Secrets of the Lake District's Duddon Valley
by Mark Glaister Jul/2005
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The Lake District has played second fiddle to many of the other popular rock climbing big hitters in the UK such as North Wales and the Peak District for far too long. Its geographical disadvantage, lousy weather reputation and generally tougher grading all contributing to some extent. But as many know it has much brilliant climbing on offer and some of its better pitches are on the small crags dotted around the dales and valleys. The Duddon Valley is just one of these often neglected venues that really deserves much more attention from visitors and locals alike. Situated in the National Parks south-western quarter and very easily accessed from the south, the Duddon offers great pitches for all from Diff to E7, fine camping possibilities and several very good public houses.
Matt Jones nearing the top of the second pitch of Malediction Direct (VS 4c) Wallowbarrow Crag, Duddon Valley.© Mark Glaister
The climbing is all traditional on predominantly single and short multi-pitch lines most of which are on solid rock and usually less than an hours walk from the car. Many of the crags face south and west so conditions are as a rule good but in summer avoid the riverside crags, as midges can be a big distraction.
It is not possible to provide a full overview of all the climbing in this short article but what follows should keep most busy for a trip or three and wet the appetite for more in the Duddon.
The Duddon's most popular venue is Wallowbarrow Crag. Here you can enjoy some of the most beautifully positioned easier multi-pitch routes in the Lakes. Only a quick stroll from the parking and campsite, and at a friendly angle the main buttresses are packed with well trodden favourites such as Trinity Slabs VD, Thomas Severe, Nameless MS, Western Wall MVS, Malediction Direct MVS and the classic Digitation MVS. A little further up the Valley past the excellent Newfield Inn and the highly recommended campsite at Turner Hall Farm, is the unusual Troutal Gorge with its near sea cliff experience of White Water E2 5c. However on the vast hillside opposite lie some of the Duddon and indeed the Lakes better single pitch lines. The steep Burnt Crag and its less steep but equally demanding cousin Far Hill Crag are superb. Shifter E3 6a, Innocenti E3 6a, and Burning Desire at Burnt test both technique and strength. Whereas Lagonda E3 5c and First of Class E4 6a at Far Hill add a bit of head testing possibilities and the need for confident footwork. Scattered about around this area are loads of isolated buttresses with some good pitches including The Rhetoric of Meritocracy E4 6b on Little Blake Rigg and Natural Progression E1 on White How Crag. New routes have been developed since the last FRCC guide and a quick look at the website will reveal plenty of days exploration at the likes of Buzzard, Brandy, Dropping and Buck Crags. Before heading home checkout the convenient Stonestar Crag and its classic Columbia E1 5b or neighbouring equals Venezuela HVS 5a and The Breech E2 5c.
How to get to the Duddon Valley
The Duddon Valley is situated on the south western side of the Lake District National Park and is most easily reached from the M6 via the A591/590 and turning off for Broughton. For a listing of the crags in the Duddon area including number of routes, grade range, current weather conditions and detailed maps showing the locations of the crags visit the UKClimbing.com crag database.
The definitive guide covering The Duddon Valley is - Dow Duddon and Slate, and is published by the FRCC (1993 edition). The best of the lines in the Duddon are also covered in The Lake District Select Guidebook (2004) also published by the FRCC. Visit the Fell and Rock website for full details.
Please use only the access paths described in the guidebooks and do not climb over drystone walls. Wallowbarrow can be busy at times and bird bans come and go (check at the BMC website )
When To Go
Year round climbing is a possibility in the Duddon although winter is not to be recommended. Crags such as Burnt and Wallowbarrow get lots of sun but the higher west facing crags such as Far Hill retain moisture and can be green at times. None of the crags are worth a look in the rain and seep badly after heavy or prolonged rainfall.
Grub and Between The Sheets Info
No shops of any great size are located in the Duddon Valley so bring in all essentials. The town of Broughton is the nearest town of any size and has a gear shop and a superb cafe. Ambleside and Coniston are the other towns closest by for equipment shops. The Newfield Inn at Seathwaite is excellent with good food as is the Blacksmiths Arms further to the south. A number of campsites are sited in The Duddon valley. Perhaps the best is at Turner Hall Farm just north of Seathwaite from where it is possible to walk to some of the crags and the pub.
Lots of new lines have been climbed since the definitive guidebook was published and these are well worth a look on future visits. Descriptions can be found on the Fell and Rock website