Since starting mountain biking regularly again, it’s become less of an marker in my calendar (kitting up and continuing to ride outside through winter is just the norm) but for all those years when climbing was my main sport, that first climbing day outdoors was a real cause for joy and celebration.
After a winter of dusty indoor climbing walls and a lack of fresh air and light, climbing outside on proper rock always gave me a real boost. Despite preferring bolted limestone, that first day outdoors more often than not was a homage to the Peak District gritstone crag, the places where I first started and fell in love with climbing.
So, if the temperature has warmed up to 12c (apparently perfect for friction), the rock is dry and you’re looking for information about where to climb (or to reminisce about your own favourite Peak District crags), grab yourself a cuppa and pull up a seat to read about 5 of my favourites.
It’s the UK crag which most climbers around the world have heard of (when meeting foreign climbers at crags abroad, most of them knew of Stanage) and for it’s sheer diversity of routes and grades, in my opinion deservedly popular.
Naturally, that brings it’s own challenges – it’s popular!
Stanage Popular is the place where I first climbed outdoors. For years after that, we returned week after week, climbing most of the routes in our grade range – and eventually repeating many of them when we hadn’t progressed to the mid E grades and still wanted to climb there!
It’s the home of the famous Flying Buttress Direct, Christmas Crack (obviously to be climbed at Christmas) and the interestingly named 49 Bikinis.
Some of my favourite routes there have become pretty polished over the years and I’ve been there on days so popular that there are queues for some of the routes, but I still love the place.
I love visiting this crag whenever I want to ease myself back into climbing outdoors again. I’ve visited many times over the years – one of my favourites was a fine April day which ended up with crazy snow storms (the pictures always make me smile).
The routes nearest the car parking at Upper Burbage Bridge are pretty short with easy walk-offs, so I always found them good to get my head back into the height thing.
There are longer routes as you work your way down the crag, and Ash Tree Wall area has a good selection of routes. For some reason, we always seem to end up climbing The Grazer (the name does what it says on the tin if you get your hands stuck).
With a south-west aspect, it’s great to visit here on a sunny winter’s day, bask in the sunshine and enjoy being back outdoors.
Froggatt is another of those crags which I’ve visited time and again over the years. Facing west, it means that on a sunny winter day you can grab yourself some warmth (good for when you’ve been sticking your hands in cold dark cracks on a climb) – but be warned, it can be a busy old place.
The Sunset Slab area is great for getting your head back into slab climbing and trusting the friction on your rock shoes. Tody’s Wall (on a second for me) has always been the climb to give me (and anybody watching) the biggest laugh – at only 5’2″, rocking over with my foot next to my outstretched hand is pure entertainment.
While there are some fantastic well known climbs here, make sure you look in-between for some other classics which might just give you a big smile to take you right through the rest of winter.
I’m going to be honest and say that it’s been years since I visited The Roaches. However, it makes the list because I always enjoyed climbing there and it attracts the afternoon sun (making it a place which can easily overheat in summer, but conversely more likely to be perfect on that sunny winter day).
The Roaches is located in Staffordshire and the rock here is much smoother than the Eastern Edges gritstone, meaning that your hands are less likely to suffer when jamming those cracks – but the friction may feel different.
There’s a huge range of routes right across the grades at The Roaches and, if I remember correctly, a superb boulder on the Lower Tier which is perfect for basking in the sun with a picnic.
As the years progressed, the tales of our climbing trips here have become the stuff of legends – The Sloth with a hangover anybody…..
Whilst it’s not my favourite crag in the Peak District, Lawrencefield deserves a mention for its sheltered location, making it well worth consideration when it’s cold and windy. Having said that, it can take a while to dry out so check whether conditions are right for your visit.
My first Peak District lead climb was at Lawrencefield – a very nice VDiff crack called Nailsbane (or was it Snail Crack next door). Whichever it was, I laced it with gear and entertained the guys!
Lawrencefield only has 49 routes in the guidebook (compared to a whopping 900+ across all the Stanage areas) so there’s not as much choice, particularly on busy days. But for those days when you’re desperate to get just one route done outside, it might just be the perfect location!
So, if you’re ready to dust off your down jacket and head out for some classical gritstone climbing, I hope the 5 crags listed have given you some good ideas. Happy climbing!
Alternatively, check out the BMC Shop for their range of Peak District climbing guidebooks.