Top 10 British sport climbing crags for beginners

Posted by Tina Gardner on 22/05/2014
Dancing Ledge, Swanage. Photo: Mark Glaister

So you've been sport climbing a few times, learnt the basics and got the quickdraws. You’re ready to hone yourself into a sport climbing machine, but where?

Here’s a selection of the best novice sport crags in the UK along with tips on essentials such as parking, guidebooks and what each is best for. Of course, this is just a few ideas to whet your appetite.  This is one of many articles from our new special edition magazine: Get into Climbing.

There are many more besides – the crag finder feature on UKClimbing.com is a good place to find more in your area or further afield; there are other useful websites and your local climbing shop will sell enticing guidebooks.

Many climbers enjoy sport climbing holidays. Some popular destinations you might like to look at are Kalymnos island in Greece, Costa Blanca in Spain or the Dolomites in Italy, to name just a few.

1. Wyndcliffe Quarry

The tranquil Wye Valley is well worth a visit – there are all styles of climbing across a wide range of grades, generally on limestone.

Wyndcliffe is a disused roadside limestone quarry, which offers slabby climbing in a sheltered woodland. Of the nearly 60 recorded routes, it’s roughly half and half trad versus sport climbing. Around a dozen sport routes are grade 4-6a. Be aware that some descents may require abseiling from cliff top trees.

  • Where: The tranquil Wye Valley
  • Park: 200m up the road in a Forestry Commission car park (map ref ST529974)
  • Guide: Wye Valley by the Climber’s Club
  • Best for: Slabby, roadside climbs
  • When to go: Cold, dry days

2. Gower: Southgate Area

A complex area of stunning sea cliffs, caves and sheltered bays on the south Gower coast. Southgate is made up of several separate climbing crags a few minutes’ walk from the National Trust car park in the tiny village of Southgate. The setting is further enhanced by superb beaches and a really good  cafe and cake shop near the cliff top.

Some of the best easier grade routes are on Watch House slab, which is non-tidal and dries quickly after rain. Be aware that some of the crags here are affected by the tides, so study the tide tables to avoid getting wet feet (or worse).

  • Where: The stunning Gower coast
  • Park: Southgate National Trust car park (map ref SS547873)
  • Guide: Gower Rock by Pesda Press
  • Best for: A variety of climbing styles in an exquisite setting near the sea
  • When to go: Very sheltered and pleasant even on cold winter days

3. Horseshoe Quarry

This large, disused limestone quarry near Stoney Middleton in Derbyshire is the centre of lower to mid grade sport climbing in the Peak District. Sheltered and quick drying, it’s superb for cold days and summer evenings.

The best climbing lies on the Main Face but a wealth of easier and introductory routes can also be found on the Upper Tier. As with many old quarries there is still quite a lot of loose rock so wearing a helmet is advised. Access is easy - a well-surfaced path leads to the climbing areas in minutes.

  • Where: In the heart of the Peak District
  • Park: Small car park just off the A623 (map ref SK205760)
  • Guide: Peak Limestone (Rockfax), From Horseshoe to Harpur Hill (BMC), Peak Limestone North (BMC).
  • Best for: It’s the centre of lower to mid grade sport climbing in the Peak
  • When to go: Colder days and summer evenings

4. Trevor Rocks

A stunning setting overlooking the Upper Dee valley above Llangollen in North East Wales. Again, it’s an old limestone quarry. Over 150 climbing routes line an embankment with tremendous views over the remains of Dinas Bran castle, a medieval Welsh fort.

With over ten separate climbing walls on a south-facing escarpment there’s something for every aspiring sport climber here. Look out for falcons and check access restrictions on our Regional Access Database. The left side of the cliff sometimes has nesting falcons and may be subject to access restrictions during spring and early summer.

  • Where: A stunning setting overlooking a picturesque Welsh valley
  • Park: Parking area on a hairpin bend on the Panorama Drive above Llangollen (map reference SJ229433)
  • Guide: Clwyd Rock by Rockfax (currently out of print) and topos can downloaded from  www.sportsclimbs.co.uk
  • Best for: Amazing views and easy-angled climbs
  • When to go: Sunny days – very exposed so don’t go on cold, windy days

5. Castle Inn Quarry

No crags are more road-side than this one! Near Colwyn Bay, close to the A55 North Wales  expressway, limestone walls rise directly above a car park. Not only is this venue incredibly accessible, it’s often bathed in sunshine when the nearby mountains of Snowdonia are cloud-covered. It can be cold on windy days, but dries very quickly after rain.

A number of really useful climbing routes for novice leaders can be found on the right wing of the main crag, including over a dozen that are less than grade 5. If you get bored of climbing, the top of the crag is part of the Mynydd Marian Nature Reserve. It’s a refuge for rare butterflies and nationally scarce heathland flowers.

  • Where: A nature reserve in Snowdonia
  • Park: Directly below the crag (Map ref SH889773)
  • Guide: A55 Sports Climbs by Pesda Press and North Wales Limestone by Pete Harrison (soon to be published)
  • Best for: Slabby and off-vertical easy climbs
  • When to go: Sunny days – take a picnic

6. The Cuttings

An excellent, popular inland crag, looking out across Weymouth Bay. An old railway cutting has left several rock walls rising directly from a fl at clear base. Although mainly quarried, the climbs are  highly varied on good clean vertical rock. Routes can require lots of finger strength and technique.

In summer, the Cuttings can be hot, but makes a superb morning or evening venue. There are routes to suit all grades of climber, including a beginners’ sector.

  • Where: The sport climbing Mecca of Portland, Dorset
  • Park: Church Ope car par near the Mermaid Inn in Easton (map ref SY 700715)
  • Guide: Dorset by Rockfax and Portland by Climber’s Club
  • Best for: Vertical climbing and a range of grades
  • When to go: Looking for morning sunshine or evening shade

7. Dinorwig slate quarries: Australia Area

Slate is a very unusual rock to climb on, requiring precise footwork, good balance and strong fingers. The vast abandoned slate quarries of Llanberis in Snowdonia provide a surreal and dramatic backdrop to some very good sport climbs. Over 50 bolted climbing routes can be found on the slabby, terraced levels of the Australia sector at Dinorwig.

Access is gained by following a public footpath from the parking area. Bear in mind that technically the routes are on private land and that the landowner (a power generation company) does not officially allow access away from the marked footpaths.

  • Where: Abandoned slate quarry in Llanberis
  • Park: Near the bus turnaround in Dinorwig village (map ref SH590611)
  • Guide: Llanberis Slate by GroundUp
  • Best for: Slabby rock, precise footwork and amazing post-industrial scenery
  • When to go: Not in winter, when it’s very cold. Dries quickly though

8. Castlebergh Crag

There was no recorded climbing on this crag before 2009. Most local climbers apparently thought climbing wouldn’t be permitted here as it’s so close to the town centre of Settle in Yorkshire. Early in 2009, a rock-fall brought attention to the crag, and conversations led to an intense crag clean-up and transformation into a superb, south-facing climbing area. It was a unique collaboration: the local council funded the development, and local shops bought route names.

Castlebergh offers a number of climbing routes from 4+ to 6a+ and a couple of harder routes for those wanting to push themselves a bit more. Some loose rock remains here, so wear a helmet.

  • Where: A short walk from Settle town centre in Yorkshire
  • Park: Public car parks in Settle (map ref SD 821638)
  • Guide: Free online topo on UKClimbing.com
  • Best for: Steeper routes and easy access from a town centre
  • When to go: Sheltered venue when it’s windy

9. Llanymynech

A limestone quarry on the border between England and Wales, near Oswestry, Shropshire. Offers dramatic, quite adventurous sport climbing - probably not suitable for novices on their fi rst outdoor ventures.

For those with a little more experience under their belts there are over 100, long sports routes here on several different faces. This quarry is a nature reserve managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust. Be aware that due to rare nesting birds parts of the cliffs are under restricted access from 1 March to 30 June.

  • Where: On the border between England and Wales
  • Parking: At the Shropshire Wildlife Trust Car park in the village of Llanymynech (map ref SJ 264217)
  • Guide: Clwyd Rock by Rockfax (out of print) and free topos from www.sportsclimbs.co.uk
  • Best for: Long, adventurous, vertical and steeper routes

10. Dancing Ledge

Dancing Ledge offers easy access from a free car park close to the village of Langton Matravers and non-tidal climbing by the sea. As a result, it’s probably the most popular cliff at Swanage. However there’s plenty to go around: roughly 100 climbs, mostly sport, ranging from very hard routes to easier beginner climbs.

Be aware that some of the 5s and 6s have become polished due to the passage of many rock shoes, and are consequently hard for their grade. Also worth noting: a small tidal pool was blasted into the rock overlooking the sea for local schools to use about 100 years ago. It’s not big enough to swim in, but a great place to cool down on a hot day.

  • Where: By the sea in beautiful Dorset
  • Park: Map ref SY 998767
  • Guide: Dorset by Rockfax
  • Best for: Easily accessible, non-tidal climbing by the sea
  • When to go: Out of peak season, when it’s quieter

Find out more:

Get into Climbing: special edition magazine for new climbers

This article is an extract from Get into Climbing, our special edition magazine for beginners. The magazine contains 100 pages (over 30 articles) of essential information and expert advice on how to start climbing. Buy your copy from the BMC shop for just £5 (£3 for BMC members).


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Anonymous User
26/01/2015
There is also Penmaen head for those climbing in the ~f6 grades, incredibly easy access, limestone and home to som amazing views. Be careful not to go on a cold day however!

I wrote a short blog post on my visit last week that may be of interest to anybody thinking of the crag
http://liamg.co.uk/climbing/climbing-at-penmaen-head-north-wales/

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