Like many Devon folk with an interest in the outdoors, for me, climbing began at the Dewerstone. My first ever lead climb took place there one sunny February morning 13 years ago, when I tied into the rope and gibbered my way up the 40 foot high swathe of granite named Mambo Slab. Of course, what goes up must come down, and shortly afterwards the crag was the scene for my first lead fall, after I’d rather optimistically set off up Central Grove, run out of strength partway up the first pitch, and peeled off backwards, my belayer catching my fall after a modest ten feet of airtime.
Of course, my experiences on the Dewerstone are pretty recent and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but just as climbing began there for me, so it can be argued that the entire history of climbing in Devon actually began there. Back in 1894, the indefatigable and splendidly-named Victorian, Walter Parry Hasket-Smith completed Devon’s first ever recorded rock climb, by topping out after climbing a 110’ high groove near the main face – known today as ‘Mucky Gully’. Ever since these early beginnings, the Dewerstone has remained an important crag in the history of South West climbing, and many legendary climbers have visited the crag’s solid granite, leaving routes which pushed the standards of the time. In the 1930s, Climber’s Club Direct on the main face of the Dewerstone was climbed, and instantly became one of the hardest routes yet climbed at the time. In the ‘40s climbers from the nearby Royal Marines base at Bickleigh made the first ascents of some of the crag’s obvious lines, including crag classics Central Groove, Colonel’s Arete, and the very photogenic Needle Arete, while the ‘50s saw the arrival of legendary Scottish climber Tom Patey, who left his mark by making first ascents of routes such as Leviathan and Spider’s Web. During the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s many of the South West’s greatest names went on to leave their mark on the crag, the roll call of first ascentionists containing such pivotal figures as Pat Littlejohn, Nick Hancock, Pete O’Sullivan and Dave Thomas.
But what of the present day? There are now well over 100 recorded climbs at the Dewerstone, and new routes are still occasionally climbed, filling in the gaps between older more established lines. The crag’s glory days as one of the crucibles of South West climbing are now in the past, but it remains one of the most popular crags in southern England, and every year countless people experience rock climbing for the first time on its sun-dappled granite flanks, while the more experienced push themselves to their limits on the steep granite of the main face.Ben.