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Cornwall, or Penwith to use its Cornish name, is a distinct and unique part of Britain. The county of Cornwall comprises the final joint of the finger, with its very tip, dubbed Land's End, the westernmost point of mainland England. The long rocky coastline of Cornwall is walled with compact cliffs broken by occasional beaches and secluded bays. "This Cornwall is very primeval," wrote the great British novelist D. H. Lawrence who lived at Zennor in 1916. "Great, black, jutting cliffs and rocks . . . and a pale sea breaking in. . . . It is like the beginning of the world, wonderful: and so free and strong." Climbers make pilgrimages to climb these wave-resistant, granite cliffs, to test their strength, ability, and nerve on some of the best sea-cliff climbing in all of Europe.
The sea adds additional dimensions to the climbing experience. Sea-cliff climbing is atmospheric. Out there you're pinned on the sheer cliff face. The surf crashes onto rocks below, the smell of salt water lingers in the air, and the scenery is boastful and grandiose at this meeting of hard land and ill-tempered water. These aesthetic factors combine with more pragmatic and serious difficulties, such as timing your climbs with the daily tides, to make Cornish sea-cliff climbing a potentially risky but immensely satisfying business.
Climbing here is not like monkeying up a bolted sport route on the south coast at Portland. Instead Cornwall is a brilliant arena for adventure climbing and a major climbing area that is still free of bolts. Come here and you won't find a bolt every 5 feet or drilled anchors at the end of a pitch, but you will find a natural crag environment with no bolts and few fixed pitons, which corrode anyway in the constant wash of sea air.
Cornwall is a place to find all the thrills and chills of real traditional climbing. It's a place that places a premium on experience, competence, good judgment, and self-reliance. By no means, however, does this mean that the Cornish cliffs are dangerous. Adventure is never equated with danger, but with commitment and resourcefulness in the face of adversity. Most of the routes are well-protected with modern gear and you don't have to climb those that aren't. As at any climbing area, it's up to you to create a safe experience by relying on your own good sense and climbing ability.
The Cornish climber needs to be competent at his rock craft. Successful climbing here is not about busting hard moves up steep stone, but about being aware of all the subtle aspects of climbing. You need to be competent at leading pitches and placing gear. Competent at setting up equalized belays on ledges, small stances, and sloping, grassy cliff-tops. Competent at finding the right descent to the cliff base and competent at reading tide tables. You also must be competent at evaluating both objective and subjective dangers, of knowing when to be bold and when to retreat.