The Five Best E3 Routes in the UK? Article

© Mark Stevenson

Somehow, back in 2014 when the 'Five Best' series of articles was being published a few grades got missed out. E3 was one of them - and this, unsurprisingly, got me thinking. What's great about these sorts of articles is that they are open to endless speculation and debate. Everyone has their opinions and essentially there is no right or wrong answer; however, someone has to put their head on the line and suggest an actual 'Top 5' and on this occasion that person is me. However...

Michaela Tracy laybacking the edge of the world, on the truly 'great' Dream Liberator  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Michaela Tracy laybacking the edge of the world, on the truly 'great' Dream Liberator
© Rob Greenwood - UKC
We all know that there IS a right answer - your answer - and I've had a great number of debates both in the kitchen, crag, and pub over what to include and what not. Heated discussions are frequent and people throwing in unsuspected curve-balls are either met with excitement or lambasted wildly for their outlandish suggestions. Basically, much as I said at the beginning of my Top 5 E5s in the UK? article - please be kind!

Strangely, I found it much harder to choose the E3s than I did E5s - there seemed to be a great many suitable candidates in some areas (most notably the South West), but far fewer in others (e.g. North Wales). Taking these things far too seriously, I sought advice from both friends and UKC users to get their thoughts, and what was most noticeable was how many people suggested the exact same routes. Coincidence? I don't think so, as I truly believe there really are some routes out there that are that bit more special than the rest. There is indeed a distinction between a good route and a great route. Foil on the Cromlech is a good example of this, it's a really, really good route - an absolute three star classic - but for some reason, one that I can't necessarily explain within the space of a single sentence, it would never make it onto someone's Top 5. It's good, but it's not great...

So, here's my attempt at a list of truly great routes - enjoy!

Have you done all Rob's Top? If so why not tick them in the UKC Ticklist.

Also in this series:

The Dream/Liberator, Great Zawn - Bosigran

You're not short of world-class E3s at Bosigran, with the fine trilogy of routes over on the Main Cliff - Kafoozalem, Raven Wall and The Ghost - then Dream/Liberator over in the Great Zawn. Whilst the former are all perfection embodied, the latter pips them to the post overall, on the grounds of the unique approach, unrivaled atmosphere, and the sheer wildness of the climbing. Few routes compare really!

Ash and Rich on the Dream Liberator.  © Virgil Scott
Ash and Rich on the Dream Liberator.
© Virgil Scott, Jun 2006
The infamous 'crevasse jump' into the Great Zawn   © Sophie Whyte
The infamous 'crevasse jump' into the Great Zawn
© Sophie Whyte

The infamous 'crevasse jump' that is required to access the route has become something of climbing legend: it's further, higher, and a bit slopier than you'd have desperately wanted it to be. I'd always joked that despite looking intimidating and feeling pretty out there, it was a fundamentally safe affair…that was until my climbing partner broke his heel landing the jump. Fortunately, being the sympathetic kind of individual I am, I thought he was being soft, so handed him the sharp end and let him lead up the first pitch of our route, the Green Cormorant Face*.

Anyhow, this alarming jump (which can be avoided) gains access to two incredible pitches right in the centre stage of the Great Zawn and features terrific, hard and quite unconventional climbing (n.b. you've got to get your granite head into order before getting involved).

* I must admit to feeling more than a little guilty about this when I collected him from hospital the following day with his leg in a cast…

Bosigran Sunset?
© Dan Arkle, Apr 2009

Interrogation, Lowman - Dartmoor

As mentioned within the introduction, coming up with the this list was a soul-searching experience. I was - not to spoil the surprise - conscious that I had omitted routes from North Wales, Scotland, and Ireland (although I've tried to amend this by spinelessly including a few 'other routes' at the end). In addition to this, I was aware that it would be easy to give in to my personal bias towards sea cliffs. However, maybe it was the quantity of coffee I'd drunk or maybe I was just feeling nostalgic, but one route shone out in the most unlikely of UK climbing destinations: Dartmoor.

You must be firkin' mad!  © Sean Kelly
You must be firkin' mad!
© Sean Kelly, Dec 2009

I'm not sure whether it's the scenery, the rock, the cream teas, the cider, or the stereotypes, but there's something about the ambience of the moors (and Devon in general) that makes it a truly lovely place to climb. The Dartmoor ponies, who must be on payroll from the National Park, keep the grass nice and short too, making the lawn-like base of the crags ideal for pre/post route picnicking sessions. In fact, with all these things in mind I'm puzzled as to why it has never been more popular with climbers. Anyone who says it's because the rock is sharp should bite their tongue.

Back to the route in question… When climbed as a single pitch, Interrogation has to be one of the most varied routes out there. It's of a good length too, coming in at around 35m. When you've done this, the neighbouring E1 - Aviation - is another route of exceptional calibre, and you can always finish the day off with a treat from the 'Hound of the Basket Meals' burger van.

Rob on the Dartmoor classic Interrogation  © Mark Stevenson
Rob on the Dartmoor classic Interrogation
© Mark Stevenson, Jul 2008

Swordfish, Stackpole Head - Pembroke

There is no shortage of good E3s in Pembroke: Pleasure Dome, Zeppelin, Sunlover, Test Case, Star Gate, Deep Throat, Ghost Ship - the list could go on and on. How do you choose just a single one?

For me there was one in particular that stood out - Heaven's Door (pictured below) - but having seen from the UKC logbooks that it could be harder since the demise of the wobbly block on P2, I decided to make a rather controversial decision: to include a route I have not actually done. I'm not sure whether this illigitimises the article, but at least it gives me something to aim for over the coming year, as I last went to Stackpole 10 years ago and vowed to come back the following year. I'm not really sure how a decade has gone by…

First Stackpole Experience...steep!  © shoulders
First Stackpole Experience...steep!
david morse
© shoulders

Joking aside, there is a reason (aka. excuse) for my absence and that is the exact thing that makes climbing there so memorable: it's an awkward crag to get to. It's (extremely) tidal, it's bird banned, and basically everything there is pretty hard/overhanging. In fact, it's an unlikely venue for a lighthearted day! However, if you do get down there then what a day (I'm still buzzing from it 10 years on).

The White Wizard, Scafell

Scafell is a frequent addition to the Top 5 lists we've published, with Saxon appearing in the E2 list and Shere Khan appearing on the E5 list. What can you ascertain from this? Well, it's definitely got that 'something special': fantastic rock, a unique atmosphere, and in the case of White Wizard, pitch after pitch after pitch of good climbing. It is also the only route that receives a highly controversial four stars within the Scafell and Wasdale FRCC Climbing Guide. I thought this mythical fourth star only existed north of the border, but if they're going to give out the occasional one further south White Wizard is certainly worth it**

White Wizard
© Seymore Butt

UKC user Alan Firth, who took the photo featured above, recounts his own memories of climbing White Wizard:

I did the route with my mate Terry Holmes on one of those summer weekends when everything worked out perfectly. The weather was brilliant, we were reasonably fit at the time ( you needed to be, to walk up from Wasdale two days on the trot with a bellyful of beer in between) and the crag was bone dry. We did White Wizard, Nazgul, Roaring Silence, Shadowfax and Chartreuse over the two days and apart from Shadowfax (which was filthy and hard) all three star routes.

The main things I remember about WW at the time was that Terry led all the even number pitches and I led the odd ones. I remember finding the second pitch very pumpy passing the peg, but as the rope was above me it instilled in me that extra bit of strength/confidence. I remember being quite intimidated on the third pitch which I recall being a wide overhanging crack with not much gear and very strenuous. I finished the pitch at the same belay as Central Buttress on all fours drowned in sweat and puffing like a steam train to the astonishment of a guy belaying his mate doing the top pitches of CB.

The last pitch went reasonably well but was a bit dirty and the difficulties short lived, but being at the top of the crag quite spectacular.

** interestingly, Lord of the Rings - the girdle traverse of the East Buttress - gets 5 stars, which is beyond the realms of human comprehension. If you climb this route, just assume that it is all downhill from that point onwards...

Scafell at it's best: dry and in the evening sun  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Scafell at it's best: dry and in the evening sun
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

The Almscliff E3s - The Big Greeny, The Wall of Horrors, and Western Front

Ok, I am aware this is cheating, but they are such a close-knit trilogy it seemed like a crime to separate them.

In a sense, each one makes the next that bit better: the novel features on The Big Greeny, the elegance of Wall of Horrors, and the sheer brutality of Western Front. Furthermore, they take pride of place on the finest Gritstone crag within the British Isles (Ed. cue forum based lynching…).

Wall of Horrors
pete meads, Aug 1976
© petemeads
Paul Ingham on Big Greeny. 1979.
© Tony Marr, Mar 1979
Western Front 3
© Mike C, Jun 1979

Having found all of them pretty difficult myself, I was pretty shocked when I saw the footage of former UKC Chief Editor, Jack Geldard, soloing them all with apparent ease. To put it into perspective, I felt scared at the top of The Big Greeny WITH gear!!

Classic Almscliff from Image Impossible on Vimeo.

Five More…

I couldn't resist...

For those of you that have done all of the above, here's five more to go at:

Dreadnought, Old Redoubt - Devon

I am a self confessed sea-cliff devotee, so could have easily included this within my own Top 5, but decided I should make a concerted effort to mix it up a bit with a few mountain crags and outcrops. Dreadnought is a truly memorable climb, all the more so if the original approach is taken (as opposed to the abseil).

Titan's Wall, Ben Nevis

Climbing on Ben Nevis is a unique experience, as it has the most alpine feel of any crag I have ever climbed on outside of the Alps. Titan's Wall was first aid climbed by Hamish MacInnes and Ian Clough, then free climbed in the 70's by Mick Fowler - an ascent that heralded a leap forward in Scottish standards.

Dreadnought (E3 5C) pitch 1  © Sue Hazel
Dreadnought (E3 5C) pitch 1
© Sue Hazel, Jul 2008
Titan's Wall  © Peter Duggan
Titan's Wall
© Peter Duggan, Jul 2011

Ocean Boulevard, Boulder Ruckle - Swanage

Sorry, another sea cliff, but it's another good one. Ocean Boulevard is as steep as they come at the grade, consistently overhanging throughout and unsurprisingly pumpy as a result. Swanage is often treated like Pembroke's poor cousin, but if you pick your routes there's plenty there to rival even the best of Pembroke (although straying from the beaten track can be a pretty alarming experience…).

November, Clogwyn d'ur Arddu

All you have to do is look at the line: a soaring crack from bottom to top of one of the UK's most historic crags. It has good gear all the way, interesting moves, and doesn't stop right until the very end. When done in the amber glow of the evening light that so often sheds itself over Cloggy throughout the summer months it is truly a route to remember.

Lean Machine Wall and Ocean Boulevard Wall - check out how steep!  © cider nut
Lean Machine Wall and Ocean Boulevard Wall - check out how steep!
© cider nut, Aug 2005
Clogwyn D'ur Arddu showing line of Vember (and November)  © Justin T
Clogwyn D'ur Arddu showing line of Vember (and November)
© Justin T, Sep 2007

Prana, Black Crag - Borrowdale

Prana is quality distilled. There is no awkward approach, no crevasse jumps for access, no bird bans, and no tide to contend with - just a pitch of perfect rock climbing (and an easy abseil off too). The rock quality is exceptional and the moves keep coming, and coming, and coming. It's certainly not in the bag until you're clipped into the anchors at the top, from which a single abseil can be made back down to your bags and onwards to the Shepherd's Cafe.

Adam Booth enjoying the evening light on Prana, but not enjoying the hard moves (and fall) that was soon to follow  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Adam Booth enjoying the evening light on Prana, but not enjoying the hard moves (and fall) that was soon to follow
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Rob Greenwood sitting on top of Mucklehouse Wall on Hoy  © Penny Orr
The author getting a little bit too excited, having just seen Mucklehouse Wall for the first time
About the Author:

Rob Greenwood is the Advertising Manager at

He's a passionate climber, yoga addict and eater of vegetarian food. After spending the past three months trying and failing on The Groove at Malham Cove he's been in need of some trad therapy, this article - and his destination article to the Orkney Islands - has been a part of the healing process...

Aside from spot/trad climbing, he's dabbled with alpine climbing, Scottish winter, Himalayan climbing; however he still maintains that Pembroke and the Scottish Islands are still the best places to climb on earth.

He keeps an occasional blog about his adventures here: Rob Greenwood Climbing

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25 Jul, 2016
Good read. Nice to see one one of your lists that I have ticked - (OK part from White Wizard) - including the 'extras'! Chris :-)
25 Jul, 2016
Void, best E3 I've ever done.
25 Jul, 2016
Climbed the Moon at Gogarth for the first time last week and it immediately went into my top five routes AT ANY GRADE, so it definitely should be here. I'd be happy to swap it for November.
25 Jul, 2016
the opening post says "Britain" presumably the island of Great Britain, but the article title is "UK" which also includes Northern Ireland and Fairhead which has some of the best E3s I've done; eg Salango and Jolly Roger. Has the author been to Fairhead?
25 Jul, 2016
Me too, Chris. Well apart from Interrogation, Big Greeny, Wall of Horrors, Western front, Titan's Wall and Ocean Boulevard... :)
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