Malham Cove, North Yorkshire

by Kevin Avery Apr/2009
This article has been read 18,668 times
M alham Cove is the jewel in the crown of Yorkshire's limestone crags. A huge amphitheatre of perfect rock which offers classic routes of all grades and styles in a beautiful setting. The climbing here can be as intimidating as it is rewarding and a route on its huge central walls may require several visits before a successful "redpoint".

It is not unusual when climbing here, to be a spectacle for the swarms of voyeuristic tourists and school field trips that regularly frequent this popular local landmark. Though if you wish to get away from it all then the solitude of the Right Wing or Upper Terrace will offer an altogether more tranquil experience. And whilst Malham is particularly famous for its modern sport climbs some of which are amongst the most challenging of anywhere in the world, the sectors on the periphery are home to some of the highest quality traditional routes in the county, if not the country!

Climbers enjoying the lower wall, 231 kbClimbers enjoying the lower wall
© kevavery, Jun 2008

A Brief History:

Some of the easier traditional climbs such as Clubfoot and Swingover were first ascended by Allan Austin in the 1950s. At this time the huge central area was still the realm of the aid climber and many hand-drilled bolts were placed to gain progress up its sheer and seemingly blank walls. As things progressed, more difficult traditional routes were added to the Upper Terrace and Right Wing with the likes of Tony and Robin Barley, Pete Livesey and Ron Fawcett all having their say. It wasn't until the early 1980s that sport climbing really took off though with big names such as Fawcett, Leach and Dunne all making their mark. The bolts that were once used for aid were now accepted as being suitable for protecting the sheer walls for free climbing, thus opening up a whole new world of possibilities. Interestingly though, this ethic never really migrated (in any particular degree) to the Wings or Upper Terrace and the two disciplines were able to sit comfortably, side by side. More recently Steve McClure brought the crag firmly into the 21st century with his ascents of Rainshadow F9a and Overshadow F9a+, both of which rank on a world scale in terms of difficulty and quality and both of which have only seen repeats from Czech climber Adam Ondra.

The Climbing:

No more polished now than when I did the first ascent

Mick Ryan comments on his route Consenting Adults

  • The above clip is taken from the excellent film, Psyche courtesy of Alastair Lee and Posing Productions.

Approximately 280 climbs. Sport climbing and traditional routes (single and multi-pitch) varying from 10 to 60 metres in length. Grades from F6a+ to F9a+ and Severe to E7.

The sport climbs range from short, burly and technical to long and pumpy with everything in between. Although there are routes in the F6 grade they are not the best in terms of quality and to get the most out of climbing here you need to be climbing at least F7a. The best routes are in the F7a to F8c range and if you fit into this bracket then you'll be rewarded with some of the finest and most classic that the UK has to offer! Take strong fingers and clean footwork!

The traditional routes are fantastic and certainly should not be overshadowed by the more popular sport stuff. If you climb between VS and E5 then top-notch outings abound. Just head for the Right Wing or Upper Terrace and you will be rewarded with excellent lines, on amazing rock, in a stunning position! Most of the routes are single pitch affairs but some multi-pitch climbs do exist.

The Sectors:
  • Lower Wall (aka The Catwalk) Sport Routes, Grades F6a+ to F9a+ Traditional Routes, Grades E3 to E6
  • Upper Wall (Cadenza/Obsession Areas) Sport Routes, F7a to F9a Traditional Routes E1 to E5
  • Carnage Area/Right Wing Traditional Routes Severe to E7 *NOTE- some nesting restrictions. Check the BMC for up to date information regarding access.
  • Upper Terrace Traditional Routes VS to E5
  • Left Wing Traditional Routes Dif to E1

Guy Maddox seconding Pikedaw Wall, HVS 5a (Copyright Oliver Wright)

...the jewel in the crown of Yorkshire's limestone crags

Route Suggestions:


Jordan Buys on Power Ranger (8b+) Malham., 119 kbJordan Buys on Power Ranger (8b+) Malham.
Alastair Lee
© Alastair Lee -
  • Consenting Adults F7a Gorgeous rock, gorgeous movement, gorgeous first ascensionist. Enough said!
  • Yosemite Wall F7a+ Strenuous climbing up a perfect line.
  • Obsession F7b+ Exposed, technical and sustained. One of the best.
  • New Dawn F7c Hard start to a pumpy bulge and spicy run-out.
  • L'Ob Session F7c+ Hard start into an elegant slim groove.
  • Zoolook F8a Surely one of the finest 8a's in the country.
  • The Groove F8a+ One of the best routes in the country up the centre of one of the best crags in the country.
  • Predator F8b Powerful, technical and pumpy. A definitive F8b.


  • Clubfoot VS 4c An excellent and varied introduction to climbing on the Right Wing.
  • Pikedaw Wall HVS 5a A superbly steep wall pitch.
  • Carnage Left-hand E1 5b A superb outing and one of the best low extremes in Yorkshire.
  • Wombat E2 5c Awesome! The finish requires confidence but it's all there.
  • Mulatto Wall E3 5c Pete Livesey classic.
  • Slender Loris E4 6a "Another amazing route," sums this one up nicely.
  • Doubting Thomas E5 6b Reasonable climbing gains the overlap. Attack the crack to gain the break then finish up the short corner with ease.

Warming up on the polished classic "Consenting Adults", 171 kbMark Hetherington on Consenting Adults F7a


When do I go?

South facing. Climbing is possible all year round. A Sunny winter's day with a northerly wind can provide perfect sheltered conditions. Seepage can be a problem after heavy rainfall but the area around Consenting Adults is always dry as are many of the routes on the Upper Wall. Unless the rain is blowing in on a southerly wind, you can climb on these sectors when it is actually raining. The right wing gets wet but also dries quickly. If the sun is shining and the temperature above 17 degrees then expect things to be hot and greasy. The right wing receives shade in the morning and the area around New Dawn is generally in the shade by 2 pm.

How do I get there?

The busy village of Malham can be reached within a 20 minute drive of Skipton. From Skipton follow the A65 in the direction of Settle and The Lakes and just as you enter the village of Gargrave take a right turn at the Malham signpost. Follow this to Airton and then Kirkby Malham before finally reaching Malham itself. If approaching from the north then turn off the A65 at Settle, drive into its town centre and take a left turn in the market square (towards Kirkby Malham.) Take a steep and winding road over the moor and once you reach Kirkby Malham, continue to the village of Malham itself. Parking is available in the National Park Visitor's Centre and there is limited free parking on the roadside. Please park responsibly! Malham Cove is situated a pleasant 10 minute walk up the road.

Where do I stay?

Options here include Camping; try Town Head Farm (Tel 01729 830287) located just on the outskirts of Malham Village and only 10 minutes walk to the cove itself, Malham YHA (Tel 0870 770 5946) in the centre of the village. There are also numerous hotels, bed and breakfasts and bunk barns in the vicinity. Call Skipton Tourist Information Office on 01756 792809 for more details of accommodation in the area. Useful websites include and

What gear do I need?

For the sport routes a 60 metre rope and 12 quickdraws should be adequate. If you are here for the traditional routes then take a full rack of cams and wires as well as double ropes.

Where can I buy gear and food?

Gargrave has a Co-op for last minute food stops. Skipton has major supermarkets and a good selection of pubs, cafes and restaurants as well as a branch of Ultimate Outdoors for your gear and chalk needs. Settle has all you would expect of a large town and is a useful stopping place for those approaching from the north. Malham itself has a selection of pubs and cafes with The Old Barn being a good place for your pre-climb coffee and cakes and The Lister's Arms pub being the place to be for post-climb celebrations (or drowning your sorrows) with it's excellent beer selection including cask real ales and Belgian bottled beers. It also serves a good selection of traditional and more contemporary pub food.

What else is there apart from the climbing?

The surrounding area offers a wealth of opportunities for the outdoor enthusiast as well as numerous historical and cultural attractions. The Yorkshire Dales site offers some useful information on other activities in the area.

Local Weather: Check MetCheck for up to date weather details.

Photo Gallery

Obsession: as if the holds weren't small enough there's the exposure to contend with too!

Obsession: as if the holds weren't small enough there's the exposure to contend with too!
© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing

Jordan Buys on Power Ranger (8b+) Malham.

Jordan Buys on Power Ranger (8b+) Malham.
© Alastair Lee -

Adam Ondra At Malham

Adam Ondra At Malham
© Catherine Speakman

Air Time

Air Time
© nick bamber

end of the day

end of the day
© Jethro Kiernan

Adam Ondra Cries Freedom

Adam Ondra Cries Freedom
© Catherine Speakman

JB Tribout on The Groove, Malham

JB Tribout on The Groove, Malham
© S11

Ken Jackson on Malham Main Overhang [aid]. 1964.

Ken Jackson on Malham Main Overhang [aid]. 1964.
© Tony Marr

T of blue on a sea of grey.

T of blue on a sea of grey.
© Fraser

RichC Highstepping on PuddleJumper on a grey wet summer Sunday

RichC Highstepping on PuddleJumper on a grey wet summer Sunday
© ChrisJD

Firing up the crux on GBH at Malham

Firing up the crux on GBH at Malham
© nick bamber

Concentration on Consenting

Concentration on Consenting
© chris m fisher

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