Climbing at Sheeps Tor was my first proper outdoor trad/top rope climbing experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m still relatively new to climbing, having only properly started in late 2019. However, my background in competitive gymnastics and gig rowing definitely helps (especially when it comes to having tough hands!) and I’ve understandably fallen in love with the sport. We spent the majority of the day at Sheeps Tor, working on a handful of routes. I’m definitely still learning the ropes and there’s plenty to get my head around (especially in terms of all the gear!) but it was a great opportunity to put my newfound belaying and climbing skills to work.
My first experience rock climbing was in Bude when I was 10, I was on an outdoor residential school trip and loved the sessions we had on the rocks. Growing up in London there weren’t nearly as many outdoor opportunities as there are here in Devon, so I definitely feel like I’m making up for lost time. I particularly love the problem solving element of climbing and how its simultaneously a physical and mental workout. I also like how similar the dynamics are to gymnastics and the way my body aches after a really good session. It’s a sport I’m really looking forward to progressing in.
Sheepstor is a quiet village located on the west side of the south moor of Dartmoor National Park. The tor itself overlooks the Burrator Reservoir and boasts a range of easy to mid-grade routes (Mod to HV5.) It’s a great place to practice lead climbing, as the vertical granite walls have a variety of cracks of all shapes and sizes. It’s a popular place to climb, especially during the summer, so you’ll often be joined by groups. We visited on a warm spring day and were joined by a handful of others. I imagine it would be very busy at the weekends during the peak of summer!
We parked at the bottom of the Tor, in one of the few lay-bys. There’s only room for around half a dozen vehicles (if they’re all parked considerately of course!) at the base of the tor, however there’s plenty of free parking available at nearby Burrator Reservoir. The walk up to the crag was fairly steep but only takes around 10 minutes to climb. You’ll need proper walking shoes or trainers, as the terrain rocky in places and uneven underfoot. Climbing at Sheeps Tor is very exposed to wind and rain. Even on a warm day you’ll want to bring plenty of layers! The routes get sun the majority of the morning, however they go into the shade come late afternoon.
We used the RockFax book West Country Climbs by Mark Glaister | AFFILIATE LINK for reference while climbing at Sheeps Tor, which came in very handy. We started on the shorter pitches to the right hand side of the rock, before working on Sheltered Crack (Diff) and Barking Crack (HVD) once we’d warmed up. We were climbing heights of around 9m, however the tallest routes at Sheeps Tor will take you up to 16m. These include Workers’ Wall (HS 4a), Crack and Chimney (S 4a), Wind Wall (HVS 5a) and Slab Route (Diff.) Our friend James was in charge of setting up the ropes, as well as all the gear and overall safety. As I mentioned previously, I’m still very new to climbing and am focussing on the basics at the moment. I plan to share more details about our specific gear/set ups as I learn!
The climbing itself was much easier than I anticipated, though the granite rock was quite slippery. I don’t use that much chalk when bouldering indoors but I definitely needed it on this trip! Luckily there were holds of all shapes and sizes on all the routes. There were plenty of opportunities to work on my crimp strength, while using larger ledges to rest when I needed. I was a little out of practice so it took some time for me to find my groove.
I was also a little apprehensive as everything was so new to me. Once I relaxed, I had a fantastic time and managed to complete all the routes (if not a little messily) on the first attempt. I even had a go at belaying, which was far less intimidating than I first thought. I did have to do it right handed though, which being left-handed, I found quite awkward!
Of course, climbing at Sheepstor was a new(ish) experience for the dogs too but they both behaved really well. They’ve had a bit of crag dog practice when we’ve been bouldering at Plymouth Hoe but that’s been for not nearly as long. There also aren’t too many distractions like livestock and delicious poo compared to Sheepstor. Saying that, Woody and Hen did remarkably well, especially given the conditions. Their etiquette was pretty much spot on, aside from a couple of whines from Woody when I first started climbing the rock. He soon settled though and while we may have still have a few minor details to work on, I’m very impressed with how they are handling this new experience.
They had plenty of water available throughout the day and Woody enjoyed his peanut butter stuffed K9 Connectables toys. We did have to create a makeshift den out of a bouldering mat at around lunchtime to give them both somewhere to shelter from the shade. It worked pretty well in all fairness. It was far more practical than hauling up a specific dog friendly shelter for them. I just need to find them a suitable lightweight, packable bed to lie on next. I’m not sure they appreciated my thin hiking towel!
Have you taken your dogs climbing with you before? Where are your favourite places to climb on Dartmoor?
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