The thing about climbing, sea-swimming and off the beaten path exploring is that they can take you places you’ve seen but not been. And in ways you’ve not yet imagined. Take the Bantham Hand, a 30ft rock fin that spikes from the sea off south Devon. I’ve passed it scores of times hiking the cliff path from Bantham to Hope Cove, beside an Agatha Christie-esque golf course, in sight of an art deco hotel. But I’d never seen it from the shore.
I’d love to say I pondered this as I clung part-way up this slender slab of rock. But I didn’t. I didn’t think of anything except that the measly finger holds were painfully sharp. That the wind was numbing my hands. That my legs and arms were trembling from trying to grip minuscule bumps of rock. That (dimwit) I’d have to go back a bit to retrieve the gear I’d forgotten. And that suddenly I wasn’t at all sure I could do this …
But then I sat back on the rope & rested. My guide and new best climbing buddy Mark Bullock called reassurances that it was much easier after this (he was, obvs, right). And suddenly when I pushed up I could see the hold. Past sparse vegetation and cormorant guano it was a clamber to the top. Where I joined Mark – to sit hearts thudding, adrenaline coursing, faces grinning, eyes wide and alive.
Then a heart-stopping abseil down (only my second ever) and a slide across slippery rocks back to beautiful Bantham beach. And hot chocolate, team cakes and mellow chats. And now? Still grinning :-)
Mark Bullock (Twitter: @_MarkBullock) was a fantastic instructor, working with the also excellent Climb South West. The British Mountaineering Council has info and advice for climbers of all levels. This Girl Can Climb and Women Climb are also top sources of inspiration. Thanks also to Plymouth High Sports for helping me learn, and members of the British Exploring Society‘s Himalaya 2016 expedition for enabling that first, high-altitude abseil …
The technical stuff: the Bantham Hand is a 30ft, VS 4b climb. We went up from the western side. It’s tidal (the sea comes in fast here); Mark calculated the approach so we had at least two hours either side of low tide. That proved plenty on a spring tide (in nearby Plymouth there was a high tide of 5.8m; a low of 0.4m). It’s about a 20 min approach from the beach over extremely slippery rocks.
Photo gallery below. Here’s the timelapse (credit: Mark Bullock). Next challenge, anyone?!