In Deep: A Coastal Escape

In Deep: A Coastal Escape

For a few short months of the year, when the sea is of a tolerable temperature and the breeze is warm on the skin, a certain faction of die-hards hear the call of the sea-cliffs. There is no option to these climbers but to ditch their harnesses, drop the crash pads and answer this call.

Thus they scurry towards the coast line where they can be found peering over the edges, discussing neap tides and spring swings, grease levels and S grades, things foreign to those land-locked climbers. They speak in hushed tones for they know a secret that most don’t: The secret of British deep water soloing.

Speckled on the British coast line is surely some of the best psicobloc cliffs to be found anywhere. Deep water soloing in the UK has has its origins in Swanage, where the fanatic pioneers—Pete Oxley, Mike Roberts, Ken Palmer and the Cook brothers—soloed the classic traditional lines above deep water. Development spread further along the coast to nearby Portland where large roofs give pumpy, sustained traverses not far above the water line. Lulworth is sandwiched between the two, arguably the hardest and best of the lot: Wickedly steep faces on perfect solid limestone. Formerly climbed as sport routes, ethic is now very much ‘water up’.

Berry Head in Devon offers possibly the most fun to be had by a semi-clad climber. The bigger the group, the greater the laughs. The aptly named Magical Mystery Tour F6a+ (5:10b) meanders its way along a few hundred yards of pristine limestone coast. For those wanting more of a challenge, the Rainbow BridgeTraverse F7a+ (5.12a) should be on any soloist's ticklist. The quality of the rock and climbing would rival any Mallorcan crag. 

For the DWS connoisseur, Pembroke in Wales is where the interest now lies; recent development has been in this expanse of Welsh territory. Those willing to calculate tides, conditions and reefs are rewarded with the most impressive, rare gems of routes. Hard trad routes have given way to bold solos, but if you want to know more, you'll have to search for yourselves.

Jerome Mowat Climber and writer. Based in Sheffield and London.