Updated: Nov 1
Written by Andrew Moore-Holland
Over the August bank holiday weekend, the RAF Mountaineering Association (RAFMA) headed to St David's Bunkhouse in Pembrokeshire for the spectacular sea views, slabby sandstone, and the nautical nature. In this post, I will highlight the excellent climbing we conquered, the coastal walks we meandered, and the skills we acquired.
After waking in the grand bunkhouse, day one started with the finest Met brief of the weekend: rain that would clear, not too windy, and some intermittent sun. The groups split up into three: sea cliff climbing, walking, and inland climbing. The walking group explored the headlands and beaches on a coastal walk in North Pembrokeshire. Alongside this, one climbing group took on the up-ended Cambrian Sandstone of the coast, and another group headed inland to the rhyolite of Maiden's Castle Crag.
The walking group comprised Chris Fawcett and Marie Pritchard (a new member to RAFMA on her first weekend). Their 15km walk began at the dunes of Whitesand Bay before heading south along the coast. The cliffs rose up sharply from the shore, their craggy faces interspersed with lines of climbers. While alongside Ramsey Sound, they were delighted to see Atlantic grey seal pups sunning themselves in the wonderful Welsh weather. The undulating walk brought them back to the bunkhouse with a pinkish glow, tired legs, and excitement from their seal-watching.
The inland climbing group, led by Jasper McGarry, headed to Maiden's Castle Crag. After a wet walk from the car, it became clear why the crag got its name. Standing like a defensive fort, the rocky outcrop stood high above the surrounding flowering heather and bracken.
Jasper took the brunt of the weather setting up the anchors, while Cathy Sharples and I hid from the prevailing wind and rain under a chunk of rock. The rain passed, and the rocks dried thanks to the unrelenting winds (which appeared to spare the other two groups). We successfully summited challenging routes including two Hard Very Severe routes (Maiden's Castle Eliminate, The North-West Face). Cathy and I improved our trad skills through ghost-leading The Groove (Diff) with tips and improvements from Jasper as we did. After lunch, we settled into a strength-sapping boulder problem, Starboard Route (V1). After countless failed attempts from the three of us, Jasper and I topped out, with Cathy promising to come back and attempt it another day. We celebrated in style by deciding to run a rope and use the last of our energy climbing The Maiden (E1). The pumpy, technical climb was completed by only me, but Cathy and Jasper gave it their all. We left feeling pumped and ready for pizza around the fire.
The sea climbing group, led by our civilian instructor, Tim Oates, abseiled into Porthclais. As the stacked abseils descended, the waves below lapped up at their feet. The first, but definitely not the last soaking. In the group was Lucinda Conder, a long-time RAFMA climber, Tara Moore-Holland, another new member embarking on her maiden voyage within RAFMA, and Jill Brunsdon, a caver who has ventured out into the light. The ‘Grey slab’ and ‘red wall area’ provided ample climbs of varying difficulties. With no belay ledge to rest on at some climbs, the experience of dangling from trad gear kept the jeopardy level high.
The end of the day was topped off with ice cream to celebrate the successes. The finale of day one was pizza around the fire, followed by games around the table.
With the inspiring pictures of climbing on day one, Marie took her first tentative steps into the climbing world with Jasper at the local indoor wall. Here, Jasper coached Marie on the basics of climbing, abseiling, and belaying while surrounded by the walls of a historic church that held the climbing centre. Marie's first day climbing was heralded as a success as she vowed to take on more climbing in the future.
Heading out early to dodge the incoming rain, the other group headed to the sea cliffs led by Tim. At Caerfai Bay, the anchors were set, and we tentatively lowered ourselves over the edge. Losing sight of the flat, comfortable grass, we soon found ourselves dangling above the lapping waves. As the tide rose steadily, some of the climbs started to have an increasing level of difficulty. On the classic Pembrokeshire route, Amorican (VS), Jill got wave-battered. As I was belaying Lucy on Age Gap (E2, 5b), the waves led to soggy trousers and chilly feet. Eventually, the belay area of the slabby routes to the right became no longer accessible, and we focused on routes such as Bryn Left Hand (HVS, 5a) and Mildred Mindwarp (HS, 4b). Distracted by the quality of the crag, we eventually realised that the expected rain never came, and was instead replaced by excellent weather.
After returning to the bunkhouse, we regrouped and discussed the superb activities from the day. The key to recovery was found in St David's: an excellent ice cream shop.
Thanks to the near-shore location of the bunkhouse, on the third day we were spoiled with crags within walking distance. The full weekend squad headed en masse to the main face of Carreg-y-Barcud. The looming abseil was set up at First Corner (VD). For fresh-faced climber Marie, the daunting drop was a step too far, but she promised to return to face the rappel at future RAFMA events, knowing that she still had many more opportunities to develop her climbing. The highlight of the day was the challenging climbs of Kitten Claws (E3, 5c) and Mean Feat (E5, 6a). Mean Feat defeated us all, but Tara worked the route. Following a high heel hook, the battle with pump got the better of her, and she fell two metres from the top; another climber who promised to return to the sea cliffs. With most routes being top-roped, Jill, Jasper and Tim set out on a challenge. They led and seconded the HVS (Isandalwanda 4c) before finding their way out through the top of the route.
RAFMA had a fantastic weekend in Pembrokeshire. This beautiful coastal escarpment of western Wales provided ample opportunity for excellent climbing, coastal walks, and skill development. Despite the weather forecast, the skies held back their rain and the sun shone bright on the tilted sandstone bedding planes. All members, but especially Marie and Tara (as the new members), are looking forward to returning to the outdoors with RAFMA.