Earl Crag, Yorkshire

© Simon Richardson

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.

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.

My Classic Suggestions

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:

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


When to 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+.


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.

Instructor/Guides Advertise here

No Premier Listings found in this area

How to 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. 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.

Accommodation Advertise here

No Premier Listings found in this area

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.

Gear and Supplies

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.

Other Activities

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.

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

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27 Feb, 2009
Nice, must visit next I'm over that way. The following route could be hard to locate from the description! Earl Buttress E2 5c Right of the crack of Earl Buttress. ALC
27 Feb, 2009
Nice work Kev! Anyone heading up should also consider the Yorkshiregrit website, lots of beta for the boulder problems
27 Feb, 2009
on thing that might be worth a mention is in summer in still conditions you need Midge repellant or a tough disposition.
27 Feb, 2009
And in winter a full down suit and a SAD lamp.
27 Feb, 2009
Cheers Ash, I'll add that to the article now.
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