Working on the new Northern England Rockfax guide has given me the opportunity to visit a few old haunts, some of which I hadn't been to for far too many years. Maybe it is fashion, or maybe it is remoteness, but whatever the reason, on the ten cliffs listed below, all visited in the past 12 months, we met ONE other team of climbers. When folks are queueing on the glossed classics of Ilkely, Bowden or Froggatt maybe its time to give somewhere new a go. So next time the sun shines and the inevitable question comes up; "Where shall we go today?" try one of these for size.
If you have already visited some of this eclectic mix of venues give yourself an award for getting off the beaten track:
3-5 Traveling Man
9-10 Grand Master
A Peak crag with a very un-Peak feel about it. The quarry is a bit of a sinister spot but the natural edge has some great climbs and, being west-facing, it is a bit like an untraveled Burbage North. Also like Burbage it is quite small, but the worthwhile climbs are well packed together - it is a good place for getting plenty done.
Amen (VDiff) - A steep corner with an even steeper exit on huge holds.
Kletterschuche (S 4a) - Open and excellent with a fine finish
Flying Arete (HS 4b) - The best route on the cliff up a great piece of rock architecture.
A big, lumpy and rather green crag overlooking the bandit country of the Yorkshire/Lancashire border. The biggest chunk of rock, Mystery Buttress, was a Crag X back in the day and it is taller than most gritstone cliffs. The original Ordinary Route (VDiff) was initially split into four pitches, some with peg belays! The crag is pretty much a summer only venue because of its altitude and aspect, but if you turn up and conditions are less than perfect, the collection of boulders down the slope from Purgatory Buttress are usually in condition and often in the sun too.
Ordinary Route (VDiff) - Devious, rounded and excellent.
The Three Cs (VS 4c) - A left-hand and harder expedition up the same buttress.
Ceiling Crack (E2 5c) - A wild roof crack, and one-time Whillan's VS.
Like hidden gold, low-lying, south-facing, tall and slabby - what a heady mixture! For a long time access to Eastby was restricted but with CRoW the crag is normally open for business. Although not a very extensive cliff, the length of the routes makes them especially memorable, the low altitude and sunny aspect means that it is in condition a lot more often than many other cliffs in the area
Eastby Buttress (VDiff) - Steep, juggy and well protected, an outstanding route at the grade
Whaup Edge (VS 4b) - Like Eastby Buttress but a bit more so, a little steeper, quite a bit bolder, and just about as good. Laybacking up the pebbly area is especially memorable.
Pillar Front (E2 5b) - More of the same, only bolder again. This time it gets quite intense as the runners recede and the hoped for holds don't arrived - it concentrates the mind rather well.
The Lost World of Yorkshire grit, a rhododendron-ridden valley, with hidden lakes and bits of rock poking out all over the place. It has never been a popular venue, though it is worthy of greater attention, especially when nearby, and ever-popular, Brimham Rocks is being blasted by the wind.
Spinnaker (S 4a) - Hidden away in tall trees, a great sail-like sheet of rock soaring above an overhang, and accessed by a sneaky traverse. Getting off the top is another problem.
The Alamo (E2 5b) - The best route in the valley, rising above the lake, always in the sun and on quality grit. When you finally get round to doing it, you will wonder what took you so long.
Eavestone Crack (E4 6a) - The Eavestone is a mighty block of rock with several good routes, this is the pick though. Rounded and precarious to reach the crack, then bare-faced thuggery is the only way on.
Almost an urban crag right on the outskirts of Leeds though much less popular than nearby Caley. Sadly it faces north so needs a good dry spell or a touch of summer heat to bring it into tiptop condition.
Central Route (S 4a) - A great line for a low grade route. It starts off pretty centrally (as expected) but then when things get a bit tough it sneaks away by a lovely delicate leftwards traverse.
Chevin Buttress (VS 4c) - It is all in the finish. The cracks in the left-hand arete of the face lead to an impasse, where holds lead out right onto the exposed arete and a stretch reaches jugs of gargantuan proportions.
The Waster (E1 5b) - A fine direct line, sustained and strenuous early on, leading to a lovely contrasting finish as you balance up the final slab.
How lonely do you want to be? Head west from the market town of Richmond into the wilds of Swaledale and up into the hills beyond Reeth, and you will discover some ancient lead workings. Above here is a scattering of blocks and buttresses, tipped across the hillside in random fashion. Recommending any routes would be silly, if you do make it all the way up here get as many done as possible, they are only little, so make 20 a minimum.
The North York Moors' best kept secret - a big crag with some great lines. If you think The Moors is all diminutive sunny cliffs with tiny technical routes you will get a surprise when you haul up under this one. It is north-facing so pick your day and make the most of it.
Forest Face (HS 4b) - Tackles the biggest buttress by a long traverse out into the middle of nowhere then, just when you though all avenues were closed, a crack leads rightwards across the upper face to reach the sunny moor above. Compelling stuff.
Satchmo (E1 5c) - Originally done with some aid this soaring groove-line has a technical entry then gives superb sustained bridging and jamming ever upwards. Protection is perfect, and the bridged rest allow you to enjoy the situations to the full.
Fever Pitch (E2 5b) - One of the fine powerful and mildly bold face climbs that forge dramatic lines up the crags smoother walls. Long reaches between generally good breaks is pretty much the order of the day, and spaced cam protection means the route feels especially exhilarating.
The Roman's knew what they were doing, sticking their wall on top of this superb natural barrier. The rock is a columnar dolorite, akin to basalt, with strong natural lines but horrendously slippery in the wet. Pick a fine warm evening to experience the place at its very best.
Jezebel (Diff) A rambling route that links short corners and cracks with little ledges and a lovely introduction to this great game of ours.
Hadrian's Buttress (HS 4b) the classic of the crag at the grade, follow steep cracks up the sunny edge of the buttress. The recent loss of a block has made the crux quite testing though a cam can be placed above the move so no heroics are called for.
Pinnacle Face (VS 4c) The slender finger of the pinnacle points the way to the smooth face above. Passing the overhang requires a bit of power or some lateral thinking, though once established the climbing and positions can be enjoyed to the full. Very photogenic.
Now I know you have never been here, because nobody ever has, or at least that is the way it feels. Stuck in the middle of a remote moor , 40 minutes from the road and with grades that time forgot used to be the downside; lovely rock and sunny setting, are the upside, plus the grades now have a more realistic feel to them.
Callerhues Crack (HVS 5a) the central line on the central buttress is the classic of the crag, giving pleasant sustained climbing that is a tiny bit butch, but in a nice honest way. The gear is good throughout and unusually for Callerhues the top it is not a rounded horror. There are plenty of other good routes here and some superb bouldering, choose a climb then after you have done it, try to guess its grade in the old guide - fun and games guaranteed!
The end of the known world, you can almost see Scotland from here! It is only a titchy little crag and made of a soft, soft sandstone that requires careful handing, top-roping here is a bad idea. Permission to climb MUST be sought at the farm before approaching the cliff.
The Flutings (VDiff) mild but delightful, a steep slab is quite smooth early on, but the furrows just get deeper and deeper. You have to make a choice on the final section, pinch the fat ribs or jam the cracks in between.
Eastern Arete (S 3c) only mild but very exposed at the crux and with gear that is not all that reassuring. The route shuffles rightwards up an undercut arete but it is the blind step round the arete that is especially thrilling.
Marcher Lord (VS 5a) The biggest buttress had the best rock and it is split by a fine steep crack line how serendipitous. Jugs, jams and bridging lead to a rest in a cave below the capping overhangs. From here, the terminally harassed could crawl through a long narrow tunnel that penetrates the cliff top, though the frowning overhang is the way to go - and the holds are huge.
All these crags, plus 28 more, are covered in the new Rockfax guidebook called Northern England. This book has information on over 2350 routes, including the best of Yorkshire Gritstone, the North York Moors and on to the rolling hills of Northumberland.