pages for hours, which is precisely what I did, throwing mental shapes and moves over all those lovely boulders.

Scotland is given a page or two per major venue, and this whistle-stop approach is general throughout the book. It is a mammoth task and Niall has performed miracles of editorial concision to give us the best each venue has to offer. The variety of bouldering represented is terrific, you get a real taste of Britain's geological smorgasbord, and the 180 venues have over 3,200 classic problems described with clean, sunny topos and clear approach maps.

Not only does the guide do what a guide is supposed to do, it is perhaps the most entertainingly written climbing guide I have ever picked up. Each page will raise a smile - just reading the history of the Langdale boulders will give you a taste of how refreshingly free from earnest, grade-chasing, navel-gazing is this book...bouldering is meant to be fun and Niall seems to have understood that message. Whether you are a solitary, heather-tramping, mat-hauler or a communal, gritstone Sunday picnicker, the guide covers all tastes and communicates the various characters of our rocks and our strange fascination  with pebble pilates.

The production quality is to die for and Niall has no doubt spent many long nights embedded in the intricacies of Adobe software, or howling at the moon when a lovingly traced map crashes without a save... the sheer bloody-mindedness needed to produce something this good-looking would put creationists to shame: it is a sophisticated, technicolour creature that has evolved fully-formed out of the primordial swamps, magma chambers and silent seabeds of our geological past.

Of course, it is a book produced by the 'community of the realm' of boulderers and woudn't exist but for the obscure passion of multifarious souls who ditch all to huddle sniffling under a damp overhang waiting for a few square inches of rock to dry. Niall rightly sets the book in this context and, as some kind of beneficient overseer or scribe, has diligently pulled it all together into a biblical work of dedication. This 'good book' should really be the one handed out at Sunday schools around the country - go forth and clamber upon rocks, take thee this bible... perform your stations...

Amazing what a little paper, ink and a stony curiosity can produce - well done Niall, this book is all the richer for you taking it on. I am going for a long bath, and I may be some time... three cheers for Ape Index!

Support the poor wretch who went blind and starved and withered to bring you this feast:

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