Top 10 British trad crags for beginners

Posted by Tina Gardner on 13/03/2016
Stanage. Photo: Alex Messenger

The British Isles is famous for having some of the best trad climbing in the world, and for good reason: it’s all packed into a relatively small area, yet offers a huge variety of rock types and styles of climbing.

This is one of many great articles from our new special edition magazine: Get into Climbing.

We’re incredibly lucky to have these resources available on our doorstep. A trad apprenticeship here will set you up to climb anywhere in the world.

Indeed, Britain’s reputation often precedes it abroad where trad climbing can be less common. It’s not unusual for international climbers more accustomed to sport climbing to remark about ‘crazy Brits’ having heard stories of daring-do about our top climbers.

Rest assured however, that trad climbing offers something for everyone and it doesn’t have to be scary and hard. So here’s a few ideas for your first tentative steps into this wonderful and fulfilling world of fun and adventure.

1. Windgather, Peak

This fine gritstone crag has a great collection of short, high quality routes, which tend to feature positive holds instead of the more usual gritstone slopers and plentiful natural protection.

With its beautiful outlook across the Cheshire Hills, this is a great crag to kick off your love affair with trad climbing and build confidence. It’s a place to get plenty of mileage in, practise placing equipment, and learn the intricacies of movement on rock.

Once you’ve got a feel for grit here, the Peak District is your oyster, with plenty of incredible crags to explore - for starters check out Stanage, the Roaches and Birchens.

  • Rock type: Gritstone
  • Guide: The Roaches (BMC), Western Grit (Rockfax)
  • Best for: Quick access, loads of easy routes
  • When to go: Year round, gathers all the wind going so best avoided on cold days

2. Subluminal, Swanage

Subluminal, so named as it lies underneath a lighthouse, is a great crag for dipping your toe into the adventure playground of the Swanage cliffs. It boasts plenty of lower grade routes starting from a wide, flat wave cut platform. It does, however, also require an abseil approach, so there’s a little more commitment required compared to some other crags listed here.

The rock is solid and the climbing is on fairly steep rock but usually with big and positive holds, which often rewards those with good ‘indoor wall fitness’. Once you’ve got your eye in here, Cattle Troughs and Guillemot Ledge offer a great progression into some of the bigger and more adventurous crags nearby.

  • Rock type: Limestone
  • Guide: Swanage (Climbers Club), Dorset (Rockfax)
  • Best for: Gently easing yourself into the adventurous terrain Swanage has to offer
  • When to go: Year round, can be surprisingly warm when the sun is out, even in mid-winter

3. Sheeps Tor, Dartmoor

With its hilltop position commanding fantastic views across the sleepy hills on the southern edge of Dartmoor, climbing on Sheeps Tor is an experience to be savoured. The Tor is made up of some of the most solid granite you’re ever likely to come across and there are some great routes to be had.

The crag is high up and exposed, so not a good option during poor weather. However, it does tend to dry quickly and, being south-facing, catches the sun until mid-afternoon. If you enjoy the climbing here, the nearby crags of the Dewerstone and Haytor both offer plenty more in the way of friendly routes.

  • Rock type: Granite
  • Guide: South Devon & Dartmoor (Cordee), West Country Climbs (Rockfax)
  • Best for : Easy classics in a wild setting
  • When to go: Still, sunny days between spring and autumn

4. King Wall & Lewes Castle, Gower

The Gower Peninsula is blessed with a picture perfect coastline, great weather and most importantly some of the fi nest low to mid grade limestone sea cliff climbing in the UK. King Wall is a great place to begin. A good concentration of short, easy routes start from a stunning white sand beach.

Once the tide comes in, the obvious next step is to move onto Lewes Castle - the crag above the gearing-up ledge. It offers slightly longer routes on the same spectacular weathered limestone. And, when you’re finished, stop by the Worms Head Hotel to watch the sunset with a pint overlooking the stunning Rhossili beach.

  • Rock type: Limestone
  • Guide: Gower Rock (Pesda Press), Gower & SE Wales (SWMC)
  • Best for: Postcard scenery and low-mid grade sea cliff climbing
  • When to go: All year round on dry days. South facing; will feel hot on sunny days with high temperatures. King Wall is tidal so check tide tables.

5. Sennen, Cornwall

A stunning cliff of golden granite, only a stones throw from Lands End, and one of Cornwall’s true gems. The climbs start from a wide, wave cut platform, which keeps the majority of the crag non-tidal in all but the roughest of seas. The easier routes here follow strong lines up crack and corners, with plentiful protection and sublime moves.

There really are few nicer places to be on a sunny day. Even late in the year the crag can be a surprising sun trap once you drop over the edge. Add to this the offer of Cornish pasties and cream teas in Sennen village and you have the makings of a cracking day out!

  • Rock type: Granite
  • Guide: West Penwith (Climbers Club), West Country Climbs (Rockfax)
  • Best for: A gentle introduction to sea cliff climbing
  • When to go: Year round, but avoid in stormy weather

6. Shepherds Crag, Lake District

This virtually roadside crag is one of the Lake District’s most loved and for good reason. There’s a huge number and variety of quality routes, with plenty in the lower grades and a legendary café five minute’s walk away – what’s not to like?

There are a few single-pitch routes, but the majority are between two and four pitches long on solid, clean rock with good belay ledges between pitches. This is a great place for your first experience of multi-pitch climbing and the well-loved routes with obvious holds and gear placements will ease the nerves as you move onto bigger routes.

  • Rock type: Borrowdale volcanic
  • Guide: Borrowdale (FRCC), Lake District Rock (FRCC)
  • Best for: Your first experience of multi-pitch trad climbing
  • When to go: Year round

7. Idwal Slabs, North Wales

The magnificent sweep of the Idwal Slabs set in the middle of the stunning Cwm Idwal is a compelling sight, which draws climbers to it like a moth to a flame. Despite having a distinctly mountainous and remote feel to it, it is only a 25 minute, relatively fl at walk from the car park.

With routes up to 160m long on beautiful cracked mountain rock, this is another ideal venue for your first multi-pitch route. The descent can be a little tricky, so take your time and don’t be afraid to rig an abseil from one of the handy spikes to ease your nerves.

  • Rock type: Rhyolite
  • Guide: Ogwen Valley (Climbers Club),North Wales Rock (Ground Up)
  • Best for: First steps onto longer routes
  • When to go: Year round but avoid very cold days as the crag is north facing and catches little sun

8. Almscliff, Yorkshire

‘The Cliff’ as locals affectionately refer to it, is one of the fi nest pieces of gritstone anywhere, and with its hilltop location overlooking the green hills of Yorkshire and resident cow herd, it feels distinctly British.

The rough, rounded rock may feel a little alien to start with if you’re used to climbing at the indoor wall, but you will soon pick up the particular techniques required to unlock its charms and be padding your way up slabby walls and jamming cracks like the best of them. Locals don’t call it God’s own rock for nothing, and although short in stature, quality and history oozes from the routes here.

  • Rock type: Gritstone
  • Guide: Yorkshire Gritstone Vol 1 (YMC), Northern England (Rockfax)
  • Best for: Honing your multi-pitch gritstone technique
  • When to go: Year round, quick drying but is exposed in bad weather

9. Polldubh Crags, Glen Nevis

An easily accessible series of crags spread along the side of the stunning Glen Nevis, with an abundance of classic easy routes on clean, featured rock makes this a great choice of venue north of the border.

It is relatively sheltered being near the valley floor, so climbing is possible year round; however Scotland’s legendary midges can be particularly voracious here in the summer, so make sure you pick a breezy day to keep them off the crag.

The atmosphere of the glen, with Ben Nevis towering overhead gives the crags here a very special feel and this will no doubt just be the beginning of a long and successful trad career, filled with adventure and shared great friends.

  • Rock type: Mica schist
  • Guide: Highland Outcrops (SMC), Scottish Rock South (Pesda Press)
  • Best for: Scotland’s premier roadside cragging
  • When to go: Year round, but breezy days in summer

10. Crag Lough, Northumberland

Situated directly underneath Hadrian’s Wall, with views across to the Scottish border, Crag Lough is the cream of the North-East’s lower grade crags. Stood at the top looking north, it’s easy to imagine how Roman soldiers would have felt on the very edge of the empire, facing the marauding Pict raiders.

The crag is north-facing, so best avoided during the winter when it will be very cold, or on wet days when the fi ne grained rock that usually provides superb friction will feel like glass. Conversely, on a hot summer’s day, this crag will provide delightfully cool climbing as good as can be found anywhere, while elsewhere you could be melting in the heat.

  • Rock type: Dolerite
  • Guide: Northumberland Climbing Guide (NMC) ,Northern England (Rockfax)
  • Best for: Pleasantly technical wall and crack climbing in a spectacular, wild location
  • When to go: Dry days, spring to autumn

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 new climbers. The magazine contains 100 pages (over 30 articles) of essential information and expert advice on the world of climbing. Buy your copy from the BMC shop for just £5 (£3 for BMC members).

 

Watch a film about climber Alistair Lee taking his son climbing on Yorkshire grit, 'The First Great Climb' on BMC TV:

Watch a film about the Crag Lough clean-up on BMC TV:



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1) Anonymous User
07/07/2014
Yes, Windgather is a brilliant beginners' location. It was even better when the traditional (hard core style - cold water in a jug and basin for the morning ablutions) Youth Hostel was just over the road!
2) Anonymous User
15/02/2017
Really beginners at swanage?

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