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Climbing in Northumberland by Steve Crowe

"There is no nobler country than that of Northumberland, as it rolls processionally northward to the Border in great waves of coloured and historic moorland, cresting upon the skyline into sudden and surprising crags, which crown for us the magnificent walking and admirable rock climbs. May the growing tide of northern climbers flow on as great-heartedly." Geoffrey Winthrop Young 1950


Andrew Earl leading Endless Flight Direct (E8 7a) at Great Wanney © Steve Crowe www.climbonline.co.uk

Andrew Earl leading Endless Flight Direct (E8 7a) at Great Wanney © Steve Crowe


Geology and Archaeology  

Lordenshaw Hill has the largest concentration of rock carvings in Northumberland, these date back more than 5,000 years. If you keep your eyes open there are examples on crags across the county. To discover more visit the Northumberland National Park website. Derek Cutts wrote an interesting and entertaining article for the Northumberland Bouldering Guide in which he explores the archaeology of many of our local crags. "The crags before the climbers" has been reproduced on northumberlandclimbing.co.uk with intriguing information about the activities of the Ancient Britons at Bowden Doors, Kyloe Crag, Goat's Crag, Corby's Crag and Jack Rock. 

Cup and Ring marks at Lordenshaw Hill. Photo Steve Crowe

Cup and Ring marks at Lordenshaw Hill.





Alan Hinks climbing Bizzle Burn in the Cheviot Hills during the winter of 2002

The rocks of The Bizzle and Henhole are created by the eroded Andesite lava remains of ancient Cheviot volcanoes that erupted across the area about 380 million years ago.


Karin Magog climbing Canon Hole Direct at Henhole


Around 340 milion years ago a vast river deposited sand in a wide delta eventually creating the magnificent Fell Sandstone that can be see is superb escarpments sweeping from Bowden Doors and the Kyloe Crags in the north to the  Simonside Hills further south.


Andy Earl on the Underdog Traverse 8A+ at Bowden Doors 2003


Jack Rock and The Wanneys along with Rothley and Shaftoe are from a coarser sedimentary sandstone.


Prehistoric spirals can be found at Jack Rock. There are some near Jack of All Trades & Ancient Briton. Photo Steve Crowe

Prehistoric spirals can be found at Jack Rock. There are some near Jack of All Trades & Ancient Briton


The Great Whin Sill resulted from the intrusion of magma squeezed between the layers of sedimentary rocks. The major outcrop is composed of quartz dolerite which sweeps in an arc from the Farne Islands in the north to Crag Lough and Peel Crag in the south west where it's defensive capabilities were utilized by Hadrian when he built his wall.


Crag Lough from Hadrian’s Wall by Steve Crowe www.climbonline.co.uk

Crag Lough from Hadrian’s Wall © Steve Crowe climbonline.co.uk



The earliest references to rock climbing in Northumberland can be found in the Climbers Club journal over 100 years ago when G. W. Young discusses Simonside and Wanney in 1902. The Scottish Mountaineering Club journal for 1907 records an ascent of Bizzle Chimney. A lot of early development focused on the Simonside Hills, The Wanney Group, Crag Lough and Peel Crag but all record of those earliest development have been lost. The Northumberland Mountaineering Club was formed in 1945 and by the end of 1950 they produced the first climbing guide to Northumberland, with three sections; Crag Lough, Simonside and the Wanney Group.

Northbumberland Climbing Guidebooks  by Steve Crowe www.climbonline.co.uk



Working Class by Pete Kirton
Pete Kirton was only really interested in ‘the move’ although he did manage to link enough hard moves to produce some of the counties classic problems. He wrote his intriguing tale of “a blonde moustachioed guru versus unsightly stooge” waging battle over what was to become Working Class for the Northumberland Mountaineering Club newsletter during the mid 1980s. The full article is reproduced here http://theshortspan.com/features/petekirton.htm.

Malcolm Smith added his sit start to Working Class in 2003 © Steve Crowe www.climbonline.co.uk

Malcolm Smith added his sit start to Working Class in 2003 © Steve Crowe


Steve Crowe on Off the Rocks E7 6c  Back Bowden Doors © Steve Crowe Collection 2003

Steve Crowe on Off the Rocks E7 6c Back Bowden Doors © Steve Crowe Collection 2003



Andy Earl on the second ascent of County Ethics E7 7a Back Bowden Doors © Steve Crowe 2003

Andy Earl on County Ethics E7 7a Back Bowden Doors © Steve Crowe 2003


Climbing Centres and Bouldering Walls
Active Northumberland, Alnwick - Local indoor bouldering within the Alnwick Leisure Centre
Edinburgh International Climbing Arena. Europe’s largest indoor climbing arena is in Ratho, just minutes from Edinburgh.
Alien Rock, Edinburgh - Alien Rock was Scotland's first dedicated indoor climbing centre.

Alien Bloc opened 24th June 2017 and is a modern indoor bouldering centre with lower walls where ropes are not used.
Eden Rock Eden Rock is a dedicated bouldering centre located near Carlisle city centre.
Climb Newcastle & The Valley, Newcastle - Dedicated indoor bouldering.
Newcastle Climbing Centre – An indoor climbing venue for roped climbing (up to 15m) and bouldering. It is situated in the former church of St Marks.

Climbing Guidebooks

Climbing in Northumberland is covered by the Northumbrian Mountaineering Club. They have produced two definitive climbing guides to the county. More information on the Northumberland crags can be found in the online guide on the Northumbrian Mountaineering Club website



Northumberland Climbing Guide

The definitive guide to climbing routes in Northumberland.

Updates available from the NMC here.


Buy now from Needlesports.


The Northumberland Bouldering Guide  

The Second Edition of the guide was written and produced by the people who developed the area.

Updates available from the NMC here.


Buy now from Needlesports


THE COUNTY CODE (Extract from the NMC guide books)


Up to the time of the last guide both first ascents and repeat ascents were in the main done in what would be described as very good style, virtually no new routes having been top roped or extensively practiced prior to leading, with abseiling, cleaning and minimal inspecting the norm.
However in the period since the publication of the last guide, along with trends in other outcrop areas 'headpointing' (the practice of extensively top roping prior to leading or soloing) has been deployed on most of the hard new routes. Unfortunately this style has also been adopted by some on many of the 'old' routes which had originally been climbed in better style. Pegs must not be placed for either protection or aid, as the sandstone is particularly fragile and easily damaged. No bolts have been placed in modern times and it is essential to preserve the nature of Northumberland climbing that this situation continues. Prior to the last guide a number of routes had been produced as a result of extensive wire brushing and/or chipping, these were not included in that guide and have not been included in this guide. Perhaps that stance has been effective because we do not appear to have had any further problems with chipping. However excessive top roping and careless abseiling is continuing to cause damage to our fragile crags. Indeed some areas particularly at Bowden Doors are just wearing away due to their popularity. We really all must start using this finite facility in a more considerate way.

Routes and Bouldering
Some might say (John Gill for instance) that much of the sandstone climbing in Northumberland is bouldering, albeit of the high ball variety. However in this guide we have tried to include only routes, the bouldering being comprehensively covered in the Northumberland Bouldering Guide also published by the NMC. I accept this is a fine line and almost certainly everyone will not agree with where we have drawn the line. The simple criterion is bouldering should be fairly safe, when protected by a mat, should you fall off. If this is not so, or a rope and runners are necessary then it should be considered as a route.

Sandstone can be very soft and even those crags that appear to be iron hard may only have a thin outer layer of hard rock retaining a sea of sand. Once this skin is damaged the rock is ruined for all time. If a route has lichen on it, brushing with a soft bristle brush should be sufficient. If it is sandy even this minimal brushing can cause damage and it should only be ragged. 'Tooth brushing' pockets to death is liable to eventually destroy the outer surface, and always remember the back of a toothbrush is hard plastic.