Earl Crag, Yorkshire

by Kevin Avery-Assistant Editor- UKC Feb/2009
This article has been read 8,065 times

Although it is undoubtedly home to some of the finest routes and boulder problems to be found anywhere on gritstone, Earl Crag is sometimes overlooked in favour of its more famous nearby neighbours. Perhaps it's the northerly aspect, dark presence on top of the hill or its wide open aspect which can leave it ravaged by the elements, which puts people off? Whatever it is, those who pass it by are missing out on a real treat. Whether it be pleasant Severes or nerve testing death routes, classic boulder circuits or nasty projects; Earl Crag has it all.

Wainman's Pinnacle at Earl crag., 36 kb


Basically a collection of boulders and buttresses which scatter the hilltop between the Wainman's Pinnacle on the west edge and Lund's Tower on the east, the crag commands a strong presence above the village of Cowling and the A6068 Colne to Keighley road. Earl is home to a whole host of classic climbs and some particularly excellent boulder problems. Pure lines are generally the order of the day and although eliminates do exist, for me they are not what the climbing here is truly about. The rock is a high quality compact gritstone that runs to edges and slopers that can be callously unkind on the skin. The routes are often bold, insecure and intriguing whilst the boulder problems require technique, power, persistence and sometimes even a cool head. For those who come here and sample it the prizes are obvious and quality exists at every level. So next time you plan a trip out, think further than Caley Crags or Almscliff. Earl Crag really is:

"One of Yorkshire's finest gritstone cliffs!"
Northern England, Rockfax, 2008.

My Classic Suggestions

Early Riser, Earl Crag, 87 kbEarly Riser, Earl Crag
© Rob1988, Sep 2008


Earl Crag mixes some of the best quality bouldering with bold and technical routes that will test your mental mettle. Here are some suggestions to get you going:

  • Highball WallFont 4+ Very satisfying. Start up slab left of Trick Arete.
  • GhostFont 5+ Excellent fun.
  • Trick AreteFont 6b Tricky.
  • Hanging GrooveFont 6b+ Always seems to feel tough.
  • The John Dunne SlapFont 6b+ Dynamic for most, static for some.
  • Ron's AreteFont 6c Tall, technical, challenging, just what you'd expect!
  • Desert Island AreteFont 7a So good you'll wanna do it again and again.
  • Handy Andy'sFont 7a+ One for those handy on crimps.
  • Sloping BeautyFont 7b Beautiful. Various methods exist, most involving a slap.
  • Colt 45Font 7c Hidden technical gem. Go and seek it out.


  • Earl CrackVS 4c Cracking!
  • Tiger WallVS 4c One of the very best!
  • Viscount's RouteHVS 5a The start is a maneater.
  • Earl ButtressE2 5c Right of the crack of Earl Buttress.
  • The KipperE4 6b A burly start gains the flaky finale.
  • Early RiserE5 6a Protection-less padding up the ramp with the crux at the end!




When do I go?

Climbing is possible here all year round. The crag faces north which is both a blessing and a damnation. A summer's day can provide cool conditions when other crags are unbearably hot whilst a windy day in winter can be unpleasantly cold. Its stark openness to the elements does mean that it dries quicker than you might expect however and if the wind is blowing from the south-west then it is likely that you will find some shelter in which to climb. If conditions have been wet for an extended period then it may be worth leaving it to dry for a day or two.

The delightfully positive high-ball wall left of Trick Arete. Amenable at Font 4+., 54 kb


The crag offers bouldering and traditional routes. Some of the boulder problems have less than ideal landings so a crash pad is desirable as is a spotter. The routes range from well protected cracks to protection-less aretes. A standard rack of wires and cams will suffice for most things as will a single 10mm rope.


How do I get there?

The crag is most easily reached by car from the village of Cowling which lies on the A6068 Colne to Keighley road. From Cowling a minor road (Dick Lane) winds it's way up the hill towards the crag (left turn if coming from Bradford and the East, right if you are approaching from Burnley and the West.) Follow the lane uphill for a short while until you pass under the left end of the crags. There is limited parking here in a lay-by on the right, beneath a small quarry. An obvious path leads through the quarry and onto the moor from where the individual boulders and buttresses can then be accessed. Please park considerately. Otherwise, carry on up to the crest of the hill and a cross roads. Take a right turn here (Buckstone Lane) then follow this until a small parking area can be accessed on the right, level with the west end of the crag and Wainman's Pinnacle. A path leads directly from the parking to the pinnacle and the climbs.

If you are travelling from abroad then Leeds/Bradford is the nearest airport with both Manchester and Liverpool not being too much further away. All are served by the usual low cost providers of Ryanair, Jet2 and Easyjet. It is also possible to access the crag by train and bus. The nearest train station is Crosshills. Check northyorkstravel for bus times to Cowling. From Cowling a short walk up the hill (Dick Lane) gains a path onto the moor which can then be followed to the crag.

Where do I stay?
The area provides numerous camping, hotel and bed and breakfast options. Try the UK campsite website for details of campsites that are close by. The bed and breakfast directory and britinfo websites are useful sources of information when seeking out bed and breakfasts and hotels. Haworth, Earby and Malham all have youth hostels and may be good options if you want to explore the wider area.

Where can I buy gear and food?

Cowling has a corner shop and pub. The nearest supermarket is the Co-op in Crosshills which will provide you with everything you need for a day or an extended stay. Crosshills also has a petrol station, numerous pubs, restaurants and other amenities including cash machines. The tiny village of Malsis between Crosshills and Cowling is home to the Dog and Gunn Inn. This is highly recommended for some "apres-climbing" refreshment, serving real ales and excellent pub food! Skipton and Keighley are the nearest large towns and have everything you would expect including some rather dubious but entertaining night-life! Skipton has a branch of Ultimate Outdoors for all of your gear and chalk needs and if you are approaching from Bradford the Allan Austin outdoor store in Salt's Mill should be able to provide you with all you need.

John Syrett making the first ascent of Problem Rib, Earl Crag, Yorkshire, c. June 1970?, 96 kbJohn Syrett making the first ascent of Problem Rib, Earl Crag, Yorkshire, c. June 1970?
© Gordon Stainforth

What else is there apart from the climbing?

The area is home to a host of other attractions including some excellent walking, mountain biking and road cycling. The nearest tourist information office is in Skipton (Tel: 01756 792809) and the Yorkshire Dales website is a useful avenue should you wish to give your mind and muscles a rest from the vertical pleasures of the crag.

Other useful info?

If bouldering is your thing then the excellent Yorkshiregrit website provides detailed information about the problems including helpful beta and videos.

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