February 26, 2021
I may be biased, but there’s nothing quite like climbing in the UK. From laid-back sea cliff climbing to unforgiving boulders and classic trad routes, there’s something here for everyone.
Admittedly, if you’re exclusively a sun-seeking sport climber, then maybe give this destination a miss. But if you enjoy trad and bouldering, pushing your limits, rugged landscapes, and a friendly crag atmosphere, then you’ll love what this island has to offer. We’ve left out some of the classic destinations such as the Peak and Lake District in favour of the less well-known Wales and South-West of England. You’ll want to be a confident trad climber to make the most out of this trip, and prepared to make a plan B for when it (inevitably) rains. We recommend you visit in summer or early fall, rent a car, and plan to stay a few days at each location to make the most of the weather and unusual rock.
There’s no better place to start than North Wales, one of birthplaces of trad climbing. The Llanberis Pass in the heart of Snowdownia can get quite busy with walkers during bank-holidays and warm weekends, but the quality of climbing and sheer number of routes is worth it. Dinas Cromlech is considered one of the best trad crags in the world, boasting a huge number of classic three-start routes at every grade, including the famous Cenotaph Corner and Cemetery Gates. The climbing is on Rhyolite, at times technical, and at times steep and burly, and can be difficult to protect if you’re not used to the rock. The bouldering in the valley is also fantastic: if you’re looking for quiet avoid the Cromlech Boulders and head straight for the Wavelength circuit on the north side of the pass, halfway up the hill. You’ll get the most out of this area if you’re bouldering 6b up. The Dinorwic slate quarries, further down the pass towards the coast, offer both sport and trad climbing. The sport is well bolted, but many of the classic routes have a more ‘adventurous’ feel and can be quite run-out!
Mathew Wright stepping high on one of the compact and stunning slabs Wales has to offer. The view worth a couple of days of rain between a climbing day and another. © Saul Robinson
If it’s raining over the mountains, head down to the Great Orme near Llandudno. The Pen Trwyn cliffs boast 1.5km of limestone crags with harder sport and trad climbs, and views across the Llandudno bay. If you’re feeling more adventurous, head to the Little Orme (Rhiwledyn) for some harder sport, trad routes and bouldering. The approaches are pretty complex and the area is tidal, so we recommend going armed with the most up-to-date information. The routes are worth the trouble though: wild and exposed, you’ll most likely be alone at the crag. For bouldering, you’ll find many smaller crags situated along the orme, as well as the famous Parisella’s Cave. If you need some guidance, why not ask our local contact, Matthew Wright, a professional climber, coach and slate aficionado living in the area.
Cailean Harker playing around on a not quite ‘Here Comes Cadi’ at Clogwyn y Tarw in North Wales and making easy work of ‘Red Sky Wall’,a beautiful 6C boulder at Clogwyn y Tarw in North Wales © Lena Drapella
Another area in Wales worth visiting is the Pembroke coast. Here you’ll find over 6,000 sea-cliff trad routes concentrated in four areas, interspersed with sandy beaches and pristine coves. Again, we recommend doing some research on how to access the routes before heading out. The sandstone crags of North Pembroke are typically less busy than those further south. The Carreg-y-Barcud area is worth a visit, boasting 125 fantastic south-facing routes and deep-water soloing, as well as St. David’s Head East. In the South, we recommend the less-popular Stackpole and Lydstep area with its notorious limestone test pieces and deep water solo.
Babsi Zangler committed on one of the countless hard trad routes in Pembroke, ‘Do you know where your children are? (E8/6c, 5.13c/R). Not just hard stuff here, but you definitely have to know how to pace your own protections before committing yourself on this cliff © Lena Drapella
Moving now to England, Lower Sharpnose Point on the North Devon coast is identifiable as a series of bizarre-looking long, thin fins sticking out from the coast. The rock – culm – makes for some interesting face and crack climbing, with routes ranging from 9 to 45m long, VS to E8. Head to Tintagel, 45 minutes further down the coast, for some great seaside bouldering in a beautiful location. For the best sport climbing in the south of the UK, you should visit Anstey’s Cove in South Devon, near Torbay. Most of the climbs are 7a up, on compact limestone above clear blue water – a truly memorable experience.
Finally, head down to Cornwall for the best of the British weather, picturesque fishing villages, cream teas and laid-back holiday vibes. Along the wilder North coast, you’ll find Bosigran, offering some beautiful multi-pitch routes in what feels like the middle of nowhere. Sennen nearby boasts some impeccable, well-protected trad routes across a variety of grades, and is virtually non-tidal and accessible by foot from the parking lot. Climbing on this golden-grey granite in the afternoon sun is a perfect way to end your trip, or so we think.
* * *
Words by Faustine Wheeler
Photos by Lena Drapella and Georgie Lane
Cover photo by Lena Drapella
Special thanks to Lena Drapella, Mathew Wright and Georgie Lane