HOWNS GILL QUARRY
OS Landranger Sheet: 88
Map Reference: NZ097489
Aspect: West facing
Approach: 5 minutes from parking place
Malcolm Lowerson was
responsible for detailing the routes at Howns Gill although some of the routes
may have been climbed before Malcolm started his records during the 1980’s.
Malcolm has led all the routes but only after careful preparation and this
approach is not recommended due to the unstable nature of the shale band that
runs across the upper section of the crag.
Situation and Character
Howns Gill lies between Consett and Castleside in County Durham, some 15 miles southwest of Newcastle. This west-facing old sandstone quarry is in a sheltered wooded valley. The rock is of variable quality particularly towards the top of the quarry, which has a height of 25m in places. Due to the nature of the rock, top roping techniques are recommended here and descriptions are written assuming the technique is used. The rock is usually vertical or overhanging with distinct lines to climb in places, however it is characterised throughout by an abundance of flat holds in the horizontal strata. Drawbacks aside, the ‘gill’ is a useful place to train and the height of the quarry gives the climbs a “big” feel. The sheltered aspect is another plus, with quick drying rock, and a visit early in the season can be worthwhile as tree cover casts some gloom over the main face in the summer. The quarry has been extensively developed in the past, however only the better lines are described here There are several long, low level ‘pumpy” traverses of varying grades of desperation.
Access and Approaches
From Consett, take the A692 towards Castleside. Pass a roundabout, then take the next turn left (1/2 mile). Follow the narrow road to a picnic area on the left just before passing through a tunnel in the disused railway/walkway. Walk up onto the disused railway track (Known as the “Waskerley Way”), and follow this for about 100m (west) to the start of the viaduct. Turn off left onto a path through the woods, which runs gently down to the top of the quarry. Descend the (true) right bank of the quarry.
The owner is concerned about liability and placed NO ENTRY signs in Nov 2003 to discourage climbing.
The climbs are described from left to right. Malcolm Lowerson's climbs were originally recorded in North of England Rock Climbs by Stuart Wilson. My guide (and website) only included a selection of those routes. I have amended this page to reflect all the routes recorded by Malcolm despite the fact that many of them were only a metre apart and many others have long since become overgrown. These are shown in italics and he descriptions and grades are for historical reference only.
Two walls which converge to form a 9m corner.
1. Pup 4m VD
Start the left side of the left wall below the first, broken crack. Climb the crack passing an overhanging block at 3m.
2. Fang 6m VS 4c
Start a few metres right below a wall with an undercut base. Climb the wall using two rectangular slots and finish up the block with the serrated edge.
3. Doggy Bag 9m E3 5c
Start as for Fang. Climb up to the two rectangular slots below the small overhang and step right to reach a pocket in a horizontal crack Climb up with difficulty to reach the two vertical slots on the wall. Climb to the top avoiding the corner.
Choker 8m MVS 4c
Start at the foot of the corner. Climb the corner for a couple of metres then move onto the left wall. Make an ascending hand traverse left and finish up the block with the serrated edge.
4. Cold Nose Corner 9m HVS 5a
Climb the corner.
5. Dog End 9m E3 5c *
Start just over 1 m right of the corner and beneath a weakness in the small overlap. Climb the steep wall direct making an awkward move at 5m.The centre of the smooth wall above is climbed on small holds.
6. Distemper Wall 9m HVS 5a
Start as for Dog End. Climb the steep wall, but trend right to reach thin crack lines, which are followed to below the right-hand side of the small oak tree at the top.
7. Foxy 9m E1 5b
Start just over 1 m left of the aręte and below a recess in the bottom half of the wall. Climb the wall to the small recess below the overlap. Gain the twin crack lines above and climb, trending to the left to finish at the same place as Distemper Wall. An easier start is to climb the aręte until it is possible to traverse left to each the twin cracks above the overlap. This reduces the overall standard to 4b.
Rising Wall Section
This wall extends rightwards from the aręte and forms a 15m corner at its junction with the next section.
8. Bloodhound HS 4b *
Climb the aręte, starting on its right side.
Aniseed Trail 15m HS 4b
Starts one pace right of the aręte. Climb the wall to gain a horizontal ledge at 4m. The widening ledge is traversed right into the corner up which the climb finishes.
Dogs Dinner HVS 5b
Start 2m right of the aręte! Climb over the overlap to the ledge. Small holds on the wall above lead to a horizontal crack. Continue up and left to the top.
Paws 14m HS 4b
Start 3m right of the aręte!! Climb the wall to gain the horizontal ledge by an awkward mantelshelf. Traverse into the corner and finish up this.
9. Watch Dog E1 5b *
Start 4m right of the aręte. Climb the unpleasant wall to the ledge via a letterbox pocket. From the diagonal crack on the wall above, move left and up to reach the horizontal crack. Strenuous climbing leads straight up over the block overhang at the top.
Lapdog 15m VD
Climb the corner passing an Oak at half height. (The Oak was a sapling on the first ascent it may be a mature tree or dead now?).
Walkies 20m HVS 5b
A left to right girdle that starts up The Fang to the two pockets then traverses right across the Initial Corner and Rising Wall Sections at he same height.
Shale Wall Section
The next section of wall whose base lies within the confines of a long pit like depression extends rightwards from the corner. Trees above are useful for top roping. This wall has many features, most of which are indistinct. However with the descriptions and a quick inspection from the top of the bank forming the outer side of the pit, it is possible to pick out the complexities of the routes. All of the following climbs terminate at 10-12m in height according to the description. A 50m rope is desirable for top-roping purposes. Some routes may have a bolt in situ below the shale band.
10. The Snarl E1 5b *
Start 2m right of the corner at some red paint splashes. Climb the wall, which is undercut at the base keeping just right of the paint splashes to reach a niche below a small overhang. Move up and right into a shallow, square recess and out of it to the right via shot marks moving left. Finish by stepping right onto a good ledge.
11. The Growl E1 5b
Start a little over 4m right of the corner below an overhanging nose lust out of reach. Pull up with difficulty on the right then move back left above the nose. The thin crack is climbed before pulling right to a small ledge in a V-groove at 8m. From here step left and climb into a shallow recess and continue straight up to a roof-capped sentry box at 15m.
Moving right a contorted ash tree is a feature, growing from the steep bank in front of the crag. On the crag face opposite this at 3m is a diagonally aligned fin of rock below the overlap.
12. The Eyrie E2 5c
Start below a V-groove, which splits the overlap almost 3m above, the ground about 2m left of the diagonal fin of rock. Climb this groove and the crack above to a small ledge at 9m. Traverse right for a short distance until it is possible to climb the bulging wall until a step right can be made onto a sloping ledge at 15m.
13. The Whimper E1 5b
Start just over 1m right of the V-groove, below a prominent diagonally aligned block beneath the overhang. Climb directly up the wall via this, passing a small bulge. Continue up the slightly overhanging wall, passing to the right of an unusual rounded boulder puddingstone to reach a ledge at 15m.
14. Mad Dog E1 5b *
Start in front to the contorted Ash and below the diagonally aligned block beneath the overhang. Climb over the overhang and traverse right to gain the bottom of a vertical crack. Climb the crack to a good ledge.
The slim wall between the crack of Mad Dogs and the left-hand of the twin cracks taken by The Bark and The Bite respectively is ascended by Plague Dogs.
15. Plague Dogs E4 6b
Start below the wall to the right of the vertical crack of Mad Dog Surmount the overhang at 3m with difficulty onto a small ledge and climb the bulging wall to reach the large ledge at 12m.
16. The Bark E3 6a
Start right of Plague Dogs at a chest-high overlap. Above is a small ledge with cracks leading up from it. Climb onto the ledge at its right-hand end. Step left and climb the slightly overhanging left-hand crack to a ledge.
17. The Bite E2 5c
Start as for The Bark. From the ledge, climb the right-hand crack to the large ledge above triangular overhang. Follow The Bark to the recess and bolt lowering point.
18. The Howl E2 5c
Start 3m right of The Bark below a block, which protrudes from beneath an overhang 14m up the face.
Climb up past very thin, twisting cracks where the overlap diminishes and step right and up to a small recess. Climb the crackling to the protruding block and use this to surmount the overhang. Gain the V recess above.
19. Hound Trail HVS 5a
Start 2m right of The Howl at a 1m high vertical crack. Climb up for 2m and move left to a small pocket recess. Climb the vertical crack of The Howl for 2m until a ledge above is gained. Continue traversing left to a large ledge and over into the recess.
20. The Whine E2 5c **
Start 2m right of Hound Trial below a small, tapering, hanging come-just above head height. Climb the wall left of this corner to a narrow ledge and follow the crack lines from its right-hand end direct to where the wall overhangs. Step left and climb the weakness in the overhang, trending up left via a ragged crack line and shallow groove.
21. The Bitch E1 5b *
Start as for The Whine below the hanging corner. Climb up to the corner and follow two parallel cracks leading to a bulging, cracked block. Gain the narrow ledge above direct or by moving first left them traversing right. Climb the wall above into large V-recess. Exit the recess through the roof on the right to a ledge.
21a. The Bitch
Direct (E1 5c)
Martin Hurton (Not Led) 25/Oct/2012
22. The Wolf E1 5b
Start 2m left of the first aręte on the right below a recessed groove whose walls diverge. Climb the groove to a small ledge and continue up the recessed groove using the right-hand of the parallel cracks to some overhanging blocks. Climb the blocks to a ledge on the right.
23. Hardpad HVS 5a
Start in the corner to the right of the first aręte. Climb the corner for 11m until it is possible to move left onto a small ledge on the aręte.
24. Vixen E2 5c **
Start 2m right of Hardpad and just left of the second aręte at a vertical crack. Climb the crack and where it ends continue direct to another short, vertical crack which in turn leads to a bulging wall. Move up and rightwards.
On the Leash 73m E2 5c
The high level girdle was originally climbed in four pitches and the first ascent finished at 10pm... in October!
Dachshund 35m 5c
A low level girdle from Snarl to Vixen, many variations are possible.
Karin Magog exploring the low level traverse.
Sandwich Corner Section
Four routes were recorded here. Sandwich Cake Wall E2 5c, Teacake Corner HS 4b, Teabreak Wall HS 4b, High Tea HVS 5b and Cake Walk VD. They have never been popular.
Undercoat 17m HS 4b
Start on the right hand side of the fourth cave entrance to the right of the Sandwich Corner Section. Climb up the recessed, left edge of the wall moving right past a small roof and up onto a ledge. Traverse right along the ledge and gain and climb a large corner.
Topcoat 17m MVS 4c
Start 2m right of Undercoat below an aręte to a sloping ledge and from here gain the large ledge and finish up the corner on the right as for Undercoat.
To the right is the multicoloured Graffiti Wall itself...
25. Watercolour Corner HS 4b
Start 2m right of the aręte in a recessed corner. Climb the corner to the top.
26. Daubers’ Delight VS 4c
Start on the right side of the knife-edged aręte, 2m right of the recessed Watercolour Corner. Climb up the wall to the right of the large nose on the aręte at 6m and pull onto the top of it. Continue up the aręte until a traverse can be made onto the large ledge of Watercolour Corner.
27. Nom De Plume VS 4c *
Start 1m right of the knife-edged aręte by an Oak tree. Climb up the cracks passing a recess to reach a roof at 11m. Step right and pull onto the ledge above.
28. Initial Wall HVS 5a
Start 4m right of Nom De Plume below a thin, vertical crack in the centre of the buttress. Climb up the crack to a ledge at 4m. Continue to a smaller ledge and on up past a small recess to a long ledge at the start of the shale bands.
29. Doodler HVS 5a
Start below an overlap at head height. Climb the thin cracks above the overlap to the right end of a ledge at 4m. Climb the wall above up a staircase of small ledges to a small roof. Move up right into a V groove, which leads to the ledge below the shale bands.
30. Heavy Make-up E2 5c *
Start 3m right of Doodler below a vertical crack line that ends at 6m. Climb the vertical crack line through the bulging wall. Pull up on a good jug to reach holds on the wall above and climb the shallow corner up to the shale bands.
31. Brushline E1 5b **
Start as for Heavy Make-up below the vertical crack. Climb the crack until a hand traverse can be made rightwards to its edge below a bulge with a slim, shot-mark. Climb the bulge and crack above to a ledge at 12m.
32. Heavy Breathing E3 6a
Start at the foot of a rib 2m right of Brushline. Climb up to the inside edge of the first cave entrance right of Graffiti Buttress and move left on to the outer edge of the roof. Move back right to beneath the corner in the roof and pull into it with difficulty continuing straight up to the shale bands.
Alternative Start: Climb the outer edge of the cave entrance to the roof (5c).
The First Pillar
The next two climbs are on the first pillar to the right of the cave.
33. Obscene Phone Call E3 6a
Climb the left, inside face of the First Pillar to the roof (Bolt Runner). Pull round right onto the face and climb straight up to the shale bands.
34. Corinthian E1 5b **
Climb the crack on the front of the First Pillar to the recess at the top. Climb up and left out of the recess to a small, narrow ledge below another shallow recess. Move up right via a break in the overhanging wall and reach a ledge.
Karin Magog climbing Corinthian
The Second Pillar
The next route is located on the Second Pillar, which is right of the second cave entrance.
Hercules 18m VS 5a
Climb the left hand face of the second pillar pulling on to the ledge at the top. Climb the overhanging wall above to reach a large ledge where the shale bands start. Lower off or continue with great care into the groove which leads to the top.
35. Lipstick Traces E2 5c *
Climb the front face of the Second Pillar moving to the left edge to pull onto a ledge at 7m. Move up left to traverse above the second cave to reach holds on the wall right of Corinthian.
Samson VS 4c
Start at a vertical crack on the right outside edge of the pillar. Climb the crack to a ledge at 3m Continue straight up to a recess and then trend left to a large ledge below the shale bands. Lower off or continue with great care into the groove which leads to the top.
Delilah VS 5a
Start 1m right of Samson, below a vertical split in the pillar. Climb the split to a crack which leads to a roofed V groove. Exit right onto a ledge in a corner. Climb the corner through the shale bands to the top.
The Third Pillar
A clutch of steep and powerful routes all lead up to the in situ chain lower off.
36. Rising Dawn E4 6b
Start at the aręte to the left of the niche on the left wall of the pillar Climb the aręte on its right-hand side and move up diagonally right to gain a pit-prop. Move out left to cracks in the bulge and by means of a vertical shot-mark to the left of the cracks, gain a good hold. Move back right and up to lowering chains. Sustained.
37. Edge of Darkness E4 6b
Start at the aręte as for Rising Dawn. Climb rightwards into the niche and up onto a sloping ledge. Climb the overhanging wall past a slot and move right onto the right-hand wall to the pillar above the rough cave entrance making some strenuous moves on poor holds to react easier ledges.
38. Rib & Roof E3 6a *
Start on the right-hand face of the Third Pillar. Climb up and left to the roof then using a horizontal finger crack, swing out right to reach good jugs below the hanging corner. Climb the corner with difficulty to reach good ledges.
Alternative Start: Climb the outer edge of the pillar direct to the roof.
Karin Magog climbing Rib and Roof
Cave Campers 12m E3 6a
39. Wildman E1 5b **
Start as for Rib & Roof. Climb up for 3m and traverse to the let outside the edge of the pillar below the hanging corner. Follow a series of handholds up to the left on the overhanging wall to a small inset block, above and right of bolt runner. Pull up past the block and move up right to a ledge.
The Fourth Pillar
The fourth and last pillar is less popular.
Still Life 12m HVS 5b
Start at the bottom left edge of the wall. Climb the left edge of the wall moving into the centre below the overhang. Make a long reach for holds above and pull onto a large ledge. Move left and climb the broken buttress above to finish.
Fresco 12m VS 5a
Start as for Still Life. Make
an ascending traverse up to the right to a small ledge on the right-hand edge of
the wall. Climb the edge below the overhang, then swing round onto the right
wall (without putting a foot on the ground). Reach for a small crackline and
Neo-Classic 7m S 4a
Start 2m right of Fresco on the front face. Climb onto the large ledge then climb the right-hand side of the aręte to the top.
Rainbows End 48m E2 5c
A left to right girdle of Graffiti Buttress starting as for Initial Wall below the thin vertical crack in the centre of the buttress.
1. 18m 5c.
Beyond here Quarry Basin, Pond Wall and Rake Wall have all enjoyed recorded climbs.