Peak Grit – from Popular to Esoteric (and back?)

My German colleague, Matthias, is a climber and managed to tag a visit to The Peak District on to the end of a business trip from his base in The Netherlands. Matthias is a well-travelled and accomplished climbing all-rounder, comfortable on trad and sport and in The Alps, but this would be his first experience of climbing in Britain, let alone The Peak.

It’s always a privilege to give a fellow climber a guided tour of your ‘home patch’ but the responsibility of deciding where to go had me pondering… Limestone, no – Matthias was just back from a trip to Arco, and much as I might champion the delights of Chee Tor and High Tor, there’s no shortage of stupendous limestone on The Continent. Millstone, no – a fabulous venue, and I personally prefer quarried grit to the natural stuff, but at the end of the day it’s still a quarry. I quite quickly narrowed down to the obvious (and only credible) answer – the introduction to The Peak would be on natural grit, and that would have to be on “The Queen of Grit” – Stanage. More routes than any three other crags combined, and home to around half of the Eastern Grit Top 50. We had a plan – meet at The Popular End and wander as far as The Plantation ticking as many 3* routes as took our fancy. All we needed now was the weather to play game (and of course there was always the perma-dry New Mills Torrs to fall back on!

We needn’t have worried – the weather was on perfect behaviour for our visitor – an absolutely immaculate day of blue skies, sunshine and even a gentle breeze. I pointed Matthias at Righthand Trinity, which he romped up:

No surprise as there’s a strong Trad ethos in Germany with many areas “off the radar” of most travelling Brits such as Harz in The Okertal (Granite but it looks quite gritty…)

We enjoyed a dozen 3* classics:

Righthand Trinity
Central Trinity
April Crack
Black Slab
Christmas Crack
Missisippe Buttress
Right Unconquerable
Left Unconquerable
Wall End Slab
Fern Crack
Saul’s Arete
… That’s a pretty decent haul for a first day at Stanage! Including 7 of the “Top 50”, with Matthias’ lead of Left Unconquerable being one of the highlights as was my discovery of Saul’s Arete (can’t believe I haven’t done it before!) Here are a few photos:

Christmas Crack
Missisippe Direct
Right Unconquerable
Fern Crack
Black Slab

Also great to bump into Liam and Jim who’d had an early start and were well on the way to completing a 60@60 challenge – very impressive!

Not a bad introduction to The Peak (though you could definitely see why it’s known as The Popular End!)

The Hanging Stone in the Roaches valley is very much at the other end of the popularity spectrum – it’s an impressive feature, visible for miles…

… and barely a stone’s throw from the most popular crag on the west of The Peak. Despite that, its most popular route Hanging Stone Crack, HVS 5b, only has 11 ascents logged on UKC (Pebbledash and Bachelor’s Buttress, also 2* HVSs just a couple of miles away have 900 and 600 respectively!)

Jim had happened upon it on a fell race recce and had roped me in on his plan to climb it.

It packs a lot of climbing into 40ft, with a juggy boulder problem off the ground followed by a tenuous and run out balance past the metal plaque (which is ‘in’ according to the guide – just as well!) to a brutal overhanging jam crack to finish. Well worth seeking out, if only for the “Picnic at Hanging Stone” selfies…

… and the presence of the Wincle microbrewery adjacent to the parking spot (handy for when you get rained off after only one route!

And finally on our tour of grit from Popular to Obscure, a crag that’s bucking the trend and making the reverse journey.

Noggarth sounds like the cragging anti -particle for Gogarth, and that’s actually a pretty good description. A disused gritstone quarry in the heart of the Lancashire countryside on the edge of Nelson. It’s an easy 5mins walk from (courteous!) parking in the middle of the village, and situated in a surprisingly bucolic landscape given the proximity of urban centres.

Some unusual geological factors have made for a very slabby bedding plane, and a dearth of decent natural protection, so the few early explorations of the central shield relied on the occasional peg. A huge cleaning operation by local enthusiasts over the last couple of years, and the adoption of bolted loweroffs and some added bolt protection have transformed this little-visited venue into a popular spot. Developments are ongoing but this supplement on the Lancs Rock site documents about 40 routes in the Severe to HVS range. The retention of UK trad grades might seem odd for bolt-protected routes, but the placements are “sporting” rather than “sporty” (typically 3 to 5 bolts in up to 20m) and so this actually feels quite appropriate.

We did most of the starred routes, and actually really quite enjoyed the afternoon – it’s not going to be the new Stanage but it does seem destined to be quite popular!

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