It’s been eight years since the original edition of Boulder Britain. At the time, nothing quite like it existed: a guidebook that featured bouldering across the full breadth of the U.K. Now in 2020 (a year that, quite frankly, hasn’t given us much to be positive about) we have Niall Grimes’ second edition, packed with 3400 problems on 200 venues across Britain. In this version Niall has added 20+ destinations and 800 problems, but despite this growth in encyclopaedic knowledge the guide isn’t a weighty tome which might put you off lugging it to the crag. Somehow, even with nearly 100 more pages in this revised edition, he has managed to keep size to a minimum without compromising the fantastic photography, clear and usable topos, and informative approach notes and maps.
As an unashamed trad climber, bouldering has always been something that I do in fits and starts; mostly as the winter begins to draw in, but before flights to Spain (pre-Covid-19, of course). This is where this guide comes into its own: I can have a single book that lives in the car alongside the pad and some shoes, ready to quench any desire I have to nip off. This can be a post-work hit, en-route to a weekend away, or as the inspiration for a full week of bouldering in a region previously unvisited. This guide has enough in it for all that, and more.
As a second edition you’d hope for some improvements, and Grimer obviously thought so too! Each region has a colour code on the spine which corresponds to the colouring at the top of each page, allowing easy recognition of the country area: a definite improvement for those that are geographically challenged. The pictures that litter the guide are fantastic, with both action shots and landscapes to backdrop problems, as well as showing useful beta and giving a vital impression of the hundreds of locations in this guide. It all helps you to make your choices a little more informed, rather than just hearsay and gut feeling.

Mynydd Dinas - one of the less well known venues. Photo: E.Muse

Despite it being a guidebook that covers that breadth of the U.K., Grimer has managed to find the interesting in each and every place, with whimsical but illuminating notes on each location and region. It helps to give the ‘local crag for local people’ information to the wider climbing community. For those wanting greater detail or have a certain taste for a particular place, ‘Boulder Britain’ tells you exactly where to find more information, with image and web links to local specific guides - where appropriate.

With each colour-coded region, you’re presented with a diverse and intriguing mix of well-known problems and ‘hidden gem’ venues. Each section has a clear - and actually usable - map and approach description. Some of the larger venues have a little more than just basic information and include historical titbits and conditions beta which is vital when picking from the plethora of venues from this guide. The topos that fill the majority of the pages are well set and clearly define the path of least resistance (or should I say ‘most resistance’ in some cases) on the blocs, with a manageable amount of problems included that don’t drown the user with visual stimulus. With grades ranging from Font 1 to 8C, there’s something for everyone.

The Cromlech Roadside - one of many honeypot sites. Photo: E.Muse.

As this is a review I feel I can’t just wax lyrically about the book. It does have its downfalls. None cripple the book, and they are my opinion, but they should be commented on for clarity. The first thing you notice when you open the book and glance at the spine is the locations covered jump around, rather than in geographical order. They go from Wales to the North West, and Southern Sandstone to Scotland. When going to a specific area this won’t matter one iota, but if on a longer trip or looking to dip into regions near you, it might get a little tedious and stifle the flow of the book a little. The only other aspect that I found a little disappointing is some images have been reused from the first guide, which may not matter but would have been a nice change for the second edition.

Biblins. Photo: E. Muse

On reflection, this guidebook is a great accomplishment by Grimer, holding in its pages a wealth of knowledge that only a true cragsman could acquire, and a true communicator could convey. It holds within it more than enough information to get you to each venue and around the blocs. Boulder Britain is a well thought-out and executed book that has a place on any climber’s bookshelf or wedged inside their pad.

From Boulder Britain:

2020 sees a major update to the classic selected guide to the best bouldering in Britain. It has 25 exciting new venues, lots of new problems, updated info and a great selection of new photos to reflect the fabulous sport that bouldering is today. This is a book to inspire any climber. From beginners on their first outdoor ventures, to dedicated boulderers after famous climbs. Find more information and buy the book here.

Thanks to Ollie Burrows for the review. Ollie would like to be sponsored by Aldi coffee and brownies. Ollie can be found on Instagram.