Kilnsey Crag, North Yorkshire

© kevavery

The sight of Kilnsey's huge leaning walls, jutting out over the B6160 Skipton to Kettlewell road is certainly an awe inspiring one. They provide a testing and demanding playground for climbers, offering routes of the highest quality which are superbly varied and on generally perfect rock! Tending to be steeper than the routes at the nearby Malham Cove and Gordale Scar, the climbing here requires a mixture of strength in the biceps, fitness in the forearms, steely fingers and crisp technique. Excellent routes exist in all grades up to F9a+ with the best range being from F6c to F8b. There are also some fantastic traditional challenges on offer.

Steve Dunning stretched out on Man With A Gun F7c+ at Kilnsey  © kevavery
Steve Dunning stretched out on Man With A Gun F7c+ at Kilnsey
© kevavery

Kilnsey offers some of the best sport climbing to be found anywhere in Britain and the classic routes are as good as anything in the world. The trad pitches, although a little overshadowed by their bolted neighbours are also well worth seeking out. In fact the crag offers a handful of classic extremes that rank as good as any on limestone. There are roughly 120 routes from F3 to F9a+ and HVS to E8 so whatever standard you climb at, you are sure to find something to suit your tastes. Having said this the true quality really kicks in at F6c/E3 and above and if you are operating at this level then you are sure to be rewarded with some fantastic and memorable challenges.

The sport routes are all single pitch affairs and many follow proper lines which makes them even more appealing, although there is also plenty of crimpy blankness to be had as well. The climbing tends to be steep, strenuous and pumpy and it is not uncommon to "get a kicking" on your first visit! The rock quality is generally excellent but be careful with some of the more blocky stuff, particularly at the top. Most routes are well equipped with solid bolts and lower-offs. Some of the traditional routes (particularly in the Central Wall area) are 2 pitches in length.

The Diedre E2 5b at Kilnsey  © Wil
The Diedre E2 5b at Kilnsey
© Wil

My Classic Suggestions



Steve McClure, first redpoint of Magnetic North 8c+, Kilnsey
© Al Austin, Aug 2006


When to go

The crag faces east so receives the sun until midday. This makes it a good option on hotter days. It can be cold if the wind blows from a northern or easterly direction. Midges can also be a problem on warm, still days and evenings. The crag suffers from seepage after prolonged rainfall, but it does also offer dry climbing in the rain.

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How to get there

Leeds/Bradford is the nearest airport and is served by the low cost airlines, Ryanair and Jet2. Kilnsey is easily reached by car from Skipton and the roundabout on the A59 bypass. From here take the B6160 (signposted Grassington.) Carry straight on at the village of Threshfield (ignoring the turnoff for Grassington) and after 3 miles the crag becomes obvious, towering over the road just after the hamlet of Kilnsey. Some parking is available at the Directissima (southern) end of the crag in a small lay-by and there is further parking 500m up the road in another larger layby. Please park responsibly, don't block access to gateways and take all litter home! Access the crag via stepping-stones at the southern end.

Public transport to Kilnsey village is also available. Check local bus timetables

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Town End farm offers camping in close proximity to the crag but offers little in the way of facilities. Wood Nook, near Threshfield offers camping with much better facilities.

Skipton has a knowledgeable tourist information office (Tel: 01756 792809) for more information on other types of accommodation such as hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Gear and supplies

For the sport stuff a 60m rope and 12 draws are generally adequate. You may want a clip-stick to clip the first bolts (some of which are unnecessarily high.)

For the trad routes you will need a full rack of cams and wires and you may want to use double 50m ropes as some of the lines wander around a bit.

Grassington has a small supermarket and plenty of pubs, cafes and accommodation options. The hamlet of Kilnsey has The Tennant's Arms pub, which serves excellent ales and food. The Trout Farm has a café for pre and post-climb coffee and cakes. Skipton has all you would expect of a large town including supermarkets, pubs, cafes and shops.

A Brief History

Many of the big lines were originally ascended as aid routes with the bulk of the sport climbs starting to appear from the mid 1980's onwards. Since then Kilnsey has definitely been transformed into a modern sport climbing playground with quality and difficulty to match anywhere in the world.

1953- Joe Brown ascended the line of the Directissima. This was freed in 1975 by Ron Fawcett and Al Evans at the sandbag grade of HVS!

1956- John Sumner and Dave Alcock climbed Diedre on the left edge of North Buttress. This was freed in 1972 by Pete Livesey and John Sheard.

1957- Ron Moseley and team aided (at A3) the daunting roof above Directissima, approaching from the right and pegging there way along the flake. Then in 1988, Mark Leach audaciously climbed the line using the fixed gear only for protection. He named it Mandela as they said, "it would never go free!"

1965- The line of The Bulge was aided by Dave Nichol. At the same time John Sumner aided the magnificent feature of The Thumb on North Buttress.

1972- Pete Livesey and John Sheard made the first free ascent of the now classic trad pitch, Central Wall.

1976- Livesey and Jill Lawrence climbed Claws on the right of Central Wall, a controversial route due to the blatant chipping of holds on the top pitch (apparently the first at the crag!)

1980- Rob Gawthorpe and Pete Jackson freed The Superdirectissima, showing what was possible and paving the way for more difficult ascents to come.

1987- Chris Sowden climbed Dreamtime which is thought to have been one of the first true sport routes at the crag. At the same time Gomersall freed The Thumb.

1989- In a controversial act of one-upmanship visiting Australian Geoff Weigand stole the first ascent of The Ashes from under the noses of the locals, removing the occupied nests of some swifts in the process! In the same year Gomersall added the fantastic Urgent Action to North Buttress. This route was onsighted in July of 1990 by an on form Simon Nadin.

1993- Tony Mitchell climbed True North F8c. (This was later ascended in 2 hours by an on form Ian Vickers and very nearly flashed by Steve McClure.)

1995- Jerry Moffat climbed Progress (now F8c+ since a loss of holds.)

2000- Steve McClure climbed Northern Lights, the line made famous as Ben Moon's project in the video One Summer (and then Malcolm Smith's!) This was the start of McClure's dominance at the crag and he has since repeated most of the routes (including flashed repeats of Indian Summer and Doctor Crimp, both F8b+) as well as adding his own Magnetic North F8c+ and completing the extension to Northern Exposure at F9a/a+.


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