I have been all around Europe, across the Atlantic, to the other side of the world, to many different places. I have met a lot of people, across a massive range of nationalities, over a long period of time. When you do meet someone, no matter where it is or who they are, the conversation normally always begins (or the personal side of things at least) with where you are from. Now, with all due respect to my Welsh friends, i normally go with either British or English as my nationality and the response with almost every climber i have met is “Ah! England! Peak District!”…
Yes, as such, i’d go out on a limb and say it’s the most famous climbing area the Great British Isles have to offer, and with good reason: the quality is generally good, there is great trad, sport and bouldering and the weather is at least no worse than anywhere else in the country. It has history, heritage and a host of heroes in it’s repertoire, both past and probably present. In essence, it is THE British climbing area.
Happy now, gritstoners? For it’s popularity has given rise to a level of arrogance; that gritstone is God’s own rock and any newcomer to the big-grade scene will undoubtedly hear the phrase “What’s he ever done on grit?” uttered after their name at some point. Okay, this is quite often very tongue in cheek, the usual British humour coming into play, but still, these things always start from truth. Anyway, three paragraphs in, and you’re getting a picture of what you’ll find there.
Okay, so time for a bit of history. The Peak District: England’s oldest National Park, established in 1951, nineteen years after a famous dispute between ramblers and gamekeepers (that the ramblers won by the way), can be found spanning no less than six English counties. Don’t expect big mountains and snowy peaks though, despite the name: it is predominantly moorland, fairly flat with scars of natural gritstone, quarried grit and limestone dotted around. In fact, it’s highest point is Kinder Scout, at a little over 2000ft – not exactly cause to worry about altitude sickness! You’ll find more cafes, pubs, and tourist attractions than you can shake a stick at
And in fairness, in my experience, natural gritstone is quite unique. Quarried grit isn’t, but natural grit is similar but subtly different to any other type of rock i have seen, and it is here that you will find the majority of the bouldering in the area. There is some to be found on the limestone, (a handy option when the inevitable rain begins to fall as the grit doesn’t give up her lines in the damp too easily) but it’s popularity has the obvious downside of a polish Mr Sheen would be proud of. Anyway, lets have a closer look at some of the crags:
You’re spoilt for choice on this one, there is fun for all the family. You’ve got popular spots, quiet ones, higballs, lowballs, roofs, slabs, you name it, it’s there. If we exclude the limestone for a second, you’ll find the rock rough and very textured, and friction dependent. That doesn’t mean if you find yourself with a chance of a summer trip, you should turn it down but it does mean you’ll find things much harder than later in the year. I’m going to talk about some of the more famous crags and some of my favourites but if you’re keen, there’s loads more for you to explore.
- Stanage. At three miles long, there is plenty here to share around. Plantation is probably one of my favourite crags in the country, if not the world, with classics to match Bas Curvier in Font with ease. There is also more fun everywhere from the Buckstone Dyno to the Apparent North. Classics include Deliverence 7b+, Brad Pitt 7c+, Crescent Arete 5, The Joker 8a, The Buckstone Dyno 7b, The Green Traverse 7a, i could go on all night. Needless to say, you could easily spend a week here alone.
- Curbar. A personal favourite, despite not being much there to go at. The Trackside boulder will undoubtedly be the first one you’ll get to, with around a dozen good lines to have a blast at, ranging from 3 to 8a+. Trackside itself was my first 7a, and is knacky at best but worth a struggle or two. Further up is Gorrila Warefare 7a and Early Doors 7a+ which are both on my to-do list. A few other blocks give some interesting lines around here but for more fun and games, head up to the crag proper where another 60-odd problems exist. Unfortunately, i haven’t explored these so will have to leave you to make your own minds up.
- Burbage (South, North, West and Bridge). In one respect, it’s a bit harsh lumping these quite distinctive crags together like this. In another, it’s harsh doing it to Stanage and we’re only after a brief overview anyway. The guide claims it is “bigger and better looking than Bas Curvier” and gives it some 40 pages and to be fair, it really does have fun for all the family. I frequented Burbage South quite a lot when i was still struggling to crack into the 6s proper, and the stand alone blocks have plenty of good, easy lines to explore. Generally landings are good and you’ve not too much to worry about – ideal for those new to outdoor bouldering. The crag itself is littered with lines too, but as with Curbar, i’ll leave you to that one as i don’t really know that well. Burbage North i found less appealing: mostly problems that finish half way up the wall,
The Peak is squished in between two of the biggest cities in the UK: Manchester and Sheffield. As a consequence, you’re never too far from an abundance of choice that will almost render it useless. Still, it is quite a long way if you’re just after a butty or a pint of milk so here is a brief selection of some of the more handy places that will save you a bit of time and a lot of rummaging.
- Food. I live in Llanberis and have often wondered what the villages in the Peak have that make them so bustling compared to home. Ignoring the obvious infrastructure and location argument, there is one major difference: they are rammed with places to find food. A quick walk around Bakewell and you’ll see more cafes than climbers at Stanage and this is true of many places in the area. A popular one for me would be Outside in Hathersage, being close to Stanage, Burbage and Millstone but if you’re elsewhere, you’ll never be short of options. A further breakdown of reviews would probably warrant it’s own website.
- Climbing Shops. Surprisingly few, considering the reputation of the area and the claim of Sheffield being the home of British climbing. The main one is also Outside in Hathersage and to be honest, is so well stocked that you’d not really need to go anywhere else. There are a couple of other places in the village, for those rainy browsing days but sadly if i’m honest, there aren’t many others. Odd really considering how many manufacturers and distributors are based in the area.
- Guides. There is a great guide by Vertebrate that covers all the bouldering in the area; grit and limestone. My only criticism would be that it covers too many places and instead of a trip to the world-class Stanage, you may end up at the less-quality Pleasley Vale… Wherever you do end up, the photo topos are good, the descriptions apt and in general, it’s one of the best bouldering guides i’ve used. At time of writing, the Rockfax version of the same thing was yet to be released but frankly, i’m not entirely sure why they’ve bothered – the Vertebrate guide is plenty good enough.
- Tick List. For my own personal Grit Tick List, click here