Forget flying this winter and discover quality sport-climbing right here in the UK. Rhoslyn Frugtniet from Lattice Training reveals the five best UK winter sport crags. A climber for 20 years, Rhoslyn has ticked E6 Trad and 8c sport climbed (including flashing an 8a+!).
1. Ansteys Cove, Devon
Ansteys Cove is on the dreamy coast of south Devon, in the ‘English Riviera’ of Torbay(dos). This compact limestone provides possibly the best sport climbing venue for routes 7a and above in the south of England. A collection of three superb sectors offers contrasting styles and difficulties, all set above a picturesque cove of clear blue water; idyllic. In fact, a pleasant day at the cove and you could easily be convinced you’re above the Mediterranean.
This location can be enjoyed in ‘t-shirt' conditions at almost any time of year - making it the perfect UK winter destination. A dry mid-winter can yield outstanding days basking in low, golden sunlight and prove that flying abroad isn't always necessary to enjoy an experience of this calibre.
The climbs of Ansteys Cove offer ultra-modern and desperate sport climbs on ‘Ferocity Wall’, long and pumpy endurance-fests on ‘Empire Wall’ and some slightly easier sport on the ‘Mitre Buttress’. There is also the oddity of the ‘Cocytus Wall’ which hasn't made its mind up yet whether it’s a sport or trad venue, but offers a collection of great routes nonetheless. The setting for all these crags is magnificent and the beach is only a stone's throw away, for those brave enough for a dip.
Must-tick-classics: Might and Main (6c+), The King of Ming (7a), Empire of the Sun (7b), Avenged (7c+), Cider Soak (8a).
2. Malham Cove, Yorkshire
Malham 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 send. Perfect for a winter project without flying anywhere.
The crag is south-facing, making climbing 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 certain areas are always dry, as are many of the routes on the ‘Upper Wall’, with the rest of the routes being quick-drying. Unless the rain is blowing in on a southerly wind, you can climb on these sectors when it is actually raining.
With over 200 sport climbs to choose from, varying from 10-60m in length, and graded from 6a+ - 9b, there is something for everyone. The sport climbs range from short, burly and technical to long and pumpy with everything in between. Although there are routes in the 6th grade, they are not the best quality and to get the most out of climbing here you need to be climbing at least F7a. Take strong fingers and clean footwork. Being favourable to an undercut will also make these routes feel more friendly- engage biceps now!
It is not unusual when climbing here to be a spectacle for the swarms of tourists and school field trips that regularly frequent this popular local landmark - though in winter these are kept to a minimum, making the appeal during this season even bigger. 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. The ‘Upper Terrace’ is particularly favourable in winter as this is often too warm in the spring and summer to tolerate the small edges.
Must-tick-classics: Consenting Adults (7a), Yosemite Wall (7a+), Seventh Aardvark (7b), Obsession (7b+), New Dawn (7c), Raindogs (8a).
WATCH: How to climb at Malham Cove on BMC TV
3. Brean Down, Somerset
As the sunniest and driest crag in Somerset, the Cove at Brean Down is almost guaranteed to be sunny on even the most miserable of winter weekends. Located just south of Weston-super-Mare, the mile-long promontory of Brean Down juts out westwards into the Bristol Channel giving its south-facing cliffs shelter from the prevailing winds and rain.
The rock is remarkably quick-drying and mostly free of seepage too, making the crags viable even on showery days. The cliffs above the beach are home to hugely popular sport climbs as well as a rather more esoteric collection of trad adventures. The grades here vary from 5c - 8b, though be sure to pack extra skin if you're thinking of tackling the hardest one! Generally slightly overhanging and pumpy in style, this crag offers about 100 routes to work your way through this winter without a flight in sight.
Must-tick-classics: Coral Sea (6c), Pearl Harbour (7a), Chepito (7a), Clashing Socks (7b), El Chocco (7c), Milky Bar Kid (8a).
4. Raven Tor / Rubicon, Peak District
A national treasure and a crucible for hard sport routes and bouldering, home to some of the UK’s best known hard routes and problems, Raven Tor is hallowed ground for many. This south-facing crag stays dry through most of winter and is often quick to dry in the early months of the year. The sun will creep around onto the face around midday, providing some warmth to those braving the conditions.
At its highest point the crag reaches 40m whilst on the right hand end the routes are short, extended boulder problems. The contrasting styles of climbing provide long, stamina routes like ‘Indecent Exposure’, ‘Body Machine’ and ‘The Prow', to boulder problem routes like ‘Pump Up the Power’, and ‘Weedkiller’. This bullet-proof rock provides a very crimpy experience, so ready those fingers. The often polished holds will reward delicate and precise footwork as well as perseverance.
Must-tick-classics: A Little Extra (7a+), Tin Of (7b), Sardine (7b+), Obscene Toilet (7c), Body Machine (7c+), Call of Nature (8a), Mecca (8b+).
5. Isle of Portland, Dorset
Over the last 20 years the Isle of Portland has consistently been a well-known and well-visited sport venue, offering almost 1,300 well-bolted sport routes from F2 to F8b as well as hundreds of boulder problems. Located on the south coast of England, the Isle is unusually connected to the mainland via Chesil Beach, an 18 mile spit.
With climbing on both the west and east coast, climbing is possible all year round, meaning sun or shade can always be found. The mild climate and minimal seepage make this a favourable destination when fighting our typically terrible British weather. Unlike most sea cliffs, most of the climbing is situated well above the high tide mark, with only a few sectors being tidal.
The compact limestone cliffs provide possibly the best sport venue for routes up to 7b in the UK. The island compromises of six main areas all set above the English Channel; each offering a contrast in style, difficulty and length. Generally the climbing tends to be just off either side of vertical on jugs, crimps, pockets and glorious flow stone features. Twelve quickdraws and a 60m rope will be sufficient to see you up most of the routes on the island.
Portland is frequently referred to as the King of 6’s (although the 7’s aren’t so bad either) due to the vast amount of quality low-to-mid grade climbs. For a first visit I would head to Blacknor on the west coast, home to some impressive pitches on stunning flowstone formations. This is a great place to start your sport climbing career, get lots of mileage in or work on a personal best.
Must-tick-classics: The Bolt Factory (4+), Slings Shot (5), Go with the Flow (6a), Ocean Drive (6a+), Burning Skies (6b+), The Unknown Solider (6b+), Turner to Stone (6c+), Portland Heights (7a), England’s Dreaming (7a+), Twangy Pearl (7b), Freaky Ralph (8a+).
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