Disclaimer: A week after i wrote this, the Lancashire Bouldering guide came out and i bought for for old times sake. While it’s an excellent guide, it doesn’t cover the North of the county, only concentrating on the urban areas to the South. I guess this depends which bit of Lancashire you live in. Still, i stand by what i’ve said. For an alternative idea of what it’s like up in this little corner of the UK, get a copy of the guide.
Yes, this website was supposed to show the best bouldering in Europe and give info for those wanting to go there. Does Lancashire class as one of the best areas in Europe? No. And that’s a big no. Does that mean that it’s not worth visiting? No, it’s not so bad, and i would argue, short of the proximity of crags to each other, it’s probably slightly better than the more famed neighbouring crags of the Lakes to the North. There is plenty to go at for a week or so and if you do get bored, heading North, East or South gives you some other fairly-nearby options. (West is not really recommended without some sort of boat…) What you do get here is relative solitude, as the crags around Carnforth and Lancaster aren’t that well known to even Brits from the North!
Lancashire’s crowning jewel (as every area seems to want to have one) is debatable. Contenders for the title must surely be Woodwell and Thorn Crag: two crags so different in their styles they could not be further apart on the spectrum. Woodwell is a slightly ugly, limestone scar, often suffers with seepage, is polished, wooded and practically roadside. Thorn is almost exactly the opposite: after an hour or so walking up a steep track on a barren hillside, you’ll find some picturesque gritstone blocs, open to whatever weather comes from the sea to the West. If it was possible for two crags to be each other’s nemesis, this would probably be the pair. Some would argue that Trowbarrow should be considered in this list of the best in the area. My opinion would be that while it might rank among the very best trad climbing in the north of England anywhere, the bouldering is not as good as it’s neighbours, while still being up there as one of the places to go. The one advantage is it is the closest crag to the nearby train station, for those without a car…
The other that local devotees will be screaming at the screen about is Craig y Longridge. I’ve only been once and found it a touch over-rated, especially the furore that erupted at the landowners threat to bulldoze the crag to stop people climbing there, before the BMC came to the rescue. That said, it’s not an easy venue; overhanging with small tough holds and i was there on a fierce winter’s day so it’s possible my opinion would be swayed by a repeat visit. For the meantime, i shall remain to be convinced.
Lancashire is a rather large county, bordering Cumbria at it’s North, North and West Yorkshire to the East and Merseyside and Greater Manchester to the South, with Morecambe Bay and the the Irish Sea to the West. It covers nearly 1.200 square miles in total and the old Climber’s Club guide, Lancashire Rock, was absolutely enormous and famous for being a really handy cheater stone. It’s not really of any major historic value after the 16th Century and the War of the Roses and more falls into the category of “another bit of England”. Unusually though, nearly all of it’s climbing is around Silverdale, near Carnforth, tucked up in the North West and as such is often overlooked by people going to the Lakes. It is a shame, as the area is surprisingly nice (Morecambe aside) and an hour closer to anyone who travels up the M6. Lancaster itself is the nearest large city and surely nicer than Kendal. It also happens to be where i spent three years at University, hence the perhaps surprising addition of Lancashire among Europes elite climbing destinations.
I’ve kinda mentioned them already in the preceding paragraphs but nevertheless, in case you weren’t really paying attention, i’ll go through them again, with a couple of others thrown in.
- Woodwell. A personal favourite and very accessible. A bit of a locals limestone crag if i’m honest and home to some of John Gaskins uber-problems. Sadly, it’s been quite a few years and specific problems to try have long since left the old grey matter. There is another area know as Woodwell O’Ert Road which has reopened after many years – so much so that i’ve never been. It’s supposed to be good though so go and have a look and please obey the access requests.
- Thorn Crag. A drive out into the Lancashire moorland, an hour-and-a-half slog up a track and a few pints of sweat and effort and you’ll find yourself at the mini-wonder that is Thorn Crag. Gritstone boulders perched on the hillside that can often catch the worst of the weather coming off the Irish Sea, but when it’s nice, it’s stunning up there. There’s plenty to have a go at but if you’re going, make sure you go for a good long session, as that trudge gets more tiresome every time. See if the sign at the bottom still quotes a fine for “violating” the local livestock too…
- Craig y Longridge. God there was a HUGE stink when the landlord threatened to bulldoze this crag and i have to be honest and say, i couldn’t really understand why. True, it has a lot of the attributes that you as a boulderer would be looking for: it’s steep, it’s a good height, solid landing but i remain to be convinced after my first and only trip. Is it me? I’d say probably, considering how highly the website Lakesbloc speaks of it! I suppose the best answer is to go and see for yourself.
- Trowbarrow. Most people who have climbed in Lancashire will know of and probably tell you about Trowbarrow. It’s a picturesque limestone quarry (if such things exist) and home to some three-star trad routes. The bouldering will probably only rank as around average, with most centred around Red Wall and the obvious boulder in the centre of the clearing. If you’re around, i’d certainly go and have an explore but it’s not the type of place i’d travel miles to visit.
- Heysham Head. I was torn as to whether to include this as a crag on here, as it really isn’t very good. What it is is local to Lancaster/Morecambe residents and those finding themselves with very little time to get to somewhere better. It’s a pretty spot though.
Well, this isn’t the back end of anywhere! Lancaster is the capital city of the county (you better believe it!) and is well stocked with anything you can want. Carnforth and Morecambe have a few shops and useful bits to pick up supplies if needed. It’s not renowned as a typical climbers area, though, so don’t expect much.
- Guides. Well, there’s the aforementioned Lancashire Rock from the BMC – updated from it’s bible-like size but still not a great book for the modern boulderer. It has the crags in there, but it really is a trad-guide and to be honest, probably not worth buying unless you either have money to burn or some string to tie into. The other option (and a much better one in every respect for a boulderer) is the fantastic website LakesBloc. The link is below. This week though, there has been a new and unexpected guidebook on Lancashire Bouldering published. It’s so new, i’ve not seen it yet but it is out there.
- Food. There are numerous supermarkets in the area, in Lancaster, Preston, Morecambe, Carnforth. Many stock good local produce too, so you’ll be spoiled for choice. Booths was always a personal favourite of mine.
- Climbing Shops. There is one solitary shop that i know of, in Lancaster city centre on New Road: Ultimate Outdoors. I used to frequent there regularly and their selection was always good. Whether it still is, i’m not sure but i’d probably say that’s your best bet. There is also a shop at Boulder UK in Blackburn, which is as good a reason as you need to go there, it’s that good.
- Accommodation. I’m afraid, such is the nature of reviewing places where you’ve lived, I have absolutely no idea where there is to stay – i always had a home. I’ll just have to leave you to it sadly.
- Cafes and Bars. While the climbing will not have changed, i’m certain the eateries in the area will have and as such, i’m loathed to suggest a bunch of places that might not be there. I will go out on a limb for one spot though: The Waterwitch near the infirmary in Lancaster city centre. I was last there around four years ago and it was still going strong, long may it continue. However, this is the only town i would have eaten when i was living in the area – other cities just didn’t strike me as nice enough.
- Other Handy Places. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, there is an infirmary in Lancaster if you’re unfortunate enough to need it. There are also countless other useful things here – Halfords and garages for car needs, B&Q for a ladder for your potential first ascent, all that kind of thing – and i’d head here if you run into trouble.
- Websites. As already mentioned above, LakesBloc is where it’s at. Run by Chris Chapman entirely free, it’s been going for years and anyone who boulders regularly in the North West should already know about it. You’ll find printable topos for Thorn, Woodwell and Craig y Longridge, as well as plenty of others and of course, being online, is updated regularly. It’s also the best place to look for access issues.