The Culm Coast

It was after last orders by the time we arrived at the Bush Inn at Morwenstow with no place to stay. The bar had a slightly Wild West feeling about it in that we drew the attention of nearly everybody at the bar. “No nearby campsite” was the general consensus but the local farmer at the far end of the bar was quick to offer us a field almost adjacent to the pub to camp with no strings attached. We were quick to accept the offer.

Next morning there was low cloud and a light drizzle. The cliffs were supposed to be quick drying so in spite of this we headed for Vicarage Cliff, which had some low grade routes that would suit potentially poor conditions.
Light drizle
...and low cloud
We missed the normal descent and instead abseiled off a wobbly stake down some loose rubble scramble terrain. Both of us dislodged some rocks along the way. Everything was slippery and soaking. The cliff across the beach was shrouded. What were we doing here?... Still, there was no better plan, other than go and have a Devonshire cream tea. And we couldn't do that all day so we may as well go and inspect the crag we thought.
Makeshift  abseil descent
The cliff was wet and shiny. Even the severe looked deeply unappealing. At least the drizzle had stopped... almost. May as well have some lunch and see what happens we thought. There wouldn't be another low tide today after all. The problem was that there was virtually no wind. This combined with the low cloud meant that a lot of nothing was happening fast.

But patience proved to have some worth. Slowly the left hand seaward side of the crag developed dry spots. The whole areas of rock looked ok. It was time to gear up. Now just some wet patches. Time to get on with shortly...

We started on a VS called Pandora. My feet slipping off at half height but fortunately my hand were holding the rock firmly enough at the time. Next Anna knocked off another VS further right called Sunstruck. She cruised through the roof at half height without bother. With confidence still a little wobbly but on the rise, it was time to try an HVS even further right called Little Dribbler.

Pandora (VS, 4b)
Sunstruck (VS, 4c)
...I got stuck at half height where the climb moved through the small roof. The climb had looked dry from the ground in reality the rock beneath the roof was a skating rink. I needed some foot purchase on the slabbing rock but it was a hopeless cause. My gear wasn't good enough to just blindly go for it so tentatively I down-climbed leaving the last two pieces of gear to protect.

The tide was nearly upon us but now there was gear to retrieve. A VS called Wellington's Stand further right looked to be the best option for a quick ascent but the crux moves through the overlap were no pushover. And where was the gear? The waves were now hitting the rocks below the cliff - time was a commodity in short supply. I backed-off from the moves through the roof - stress! No time to hang around. Try again - be quick! Second time I managed to bridge my feet better and improve my purchase on the crack above. Thankfully the moves above the overlap were easy. Still not much in the way of gear though.

I belayed Anna up, who then traversed back left along the top of the cliff until above Little Dribbler. The tide was now washing the beach directly below us but fortunately some large boulders remained above the waterline. We set up the abseil and I stripped the gear on the way down. Inevitably the surplus ropes ended up floating in the sea. Time to leave! We hopped from boulder to boulder to the safety of dry beach. 10 minutes later the large boulders were submerged.

Time to leave
Rock hopping
Sunday morning it was raining again. Deja vu. We had been tricked by the weather forecast, which had indicated only grey cloud for the weekend. It was reportedly dry in the Wye Valley and so we contemplated relocation. By mid-morning the blue sky appeared unexpectedly. It made sense to stay put, given the driving time to get here. Another day of moderate ambition though. No E numbers.

Anna made fine work of leading Stormy Weather (HVS, 5a) at Cornakey Cliff before we climbed Wreckers' Slab (VS, 4b), which as described, had little in the way of gear and the odd loose bit of rock thrown in to sharpen the nerves. Two great climbs, which were different in character. There was better rock conditions as well today due to the absence of low cloud.

Stormy Weather (HVS, 5a)
First pitch of Wrecker's Slab (VS, 4b)
Second pitch of Wrecker's Slab
We made the bad decision to head to Gull Rock in the afternoon, failing to appreciate the time to walk-in. Our time of arrival left no time for climbing - at least not without another desperate escape bid from the tide. What's more the crag was mobbed by CC member route checking for a new guide. Time to quit and go for a cream tea instead.

Gull Rock
Overall, we lacked the chance to do some harder routes due to poor conditions. Plan A had initially to head to Lower Sharpnose but that was aborted on Saturday morning and never reconsidered. The trip was more of an ice-breaker for us. It's a beautiful stretch of coastline with lots of character and no crowds (minus the odd CC route-checking day). Plenty to think about for the next trip.


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