UK Rock Climbing - Variety | Quality | Ethics
The UK is full of top class climbing throughout the grades on all sorts of different rock types. There is something for everyone - whether you are a sport climber, trad climber or a boulderer. Due to British ethics on bolting there is a lot more trad climbing available compared to quality sport climbing than in other areas of the world but that's what makes us Brits hardcore!
For this blog we have kept the destinations fairly broad in terms of area but have named some of the best crags in those areas to help you make a start in planning your climbing days out.
If anybody has any questions about specific crags or locations we would love to hear from you - it’s a massive subject to cover in one blog and we can’t cover every area but we’ve done our best!
Where are the Best UK Rock Climbing Destinations for Beginners?
Photo courtesy of Adrian Trendall
Best for: Everything!
There is top class trad climbing, sport climbing and bouldering and it’s available in a big variety of settings including the mountains, sea cliffs and quarries.
Rock climbing in Snowdonia is amazing - it’s definitely our favourite climbing area in the UK for the sheer variety on offer.
Photo courtesy of Masa Sakano
Ogwen, the Snowdon range and Tremadog will likely be full of climbers on sunny days, especially at the weekends. For some of the crags you have to get there really early to make sure you can climb the line you want and not be disappointed. The most popular easier slabs such as Little Tryfan and Idwal Slabs will be packed by 9am so make sure you get an early start (or do a couple of hours in the evening after it’s quietened off).
Snowdonia is probably best regarded for it’s trad climbing and bouldering, however there is slate climbing which offers bolted lines for sport climbing. Alex Honnold recently visited the slate quarries and was impressed with the quality of climbing on offer.
In terms of trad climbing you can choose from easy multi-pitch slab climbing such as Little Tryfan or Idwal Slabs, giant mountain days out on Tryfan, The Glyders and Snowdon or there are simpler single pitch venues like Tremadog or Holyhead. All of them offer a different experience on varying rock types. If you like steep positive climbing try Holyhead Quartzite, for slabs try Ogwen and if you like slopers then go to Tremadog.
Best Crags in Snowdonia for Beginners
Trad: Little Tryfan & Idwal slabs, (Ogwen) Tremadog and Holyhead
Sport: Llanberis slate
Bouldering: Llanberis pass and Ogwen
Snowdonia Rock Climbing Further Reading
Rockfax North Wales - a great allrounder book that covers all the major climbing areas
Ogwen - A much more in depth guide for the Ogwen area that has a lot more routes in than the Rockfax guide. Great if you love Ogwen as we do as you can try some quieter lines that aren't covered in the main book.
Gogarth North - This book covers Holyhead which is a great beginners crag and is often sunny when the mountains aren't.
Best for: Gritstone Trad Climbing and Bouldering
The Peak District has to be one of the top contenders for the best UK trad climbing and bouldering destinations. The sheer quality and variety of routes across the grades in so many different locations gives climbers of all levels something to get their teeth stuck into.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Thacker
Word of warning - if you don’t like slopers you probably won’t like the Peaks! However - try and see it as a challenge and learn to love slopers as it would be a shame to miss out on this fabulous climbing area.
Gritstone is what the Peaks is particularly famous for with amazing crags such as Stanage Edge, The Roaches and Burbage to name but a few. These areas only have trad climbing or bouldering due to British ethics with Gritstone and Sandstone having enough natural protection not to need bolts.
There is also a fair bit of sport climbing in the peak district on limestone crags however we have been fairly horrified by some of the sketchy bolting and loose rock in some of the venues so take care. In our opinion, there is no comparison to the sport climbing on offer in Europe (or even at Portland) but I think that's possibly because we are not a big fan of climbing in quarries - We would much rather be climbing on a hill or mountain. It’s definitely each to their own though and there are some good sport lines to have a go at here.
The best sport crags in the Peaks for beginners are probably Horseshoe Quarry and Harpur Hill.
Best Crags in the Peak District for Beginners
Trad: The Roaches, Stanage Edge and Burbage Edge
Sport: Horseshoe Quarry or Harpur Hill
Bouldering: Stanage Edge, The Roaches or Curbar Edge
Peak District Rock Climbing Further Reading
Rockfax Western Grit - Covers the roaches.
Rockfax Eastern Grit - Covers Stange and Burbage.
Rockfax Peaks Limestone - Covers horseshoe Quarry and Harpur Hill.
Best for: Sport Climbing and Bouldering on Limestone Sea Cliffs
If sunny sea cliff sport climbing is your thing then Portland is a must! There are grades starting from a 2 up to an 8 and there really is something for everyone. The quality of the climbing here is fantastic ranging from easy angled slabs to big steep overhanging cliffs. The other lovely thing about climbing in this area is you can be climbing next to the sea and you might get a little seal pop it’s head up and say hello - this has happened several times to us and it never fails to make us smile!
The cliffs are all limestone and because of the popularity of the area some of the most popular routes are getting very polished. Unfortunately these are often the beginners routes so they can feel hard for their grade.
Another good reason to climb at Portland is it’s pretty well maintained. The Portland bolting fund does a brilliant job of keeping everything tidy and safe. This makes it a great area for beginner sport climbers to come to first.
The only downside to Portland is it’s pretty rubbish in the wet, although the rock tends to dry quickly there isn’t much else to do in the area and the nearest indoor climbing centre is almost an hour away in Poole. Therefore I would say only go if the weather forecast is good otherwise you might get bored, unless you like soggy kayaking or stand up paddle boarding around the coast!
BEST CRAGS IN PORTLAND FOR BEGINNERS
Sport climbing: Blacknor Beach & South, Battleship back cliff and Cheyne Weares
Bouldering: Blacknor Beach and Portland Bill
PORTLAND ROCK CLIMBING FURTHER READING
Best for: Sea Cliff Trad Climbing
The sea cliff climbing in Pembroke really is a world class. Historically, it has been quite an intimidating venue where only the top level climbers went. However, there has been a big development of lower grade climbs in the last 20 years with more slabby areas offering other options than the sheer limestone cliffs in other areas.
If you want to go climbing at Pembroke then you must be comfortable abseiling- nearly all the routes there will require an abseil in. You must also take note of tide times and weather to make sure you not going to get cut off and that your route is going to be dry enough to climb. UK Climbing have a very good article which covers abseiling, tides and safety and is well worth a read before venturing out.
St David’s head, Southern Bays and Range West offer some great lower grade climbs (thought to be the best in the country). Pretty much all of the climbing here is trad so if sport is your thing you had better stick to Portland or Gower (which didn’t quite make it into our top 5!)
Best Crags in Pembroke For Beginners
St David’s Head
Pembroke Rock Climbing Further Reading
The Lake District
Best for: Big Trad Climbing Days in the Mountains and Bouldering
When it’s not raining the Lakes is a stunning place to climb.
Expect relatively long and/or strenuous walk in’s to most big crags but the views are completely worth it.
The crags tend to vary from big atmospheric mountain crags such as Pillar and Great Gable to valley crags such as Shepherds and Ravens crag. The valley crags tend to be the most popular as they suffer less from the bad weather than the altitude crags.
Virtually all the climbing is trad although there are a few bolted quarries such as St Bees, Chapel Head Scar or Scout Scar.
The rock types include limestone, sandstone, slate, granite, gabbro and Borrowdale volcanic rock. There are some amazing classics on Scafell, Pillar and Great Gable - due to the long walk in’s you shouldn’t be fighting for routes and some climbers bike in and out to save time.
Of the valley crags one of our favourites is Shepherds Crag which overlooks the Borrowdale Valley has a short approach time and has some amazing multi pitch climbs like Little Chamonix and Finale.
Although not regarded as a big bouldering destination in the UK, the Lakes has plenty to offer in some stunning locations. Thirlmere is a popular venue due to it having roadside boulders and also Bowderstone has some excellent routes.
Photo courtesy of Oliver Clarke
BEST CRAGS IN THE LAKE DISTRICT FOR BEGINNERS
Trad climbing: Upper Scout Crag in Langdale and Shepherds and Black Crag in Borrowdale
Sport Climbing: St Bees
Bouldering: The Bowderstone and Castle Rock
LAKE DISTRICT ROCK CLIMBING FURTHER READING
So there we have it - our top 5 climbing destinations in the UK. It was really hard to narrow it down to 5 as we’ve had to cut out Gower, Yorkshire, Scotland and the South West but we couldn’t include them all! We felt the 5 we have picked give an excellent variety of climbing for beginners over the different disciplines. We have also learnt the ropes in these places and had some awesome days out.
Rock Climbing Courses
If you are new to climbing then we thoroughly recommend you taking a climbing course with a professional first even if you are going out with your friends who have experience. It will mean you are able to go out and have a good basis to work on and practice your skills whilst not being a total beginner.
We have used the following companies for climbing courses and highly recommend them all:
Leading Edge (Snowdonia): Run a variety of rock climbing courses and are based in Snowdonia. We have been on specific tailored climbing courses with them to enable us to push our trad climbing grade and can’t recommend them enough. They are also based in Snowdonia and you can often bump into Cath or Sam at the Siabod café before and after days out. Sam is an inspirational teacher and is highly regarded in the outdoor industry.
Hunter Mountaineering (Fort William/Glencoe): Is run by husband and wife team Max and Lena and they are based in Fort William. They are both very knowledgable and charming - you are guaranteed to have a fantastic day out even if the weather is rubbish! I know this as I went and did Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis with Max in the pouring rain and strong winds and we had an amazing day out nonetheless. I have also completed winter skills and a days rock climbing in Glen Nevis with Max and Lena and have always been impressed. If you want to climb in Scotland then be sure to contact them.
Beyond The Edge (Peak District) : Run specific climbing courses in the Peak District which are absolutely fantastic. I have completed an advanced scrambling course and also Rock Climbing Instructor training with them and they have been amazing. Chris and Alex are very generous with their time and give you all the encouragement you need to get out on rock, have a good time and be safe.
What Rock Climbing Equipment do we use?
- Nut key
We hope this blog gives you the inspiration to get out and try the routes. As ever please do contact us with any questions- we would love to hear from you.This post contains affiliate links. If you buy anything through them we will get a small referral fee and you will be supporting us and our blog at no extra cost to you.