It was bright blue skies and big surf in St. Ives, last week, so most of my time was spent in and around the sea. However, inspired by Bouldering in St. Ives, I did manage to drag myself away from the beach and onto some rock. This excellent guide is an introduction to the boulders that are within a few minutes walk of the town.
OK, so many are just a few metres high and it may seem a bit of a waste of time climbing on these when the majestic cliffs of Gurnard's Head, Bosigran and Sennen Cove lie just a few miles along the coast. But, apart from being great fun, I was intrigued by the history of bouldering in the area.
Victorian Alpinist Sir Leslie Stephen was climbing in West Cornwall during the 1850s, but much of the action centred around the house of Eagle's Nest at Zennor, a few miles from St Ives. In 1873 this was bought by Professor John Westlake, and, as Barnaby Carver explains in the guide's introduction:
"His nephew, Arthur Westlake Andrews is regarded by many as ‘the father of Cornish climbing’. A. W. Andrews and his sister Marion Elizabeth (‘Elsie’) Andrews, scrambled on the granite boulders surrounding the house during childhood holidays. These rocks would later provide test-pieces for visiting climbers...By 1922 Andrews was living at Tregerthen, neighbouring Eagle’s Nest which was by then owned by painter, politician and writer Will Arnold-Forster. Andrews still presided over the house and garden parties for visiting climbers. Sir Leslie Stephen’s daughter, the author Virginia Woolf, describes Cornwall’s early ‘bouldering scene’ in her diary entry of 30th March 1921: ‘Visited Arnold-Forster’s at Eagle’s Nest... Endless varieties of nice elderly men to be seen there, come for the climbing...'"
One of the most famous climbs in the area is the Commando Ridge at Bosigran, a 700ft ridge of granite, that was used in the second world war for training commandos in cliff assault. In fact it was first climbed in 1902 by AW Andrews, and was then known as Bosigran Ridge Climb.