By Tom Newberry
As the Northern Axis tilts closer to the sun, the days are long and warm, sunny weather ensues. The summer season, usually bringing about a low point in television viewing as the masses head outside; exploring the amazing coastlines, moorlands and mountains our magnificent island has to offer. But not everyone looks forward to summer! The issue, as everyone knows, is that bouldering gets harder when the temperatures increase. That little bit of magic you get in cold crisp conditions that mean appalling holds suddenly stick. Without any extra training, skill or effort on your part you can tick the bigger grades. So, for the diehard boulderer the rise in temperature often marks their offseason.
With the Grit lacking its usual Velcro-like friction and the limestone caves condensed, projects are postponed and visits to many of the UK’s best bouldering venues put on hold. In order to keep fingers strong and cores tight, summer forces many to head to the high Alpine granite, migrate south of the equator or even don a harness. However, for those who won't be able to fasten their seatbelts and take off, why not check out the plethora of potential still to be unlocked on our Great British Isle. Bouldering in summer and still pushing your grade is achievable; you just have to choose your venue wisely.
Fortunately, variety is something the UK does well. Whilst summer marks the end of the season for certain escarpments it also marks the start for a number of quality crags, which come out of hibernation and into condition. Those bitterly cold, green, north facing venues that dry out in the long sunny daylight hours remain cool enough to offer the sought after friction. Those coastal crags that require calm seas to allow the steep, shaded caves to dry out in the constant sea breeze. Those high altitude crags that need enough hours of daylight to make the long trek in and out and still have enough time for an arm busting session. So, where are these crags? Which ones should not be missed? What is the beta?
In the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall lies the underrated and infrequently travelled Queen’s Crag. Often wet and green throughout the winter months, the proud lines of Queen’s, on impeccable rock, come into condition towards the end of May, meaning summer is the perfect season to sample some of the finest sandstone blocs in the UK. Those that have been will agree that the best blocs here should be on every aspiring boulders’ tick list. Striking highball lines and burly moves in a wild and lonely setting will be order of the day. A team hit is definitely recommend, as more pads, spotters and banter will help when gripped on the belly-flop top-outs. North facing and always windy, the boulders have a distinctively adventurous feel, and therefore will never be destined for the masses. Those who do venture here will not only be greeted with primo bouldering conditions throughout the warmer months, but also discover some of Northumberland’s most prized gems and usually all for themselves.
Wandering around, it doesn’t take long to discover the jumble of rock provides the perfect playground of grooves, overhangs and arêtes. Beta is key for many of the problems and a powerful approach may not necessarily lead to success. Creativity and cunning go a long way to seeing a successful ascent. With the likes of Dan Varian, Chris Graham and Ned Feehally responsible for establishing most of the modern classics, it is no surprise that many of these problems here are as hard to break as the Roman defensive fortification. Therefore Queen’s suits the more dedicated boulderer who is climbing in the 7th and 8th grades.
The Lakes plays host to more than a few mountain venues, Sampson's Stones being the most broadcasted; a collection of exceptional boulders that must be visited. Located on the eastern slopes of England’s highest peak, Scafell, the higher altitude provides cooler more reliable summer conditions; with an added bonus of fantastic views and memorable sunsets.
The drive up is spectacular, as you summit both Wrynose and Hardknott Pass before meandering through farmland to park next to a swirling stream. To the stereotypical boulderer a steep 70 minute walk-in may sound monstrous, but this simply adds to the experience allowing you to really appreciate one on the most spectacular bouldering locations in the country. The bouldering revolves around two blocks, both of which rival the Bowderstone. Perched on grassy platforms affronting views across the craggy Lakeland terrain and offering some truly inspiring lines. After negotiating the final leg of the approach, you’ll spot this collection of huge volcanic rocks in an almost alpine meadow setting. As you bounce in excitement around the massive boulders many more reveal themselves; producing an exceptional and compact circuit made up of subtle, sequencey and gymnastic problems on some of the coolest holds around. A little discipline will go a long way, if you can contain the psyche and take ten to refuel before releasing the beast, you’ll be sure to have a great session.
Stargazer (7B+) Sampson's Stones
Unlike Sampson's Stones, the Churnet Valley is very accessible, located just south of the Peak District National Park boundary and neighbouring Alton Towers theme park. Courtesy of local, Stuart Brooks, a well-documented guidebook has recently been published helping to locate the numerous boulders that are distributed along the valley sides and linked by various weaving footpaths. The only stress here is parking, which can be limited and shared with walkers during the high season.
The once esoteric, conglomerate sandstone of Churnet is now probably the most established climbing area in this article. Probably due to the easy access, reliable conditions and quantity of blocs that have recently been cleaned up. Obviously the altitude isn’t high enough to offer cool temperatures but thanks to the aspect of many of the crags and shade from the pine, birch, beech and oak trees you can find decent conditions during the summer months. If it does get too hot though, well there is always the option of a cream tea at The Ramblers Retreat Cafe.
Churnet Valley is home to some 600 problems across 10 different sectors. North facing Wrights Rock should be a first port of call. A superb overhanging piece of sandstone conglomerate, inundated with in-situ pebbles, which offer lots of steep powerful problems across the whole grade range. It’s a crag which rewards both the technician as well as the brutishly strong, so be careful if you think you can take your wall-rat mates there for a session and expect to burn them off. If you can campus, heel-hook and withstand the pain of the pockets you should be in for a super day.
Hartland Quay, Devon
It's no secret that the north coast of Devon is rapidly becoming a well frequented venue for summer bouldering, the wave washed blocs now draw in more than just the keen local boulders. Traces of chalk are a common sight when walking along the beach of Hartland Quay which hosts some of the UK’s finest coastal bouldering. Its rugged cliffs and marvellous coves create a unique atmosphere to boulder any time of the year; however the sea breeze, calmer seas and majestic orange sky of the setting sun make this an exceptional and reliable summer venue.
Supercede (8A), Hartland Quay
On arrival you are left with two options head north down the boat slip-way towards the more old school problems. The northern beach has much easier access and is home to the original harder test pieces means this is the first port of call for most. The superb and compact wave washed rock offer a good range of problems and obvious eliminates. Making it a good place to get your fingers warmed up and ready for the modern classics on the south side. It’s also where you can find and pay tribute to Tom Randall’s Kraken, the world’s hardest crack! For those keen to check out the modern developments that have recently put Hartland on the UK bouldering map a short scramble will dump you on a secluded private beach to the south of the car park. Although more spread out the quality and rare culm geology of these blocs will make up for the lack of quantity.
For more details check out Dave Westlake’s free online guide available at javu.co.uk which covers the whole crag in detail.
Crag Fact File
|No. of Problems
|Hartland, North Devon
|Dave Westlake's FREE PDF Topo
Sampson's Stones, Lake District
|Lake District Bouldering Guidebook
Queens Crag, Northumberland
|Northumberland Bouldering Guidebook
|Churnet, Peak District
|Churnet Bouldering Guidebook