Lancashire - it's brill!

Adam Lincoln is a regular contributor to the forums on UKC, has headpointed up to E8 and done several E7s on Peak grit. Here he introduces an area whose guidebook is legendarily almost as big as some of its crags.

Ian Vickers on Pigs on the Wing Direct (E6).

Anyone that lives in Lancashire will know that the climbing here is magical and mysterious. People from other parts of the UK may need a little convincing, but for those that take time to seek out what lovely gems Lancashire has to offer, I guarantee, you won't be disappointed.

I'm not quite sure myself what it is that draws me to the quarries. I think it's the fact that on a warm summer's evening, when the rock glows golden, and your shadow is dancing all around you, there is that feeling of total satisfaction and relaxation. Even on the harder routes, you feel safe in then knowledge that however far away your gear is from your feet, it's going to hold you if you fall. The rock is solid and clean, so there isn't the worry of a hold breaking, or the cleaning of a hold before you can trust it to pull off the crux move, which will leave you with a big smile on your face knowing, that you have just climbed another, "unsung gem of the Lancashire quarries".

So, enough of the description - on to the routes. Where do I start? The finger cracks, the jamming tests, the crimpy wall climbs, even the bouldering! I think I'll take a different angle: the routes which make Lancashire stand out, the classics, the routes which make the quarries what they are.

I think the route which stands out in peoples' minds most when you ask them about climbing in Lancashire has to be Golden Tower (E2 5c, Anglezarke) A classic!

What makes it special is that it climbs the centre of the biggest buttress in the quarry. (See the picture, and imagine it in a sort of gold colour..) You start below the tree line; halfway up, the sun suddenly hits you and the whole climb takes on a different light. The route can be done in two pitches, but more often than not is climbed from bottom to top in one. The first 9 metres or so leads you to a ledge where you can rest and compose yourself for the sustained climbing above.

The crux comes when the flared crack becomes too wide to jam your fingers in and too flared to get a fist in. Instead, you have to make a few delicate moves using body positioning to get you up. This leads to an interesting top out. With your hands on the top, you have to throw your legs up sideways and flop over the top (or at least that's how I did it) as there is not a lot for your feet!

Once on top looking out over the whole quarry, with the reservoir in the distance, you suddenly lose all the worries of the world, and if you're not careful, will forget you still have to bring your second up! This route stands out in my mind as a classic, maybe because it was my first E2 lead. It is certainly not easy for the grade, but with good protection and lovely moves, its exposure and difficulty some how vanish from your mind.

Anyway, you won't venture so far for just one route, so here are a few more Gems worth seeking out. Still at Anglezarke there are a couple of lovely wall climbs.

Double Trip (E3 5c). A bold start leads to good gear and easier climbing, which positions you nicely under a gaping roof, wondering where to go next. Closer inspection reveals large jugs, which make light work of it.

First Finale (E2 5c), an easier well-protected route that takes a friendlier line to below the roof, and conveniently a scoop, which is used to top out on this beautiful line. Perhaps a better first E2 lead than Golden Tower, with good holds and good protection; makes a good warm up to Double Trip, and is on the same wall.

Terra Cotta (HVS 5a) a superb line up a corner, which leads to a ledge. From here make an exposed step round the corner, on crimps, to the safety of a peg. Now enjoy the rest of this great route to just right of the roof. You'll soon see why it's called Terra Cotta. The glowing orange wall standing out from the rest of the crag resembles one of those pots your mother used to have in the garden.

Moving on from Anglezarke and just across the valley you come to the Wilton Quarries - 1, 2, 3 and 4. If like most people you arrive at Wilton 1 and venture up the winding path you will more than likely be a little surprised at what you find: big, steep intimidating walls of solid unforgiving rock. But don't let this put you off. For those that decide to put their bold head on, you will be rewarded with some of the finest climbing in Lancashire.

I suppose the best place to be introduced to the climbing here is on the prow. Climbs such as Cameo (E1 5a) and Ann (E1 5b) provide a great start. Especially at the top when belaying. It's about two metres wide, with a sheer 20 metre drop down one side and 10 metres the other side. It can be a bit daunting at first, but soon you'll be basking on your back in the sun at the top without a care in the world.

For those that acclimatize, there are rich pickings to be had. Moving up the grades a little you could try the fantastic Loopy (E4 6a) which, depending on which finish you do, dictates how much fun you have. The superb left hand finish up the hanging slab provides a bold exciting run-out finish to a must-do climb, for the E4 leader.

Stepping up a grade again you move into the E5 category, and scope for a whole new level of climbing. Some prime examples include a number of bold arÍte climbs, the first being the insecure Beyond The Perimeter (E5 6a) where faith in friction and the sloppy holds are a must. With the crux at the very top with no gear between you and the floor, it's no time to lose your head.

Another arÍte, Parasite (E5 6b) is just about protectable, with a very low runner, although the higher you go the easier it gets. If arÍtes aren't your thing and you're a bit more new school, then Derek The Dead Duck (E5 6c) is for you. A bold start up to a peg then a step right to a couple of poor crimps, summon up all the dynamic energy you have and make a leap up to a ledge, and the top.

Dawn at Wilton 1
© Chris Craggs, May 2003

For the more traditional amongst you, over in Wilton 3 is the rarely repeated Constables Overhang (E5 6b). If finger jams aren't your thing then keep well away - it's a real miniature London Wall.

Meanwhile back at Wilton 1 f you really want to stick your neck out there are a few climbs which will test your head to the limit. The unrepeated Toxic Bilberries (E8 7a) is there for those brave enough. Then there's the very bold Strawberry Kiss (E7 6b), which provides very technical and fingery climbing, high above your last bit of gear. Finally, there's the short but bold Perimeter Walk (E7 6b) - fingery climbing up a scoop on a bulging buttress, with the crux being an insecure rockover at the very top with nothing but faith in friction for protection.

I think that sums up the different styles and grades of climbing in the quarries, but quarries aren't all Lancashire has to offer. If its bouldering you're after on a warm summers evening, or just something to top the prefect day of nicely, then a trip round to Brownstones will certainly reap kind rewards. Short scabby bouldering in pleasant surroundings, will keep you entertained for hours on end. In contrast, there's always the powerful walls of Craig y Longridge. Steep fingery bouldering will give your muscles something to think about. Don't be disheartened - it can take a few visits to get used to. It's a bit like a steep climbing wall, except it's set deep in a valley overlooking a reservoir, with lush green grass to land in when you come off.

Lancashire isn't all about quarries and bouldering. It's got some beautiful limestone cliffs, such as Trowbarrow, which has some of the UK's classic lines. Gene Genie (VS 4c) probably rates as one of the best - or most popular - VSs in the country. (The polish certainly indicates it.) Don't let this put you off though, as you will soon forget about polish and, believe me, be concentrating on the route in hand. Another easier proposition at the VS level is Coral Sea (VS 4c). This is perhaps a contender for perhaps the "best first" VS to do: well-protected steady climbing on sound rock.

Another classic is Assagi (HVS 5a): a very easy start leads to the second pitch - a leftwards traverse with nothing but space below you. It's certainly something to think about as you edge tentatively across it. Once this is over, you are rewarded with a magical finish up a couple of fluted tufas. The top is so good, you find yourself forgetting to place gear and just enjoying the excellent climbing.

This beautiful crag also has something for the harder leader. Cracked Actor (E2 5b) offers very steady, well protected climbing up a wonderful slanting crack. Stepping up again there is the mysterious Asylum wall, where strange fossil-like features offer the only holds to the top, and is home to some very bold and hard leads, ranging from E5 to E7. The most popular is Memoirs Of A Lunatic (E5 6b): a bold start leads to a well-protected crux and an exit right finishes an excellent climb. The crag is also home to some very, very hard boulder problems - the hardest squeezing into the Font 8a category. The whole place is set in a nature reserve, and you are surrounded by beautiful flowers, and rare singing birds. A view across the valley will have you captivated by the fells of the Lake District.

I think that captures the whole atmosphere and experience of climbing in Lancashire. As you have read, Lancashire offers something for everyone, and once visited, will have you coming back for more, time and time again..........

I would like to thank Phil Kelly for two of the pictures.

For more information visit Rockfax Lancashire Routes Database

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