Rock Climbing in the English Lake District
The mountains of the Lake District offer some of the most scenic rock climbing to be found in England. The Lakes provide some unique and spectacular rock climbing, ranging from the high mountain crags such as Scafell and Pillar, to the lower crags situated in the valleys such as Shepherd's in the Borrowdale valley.
The Lake District is split into a series of valleys, and each of the main valleys has several crags. Each of these crags has its own character and atmosphere, and indeed often its own special rock type. The different type of rock includes limestone, sandstone, slate, granite, gabbro and, most widespread is the "Borrowdale Volcanic Group". Virtually all these crags require the leader to place traditional gear such as nuts and cams, but a few quarries, limestone outcrops and the sandstone crags of St Bees are bolted.
The largest and most spectacular crags are those at Scafell, Pillar, Gimmer and Dow. However they are all situated at altitude and suffer the worst of the weather, which unfortunately happens a lot in the Lake District. Therefore the more popular crags tend to be at lower altitude such as the easily accessed crags at Raven's, Shepherd's, Reecastle or Castle Rock. In fact it is the great diversity available that makes rock climbing in the Lake District so enjoyable.
The main rock climbing areas are shown on the above map, and a brief description of each rock climbing area is given below.
- Langdale. Situated at the heart of the Lake District is the Langdale valley stretching towards Scafell. Here is perhaps the best concentration of south-facing crags in The Lakes, allowing climbing at most times of the year. The valley provides a wide choice of high mountain crags such as Gimmer and Bowfell Buttress. There are also plenty of easily accessed lower level crags such as Raven crag and Pavey Ark, which are quick drying. At the entrance of the valley, near Chapel Stile, there is some excellent bouldering.
- Coniston. The major crag of this area is Dow crag, which is the largest in the southern Lakes. Dow offers many excellent quality routes, ranging from Diff through to E6. There are also several slate quarries at lower level, with some of these routes bolted.
- Eskdale, Scafell & Wasdale. The valley of Eskdale has many excellent granite crags that are close to the road, which also includes some excellent and extensive bouldering, across all grades. Higher up the valley is Esk crag, one of the finest and most impressive crags in The Lakes, which offers some excellent wall climbing. It also has the benefit of facing southeast and is therefore quick drying. Scafell situated at the end of Wasdale is the highest crag in England. When it is dry and warm, there is no finer place in England to climb.
- Gable, Pillar & Buttermere. Great Gable is one of the iconic crags in England with its famous pinnacle of Napes Needle. There are many routes here that generally face south and come into condition quickly after bad weather. Pillar is the only mountain in the Lakes where the summit is reach purely through rock climbing. Here there are many excellent multi-pitch routes up to 150m long. Buttermere is an idyllic valley with many excellent crags some with sort walk-ins and others providing long multi-pitch routes.
- Borrowdale. The Borrowdale valley is one of the most popular places to go rock climbing in the Lake District. This is due to its ease of access and the abundance of low level, fast drying crags along its length, such as Shepherd's crag and Black crag. The Bowderstone is a well-known and popular bouldering venue.
- Thirlmere & Patterdale. In the Thirlmere valley there are some of the finest roadside crags in the Lake District, such as Castle Rock, which provide popular and sheltered rock climbing.
- Swindale. This secluded valley on the eastern side of the Lake District provides excellent climbing at a variety of grades. It has the added advantage of usually being dry when the central Lakes areas are wet.
- St Bees Head. The sandstone crags on the coast near Whitehaven provide some excellent bolted sport routes up to 25m long, though they tend to be in the higher grades. St Bees also offers extensive sandstone bouldering across a wide range of grades – perfect when the weather is wet in the mountains.
- Chapel Head Scar. In the southern Lake District the rock turns to limestone and there are several established crags, with the largest being Chapel Head Scar. The majority of these routes are bolted, though they do tend to be in the higher grades.
- Silverdale. This area situated south of the Lake District national park receives much drier weather than the central Lakes area. Here there are some excellent limestone crags, particularly at Trowbarrow.
There are many excellent places to go bouldering in the Lake District, with a wide variety of rock types and environments to choose from. This ranges from the high volcanic boulders in the mountains, low lying areas such as Kentmere and Carrock Fell, the granite of Eskdale or the seaside sandstone of St Bees. There is a dedicated guidebook covering all the bouldering in the Lake District, called “Lakes Bouldering Guidebook” by Rockfax, which is available from our shop.
The Lake District is also an excellent place to go hill walking and mountaineering with many long distance paths and trails. Visit our sister site Outdoors Europe to find out more about the Coast to Coast long distance path. This Wainwright path starts at St Bees and passes through the Lake District before finishing at Robin Hood's Bay on the east coast.