Some of the UK’s best limestone sport climbing and gritstone bouldering can be found in Yorkshire.
Climbing is not only a great way to test your skill and nerve, it’s also an amazing way to see our stunning county from a whole new perspective.
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Two rock types dominate in Yorkshire, offering very different climbing – limestone or gritstone.
In the Yorkshire Dales, limestone prevails. This underlying rock gives the place its characteristic look with white outcrops framing the valley sides, ribbons of walls across the landscape, and expanses of limestone pavement.
On limestone you need to decide between sport climbing, where you clip bolts in the same way as at a climbing wall, or to go traditional (trad) and place your own protection. Most of the limestone cliffs are better suited to experienced climbers whilst beginners will generally find gritstone a more amenable medium on which to learn and practice.
On gritstone the choice is between traditional climbing or bouldering. Many people choose the simple and pure approach of bouldering, climbing short routes without ropes, although traditional climbing is still very popular.
And even if the weather is against you, there’s always a climbing wall nearby to test your technique and to train for the next climbing season.
There are now over 600 bolt protected routes in the Yorkshire Dales with over 200 being at easier grades. Many of the limestone cliffs are south or west facing and dry quickly after rain meaning that climbing can take place for much of the year.
Serious climbers will love Gordale Scar and nearby Malham Cove, where top British sport climber Steve McClure has undertaken landmark achievements and the climbs continue to attract some of the world’s best climbers. The magnificent steep crag at Kilnsey and the wooded limestone ravine of Trow Gill are also must-scale faces.
The crags of Giggleswick South (near Settle) and Robin Proctor’s Scar (near Clapham) provide easier mid-grade sport climbing in the area. Giggleswick is especially popular because it’s quick drying and catches the sun, although parking is very limited. Castlebergh Crag, above the North Yorkshire town of Settle is also well worth a climb, with 24 newly created and fully bolted routes.
Have a go
September is a great time of year to get out on to the limestone crags. The crags should be dry, as there is little water seepage at this time of year and most of the crags are in southerly locations, catching any available sun and the overhangs mean they can miss the rain too! In recent years many people have managed to get routes in during warm February days too.
Some sites, and in particular, Malham, Gordale and Trow Gill are very popular with walkers and other visitors, and so need to be used with a sense of responsibility and care.
During the bird nesting season, there are also a number of effective voluntary restrictions to protect breeding birds. These are advertised on the BMC website and some have on-site notices.
Find out more
You will need all of the usual equipment for climbing: boots, rope, harness, karabiners, extenders, friends and nuts (for trad routes). There are good climbing shops at Ingleton, Clapham and Skipton if you need to buy anything. Or else hire a local instructor to introduce you to the sport.
Further information about the crags in the area is available from the BMC website and the Rockfax database – Yorkshire Limestone.
Check out sport climber Steve McClure at Malham Cove:
The bulk of climbing in Yorkshire remains traditional in style, from Twisleton type favourites to long scary adventures at Gordale and Blue Scar.
Traditional climbing involves placing your own gear to protect yourself as you climb, and so requires the knowledge of how to place gear, in addition to normal climbing skills.
In Yorkshire the traditional climbing takes place on two very different types of rock: gritstone and limestone. Traditional climbs will tend to be protected by a range of nuts and cams, with gritstone climbs often needing larger sizes to protect climbs properly. There is a massive variety of grades available from relatively straightforward gritstone climbs through to some desperate undertakings.
The main gritstone edges mostly have short traditional routes and boulder problems on a variety of buttresses. The grade range is wide with climbs suited to beginner and expert often located side by side.
If you are new to traditional climbing, you should not expect your indoor climbing or sport climbing grade to transfer across, and it is always best to climb initially well within your grade.
Have a go
Many of the crags in the area are relatively sheltered and at low altitudes. This means that you should be able to select one that will dry quickly, and get routes done in good spells of weather early in the year. You will need a full rack of gear with a range of nuts, slings and cams, as well as normal climbing kit.
A few places you might want to think about starting out at are:
Brimham Rocks, nr Summerbridge, Nidderdale: The climbs at the National Trust’s Brimham Rocks are up to 20m high, and there is great variety from delicate routes to strenuous climbs and old fashioned thrutches. There is also plenty to keep boulderers happy. Rocks face all directions and can be surprisingly sheltered.
How Stean Gorge’s rock climbing sessions will get you on the gritstone face to test your nerve and skill. You will learn basic rope work and experience both climbing and abseiling. Feel the adrenaline rush as you scale the rock face. Ideal for beginners or a challenge for experienced climbers. No matter whether you have climbed before or not we will tailor the 3 hour session to suit your requirements and abilities under the guidance of our fully qualified instructors.
Twisleton Scars, between Ingleton and Chapel-le-Dale: This is a series of escarpments which offer a range of good, short climbs in a great location. They receive plenty of sun and dry quickly meaning that they often allow climbing in winter months.
And if you’re looking for everything in one place, try Almscliff. It has over 180 climbs and world-class bouldering all packed onto one hillside.
Further south, Pule Hill, near Marsden, offers a cliff with two contrasting sets of climbs and more than seventy routes, the ideal location to hone your climbing skills.
The Peak District has plenty of challenges up its sleeve too. Burbage North is home to one of the area’s great routes, Long Tall Sally. And one of the Peak’s best kept secrets (until now) is Rivelin Edge. A superb sheltered spot with many formidable features while Wharncliffe is a gritstone escarpment about 6 miles north west of Sheffield, with a number of short routes across the full grade spectrum.
Find out more
Grab a copy of the Yorkshire Gritstone and Limestone climbing guides. For an idea of what is there, check the rockfax databases – Yorkshire Gritstone or Yorkshire Limestone.
You don’t have to climb high to get your kicks. The grit bouldering in the area is recognised as awesome. From the weird and wonderful formations at Brimham Rocks in Nidderdale, to landmark features, such as The Calf in Ilkley, boring is never an option.
Suitable for anyone who already has some climbing experience under their belt, bouldering is about climbing on boulders and short sections of cliff (usually under 4m high) without using ropes or other usual climbing safety equipment. Many people regard it as the purest form of climbing for this reason, and it also means that it is the most accessible, and cheapest, way to get off the ground. You can head off to your local boulders on your own, but for many it is social activity to be done with friends, encouraging each other to take on problems, and ‘spotting’ people to reduce the risk.
Everyone knows that Yorkshire has the best bouldering in the world (maybe), and there are many fantastic locations to go to. The main crags include Almscliff, Brimham, Crookrise, Earl Crag on the moors west of Keighley, Ilkley and Caley Crags, within Otley Chevin. Farther afield there is plenty of quality bouldering at places like Bridestones, above Todmorden, and Widdop, near Hebden Bridge.
There are also the extensive edges of the Peak District, Bell Hagg and Burbage North for example, and how about trying the limestone buttresses of Roche Abbey, near Rotherham?
There is even bouldering on the eastern side of the county with Scugdale an ideal place to start on the North York Moors. It’s a small sandstone outcrop that rarely gets more than 10 metres high, and is home to dozens of boulder problems at the easier end of the spectrum. What’s more the crag is situated in a quiet, beautiful valley and being south-facing gets the benefit of all the sun that’s going. You can spend the day climbing until your arms won’t take any more, then head down to Swainby for a well-deserved pint.
Have a go
Doing bouldering rather than roped climbing means that you can stay active and warm even through the winter. Take along: rock boots, a bouldering mat, some old rags to clean your boots and some mates to spot you (i.e. watch your back while you are climbing). If you haven’t come across them before, bouldering mats are big foam mattresses – they can give you some cushioning if you jump off and also help reduce erosion at the bottom of the crag.
Find out more
The UK Climbing database has an online list of crags across the country or find more ideas of what Yorkshire has to offer.