The first pure DWS guidebook hit the shelves back in 1996 covering the wealth of development in Dorset as well as publishing the tag on grading system 'The S grade', that soon became recognised the world over to those engaging in DWS.
The cliffs that are more tailor-made for DWS tend to lie in the southern half of the UK and perhaps it's best to start off the destinations in the UK in a clockwise direction, and in that case the first port of call is the motherland of Dorset.
UKC Crag Links
Deep Water Rockfax GuideDeep Water is the first guidebook dedicated to solely documenting Deep Water Soloing around the UK and the rest of the world. The routes in the guidebook are described in full and are given Sport Grades in conjunction with the S-grade that gives an indication of the climb's seriousness, with regard to height above the water, and tide considerations. Information is presented in the full colour Rockfax photo-topo style and includes crucial advice on when and how to tackle the deep water solos. The guidebook is enticingly illustrated with many stunning photographs, the majority taken by Mike Robertson. As a stand-alone comprehensive reference book, or an essential companion to take with you to the venues, the Rockfax book Deep Water, is an essential read. Buy Now..
SWANAGE - DORSET
Just east of Swanage lies Conner Cove, home to some of the UK's best known deep water solos. The conger area sees many people starting out on Troubled Waters graded French Sport 5 (S1). Whether it's their warm up or mental first DWS project; it delivers upon request and is an excellent choice for all. If you tick this then your attention needs to turn to the striking rising traverse of The Conger (6b - S1) which makes its way over the arch of the cave and easily tops out at its end. The crux is low down and easy to clear if failure was to occur, which makes this line a perfect choice for those wishing to progress in the DWS realm.
The last of the Classics is the impressive towering wall of Freeborn Man 6c S1, which for many is a landmark test piece in their DWS climbing careers. It's ideal for audience participation, each person encouraging the next to keep their cool and climb to victory. Within a short distance is the Funky Wall, with a good number of three star lines. Davy Jones' Lock-Off, And Captain Blood's Cavern, and chief amongst them is Fathoms which follows a rising undercutting flake to a spectacular god send jug. The area does have tidal shifts but it is possible with care to solo at all tides, especially in the conger area..
LULWORTH - DORSET
Leaving this section of coastline and focusing in on a small area known as Lulworth, sits the geological marvel of Durdle Door. Although it is technically banned, this area still remains the best deep water playground in the south of the UK. The venue consists of two through caves and an additional sheltered bay.
The line of the Maypole traverses easily anti-clockwise around the right leg (looking out) until more committing and exciting and challenging climbing emerges as you enter the cave. This is a very popular and rewarding outing at various grades depending on the tide, although generally done as a 6b (S0).
Moving slightly higher in the grade and also a traverse is the Laws Traverse which can be found on the right side of the bay looking out and needs a high tide if trying the line in its entirety. The only down side is that you need to reverse the line to return dry, if not wanting to swim back.
Perhaps the classic for the area and the test piece of many is the right to left traverse of the left hand lip of the cave (looking out) seaward side, known as Horny Lil' Devil. Being quite a juggy route, the line is quite overhanging and incurs the need for stamina to fight off the pump. It's low down so falling is never an issue unless some unsuspecting tourist comes swimming under and through the arch. Ensure you have someone to spot you as well, as the start does climb near to the starting ledge for a very short period.
If this is no problem then tackle the line immediately below known as Hornier than Thou which is a much more powerful variation.
7a climbers should not leave without trying their hand at both Animal Magnetism and Crazy Notion both graded at 7a+ (S0) which lie in the west cave. These lines provide some exhilarating climbing action and successful candidates will top out with a glorious finish or take a more than average clean fall. Perhaps the most talked about lines are Mark of the Beast 7c (S2) which climbs the full extent of the steep east cave and its cousin is Adrenochrome at a mighty 8a+ which climbs parallel to Mark of the Beast.
Lulworth is a great place to visit, climb and explore and one can get a real feel for Dorset life..
PORTLAND - DORSET
The island of Portland is perhaps the southern premier sport climbing venue for the UK but also in addition around the coast is a great number of DWS venues. Many on the east which are perhaps more popular are of a much lower height and ideal for beginners and anyone not too keen on the exciting higher heights of Conner Cove.
A nice way to start is to work your way up the east coast starting at the Deep Zawn with a lines such as the Red Crane Traverse 5 (S0) and moving on up with the rising tide. It is quite critical to plan your trip around high tides, as at low tide in some places you're looking at the ground without any water in sight.
A trip is not complete without doing Temporary Lifestyle 4+ to the north of this cove and this line can be made a bit harder by climbing it lower down. Big Easy Face at high tide is great fun and follow it round by extending Big Easy Traverse to do Russian Roulette 6b+ which is a technical traverse followed by a sterling climb up a thin crack to the top. Fantastic!
Also at high tide and with a slight increase in grade (but only due to the fact that it's a roof climb) is the Crab Party. A thuggish outing across a huge roof using a large rail. Save a bit for the end.
A short walk north and under the crane is Octopuss Weed Area with, you guessed it, Octopuss Weed. A Slightly odd line due to the way you gain the line via a tricky move (spotter required) onto the hanging shelf. Half way out you then transfer onto the roof and yard yourself rightward along rails to exit on the right side of the cave mouth.
Last but not least is the Beeston Cliff. Again requiring a High Tide this cliff has a number of great routes to try but at the heart of them all is Bay of Rainbows. A thin and technical 6c+ that delivers in every way with successful ascentionists taking their experience to the pub to bore the hell out of some poor sole as to how cool it really was, and they're not wrong I'm afraid.
Apart from cream teas and scones what else is there to do in Devon? Well an awful lot including some epic DWS. There are a good number of areas to explore along the coast but perhaps the most popular is Berry Head. Berry Head
BIG NOTE: There is a bird ban that ends in August, so leave it until the end of the season if you can. Info can be found in the book and on DWSWORLD.com So apart from the country's first 8a+ (cutlass FA Neal Gresham) and the Grand White Rhino Tea on the Rhino Buttress that can go from being a nice solo to a day out on El cap due to the movement of the tide (up to 5 metres difference in height), it's probably best known for its humongous and perhaps best traverses in the UK. Magical Mystery Tour and Rainbow Bridge both start from the central platform which is accessed from the (only reasonable) way down.
Magical Mystery Tour starts by adventurously entering the large cave and climbing or walking (Tide dependant) to the opposite side. Navigate at various heights until you reach the Green Grotto. Low tide = step across, High Tide = wade across, or to keep dry get strong and crank your way into darkness by following the Green Grotto Traverse (6c/7a) and blindly fight your way to link up the line into the blue grotto. Depending on tides will depend on what you may get and how spicy or nice it is. Every aspect of the journey offers fantastic climbing, different views and experiences and may take you an hour or so to complete!
'Rainbow Bridge' which again is more of a step up and perhaps technically more challenging than Magical Mystery Tour. With a number of different variations in place Rainbow Bridge can deliver a punch. Perhaps the most travelled section is Pitch One that traverses past the Pink Block, Crystal Cave and takes in the crux pitch to then steeply exit via an exciting corner climb to the top (high tide makes this easer head-wise).
The line then skips a section of the cliff and re-joins it for some form pump climbing all the way to White Ledge. Technically easier climbing but still can kick you off at the end! There is plenty to do here but much more of a wider and more committing feel to the place that perhaps requires those who are strong swimmers and with a confident group. And remember to contact the Brixham Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre before climbing..
PEMBROKE - WALES
The next major destination is South Wales, an area known as Pembroke, a premiere venue for limestone sea cliff traditional climbing and perhaps seen as the more recent area for DWS development in the UK. Pembroke is perhaps now the future realm for the sport of DWS in the UK.
It is certainly not as popular as Dorset due to a number of factors, including tide and the general height of many of the lines and access. The area hosts six main areas, Barrel Zawn, Range East, Broadhaven, Shrinkle Haven, Lydstep and Penally. Barrel Zawn is a large sloping wall cutting into the hill side and very much isolated from the other DWS venues. With around nineteen lines at various grades it's well worth a visit even if it's just to do the Barrel Traverse. It also boasts easy exits (in calmer seas), but being sheltered helps a lot with this as does the fact that it is possible to solo at most tides.
Range East is perhaps the most popular area in Pembroke and has played host to the 2007 DWS festival (which was the last of its kind as the UK plummeted into recession and sponsorship was pulled from non-essential events). Apparently DWS was non-essential. But moving on… the area is a favourite of the pioneer with a number of outstanding projects still open for first ascents and a number of lines holding historical presence amongst the hard deep water soloer such as San Simeon (8a S3) which as described in the Rockfax Guide was the hardest DWS tick in Pembroke. This has now been surpassed by the line of 'Olympiad' 8b – S1 at Forbidden Head.
If you get the right tide there is plenty to play on and enjoy here and Stennis Ford and the nearby Newton Head are perhaps the star attractions for the low to mid-grade climber. Broadhaven is an isolated pit stop further east by Broadhaven Beach and the famous Lily Ponds. The Confucius Hole, named after the traverse has unfortunately a low number of lines that are more tailored for the hard climber whose attention would primarily be turned towards attempting Tim Emmetts 2004 line Jaws 8a.
Further east in the direction of Caldey Island is the area of Shrinkle Haven with number of stiff mid-grade lines supplied by Julian Lines and Mike Robertson, but this area is although more for the connoisseur is perhaps better known for the line of Olympiad 8b and the hardest DWS in the UK. Lydstep Area is close to the more isolated realm and favourite sector for traditional climbers known as Mother Carey's Kitchen. Lydstep is riddled with sectors and exciting features including the Skomar Arch. Low grades are best found at Cool Man Chu Wall and Cold Turkey Gully. This is a good area to base yourself for a few days to explore all the different sectors in the area. Pennally is the last stop and offers a slightly more limiting number of lines. Perhaps the best sector is Kato Zawn which is not easy to find and is home to the Wizard. Although not the hardest line on the coast it is a testament to certain individual ground up ethics and what can be achieved, such as Neil Gresham whose contribution to the Pembrokeshire coast line have been placed in the history books..
Photos of Neil Gresham climbing in Pembroke: © Liam Cook and Mike Robertson
REST OF THE UK
There is not much to talk about apart from some small additions found in Cornwall and some immensely isolated areas in Scotland which are there for the taking if in the area. These lines are more of a record than a fully developed area, which does not detract from the quality by any means. It goes without saying that possibilities still remain on the coastlines and something new will be unearthed if not already, but until then enjoy the wealth that has already been developed and has stood the test of time regarding quality and fun!
GUIDE AND AUTHOR
The best and only book to deep water soloing in the UK is Mike Robertsons Rockfax guide Deep Water. An essential purchase for anyone planning any trip anywhere in the UK regarding deep water soloing.
Mike Robertson has been the UK leading activist on deep water soloing for many years. He was at the heart of the climbing community on the south coast of England helping develop DWS not just on the nearby cliffs but as an activity in its own right. Mike's explorations have taken him far and wide and in doing so he has over the years become one of the leading gurus of DWS. His book Deep Water is a testament to his exploration and encompasses detailed descriptions on 99% of all the DWS lines on the island. That one percent regarding UK lines is a mix of isolated lines and new routes since its publication. It can be found at all major outdoor stores or online via the Rockfax shop here.