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BALLATER ROCK CLIMBS BY JULES LINES
On the national scene, crags around Ballater in Aberdeenshire are low-key, just like the book’s creator, Jules Lines. The Boardman Tasker winning author keeps below the radar and likes it that way. His last book won widespread critical acclaim and, in addition, Jules is one of Britain's most accomplished free solo climbers. Several of my peers list the book, Tears at the Dawn, amongst their favourite climbing narratives of all time. His latest offering, Ballater Rock Climbs, is unique in many ways and, to my mind, is beautifully written and oozes charm. Whether you visit these Scottish crags or not, this privately published guide makes for interesting reading and would make a beautiful gift for the discerning collector. Its design is clean and simple with no fuss; the book is utterly charismatic.
So what sets this book apart? For one, it’s small. Ballater Rock Climbs is, physically, the smallest in-print UK climbing guidebook and without question is pocket-sized. At a weight of just over a hundred grams it’s less than one-tenth the weight of North Wales Bouldering. Whilst handling the book for the first time, I thought of Ed Gridley’s tiny guidebook Rock Climbs in Glen Nevis, published in 2006. However, with eighty-two pages Ballater Rock Climbs is absolutely packed with quality information and fifty topos.
Rainbow coloured route lines give an inclusive feel and a superb cover image of Jules on Smith’s Arête by Cubby Images conjures up the sense of a magical place. With its laminated cover, this paperback feels good in the hand due to its almost rubberised surface. Jules climbed every route besides three projects and wrote every description. The book describes over 400 trad lines plus sixty problems – with eye-catching lines such as, ‘The deep fissure provides an interesting forage into the bowels of the crag’ (The Ginnel, page six).
The book covers three beautiful-looking crags situated around the picturesque village of Ballater on the River Dee in Aberdeenshire, halfway between Aviemore and Aberdeen.
Creagan t’ Seabhaig – The Pass
More commonly known as the Pass of Ballater, this generally south-facing, part-quarried granite crag has been the playground of Aberdonians since the 1960s. It is so popular today that some routes are polished! It is a crag of generally short technical climbs, many routes being described by the author as ‘tough at the grade’. With three sectors and a short walk-in this area has climbs for every ability, the central sector can be accessed in just a few minutes via a steep path leading from the car park.
Bellamore Craig – The Hill
Facing east, this low-profile gem sits below Pannanich Hill and enjoys stunning views over the Dee Valley; on a clear day the Cairngorms can be seen to the west. Although a granite crag, the author writes of similarities in feel to a gritstone edge. With many low-grade routes it’s an ideal venue for climbers with modest ability, reaching a height of no more than ten metres. But be warned: ‘the granite here can be quite brutal on the finger tips’.
Vat Burn – The Forest
Hidden in a secluded gorge, fifteen small buttresses sit either side of the truly magical Vat Burn. The area is home to the dreaded Scottish midge in summer, so the author suggests spring and autumn as the best times to climb. It is also home to nesting birds, Bryophytes and other rare plants, so local restrictions might apply.
There have never been more privately published climbing guides in production – perhaps a hangover from COVID-19 or more likely a result of on-demand print being accessible and relatively inexpensive. To share information is, in my mind, a worthwhile endeavour and there has never been such a rich time for low-volume climbing guidebooks. To print just fifty copies of a physical guide is not impractical. Ballater Rock Climbs enjoys a print run of just 300 copies and I suspect this charming book will not be available for very long. It epitomises a well-designed and intelligently thought-out guidebook. To be ultra-critical – and no guidebook is perfect, including my own, Selected Climbs and Bouldering in Wilton Quarries. I would have included a full index of climbs, a few topos are too small for my faltering eyes and the text is tight to the gutter (inner margin of leaves in a bound book), something that could be easily rectified if reprinted. Lastly, I would have liked the route names within descriptions to be italicised.
Regardless, you don’t win a Boardman Tasker award by accident and Ballater Rock Climbs is an absolute triumph! More guides please Jules.
Value for money 10/10
The climbs 10/10
Photography 7/10 (only three action photos)
Information 9/10 (ample for this publication)
Topos 8.5/10 (I struggled with one or two of the smaller topos)
Ease of use 9.5/10
Overall impression 9.9/10
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