Climbing Guide to Houghton Graveyard

(From Climbing in North East England by Steve Crowe Bob Bennett and Mark Turner)

Houghton Graveyard © Steve Crowe 2002
Main Wall at Houghton Graveyard © Steve Crowe

Access maps ©

OS sheet 88 NZ345505
Aspect South East 
Altitude 110m
Approach time 2 minutes

Situation and Character
The crags are found between Sunderland and Durham in a former graveyard on the north east side of Houghton le Spring adjacent to the A690 Dual Carriageway at Houghton Cut. The faces of Magnesium limestone form part of the ancient reef deposit that also surfaces at Cleadon. The climbing is situated on the best and most impressive faces, which are also the first encountered as one enters the graveyard. The rock quality on these two faces is variable, better than it looks, but it is friable and does suffer from a powdery deposit. The walls are very compact and do not run to strong features or cracks. The steep bulging nature and small fragile holds provide pumpy climbing. Most of the climbs are bolted and other lines have a lower off to enable those eliminates to be top roped. This can only be considered a local venue.

The Graveyard was originally developed as a top-roping venue. Gavin Ellis and John Boyle recorded ascents of Abiotrophy and Revenge of the Body Snatchers. Michael Gardiner and Dave Stainthorpe added Pegasus and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey. Stephen “Woody” Fleming made the only recorded ascent before the arrival of bolts in the Graveyard, with the very bold solo of Roasting the Ox. Bolts began to appear during the 1990’s. From 1996, Steve Crowe and Karin Magog added Hallowed Ground, Depression and Creative Thinking.

Houghton Graveyard © Steve Crowe 2021
Houghton Graveyard © Steve Crowe 2021

Access and Approaches
From the main roundabout below the A690 Durham to Sunderland road, exit onto the B1404 towards Seaham and take the first left turn almost immediately into Elizabeth Street. Follow this uphill to give way at a crossroads and go straight ahead. (The crag is now visible on the hill behind the allotment gardens.) Take the second street on the left and at the end, turn right into Sunderland Street. Drive up the hill to the end of the street and park at the end adjacent to Hillside farm. A path leads uphill to the old cemetery gate. Turn into this and follow a short path into the graveyard. The first crag on the left is Lower Wall whilst above and behind is the Back Wall. 

Access restrictions

The land owners wish to make it clear that they have not given permission for climbing to take place at this location. At present the land is owned by the Parochial Church Council of St Michael’s Church, with the land to be maintained by Sunderland City Council from December 2004. Groups wanting to climb at Houghton Graveyard should write to The Reverend Dr Ian Wallis at The Rectory, Dairy Lane, Houghton le Spring. 0191 584 2198. 

Climbers are reminded that this is a burial ground and are asked to be keep a low profile as relatives do still visit the cemetery to look for graves. 

Climbers are reminded that they use the crag and the in situ protection at their own risk and may be asked to leave.

Climbers at Houghton Graveyard © Steve Crowe 2021
Houghton Graveyard © Steve Crowe 2021

The Climbs
The climbs are described from left to right.

The Lower Wall
Two walls divided by a deep chimney. The left flank is a steep slab with a prominent overlap at half height whilst the main wall is a steep wall offering technical climbing up to 10 metres in height.

Houghton Graveyard Topo ©

The Left Flank

1. Hallowed Ground F6a+
The central line of this buttress. Delicate climbing leads to powerful moves across the prominent overlap and up to a lower off at half height. 3 bolts to LO.

2. Alternative F6b Top Roped
It is possible to top rope an independent line about 2m R of the bolts of Hallowed Ground from the same lower off.

About 3m to the R is the prominent chimney/gully, which separates the Left Flank from The Main Wall.

3. Bushwhacking Blues F5 **
The right edge of the Left Flank, taking care to avoid the loose rock on the arête. 3 bolts to LO.

Main Wall
Just right of the prominent chimney/gully.

4. CreativeThinking F7b+
The steep wall following a line of resin bolts immediately right of the chimney. Strictly no bridging. 5 bolts to LO.

5. Revenge of the Body Snatchers F7b+
Start 2 metres right of the chimney. Fingery climbing eventually leads to a good hold 3m below the top, hard moves lead to the top. 4 bolts to LO.

6. Abiotrophy F7c Top Rope
Climb direct until a desperate move on a small under-cling leads over the small roof. Another hard move leads to the large finishing pocket. 

7. Depression F7a+ * 
Start just right of the bush. A hard start leads to hollow jugs and bolt. Delicate moves, keeping right of the next three bolts, lead to the
lower off. 4 bolts to LO.

8. The Petzl Hangers F7b+
The line of 4 Petzl hangers just L of the curving groove lead over a bulge to a chain. 4 bolts to LO.

9. Seven Sisters F7b * 
Follow the curving groove until a long reach up and left from a small pocket leads to a good small crimp. Very thin moves may lead direct to the lower off. 3 bolts to LO.

10. Evensong F7a+
About 1m R of the curving groove is a vague R facing “corner”. Four Petzl bolts lead to a single resin bolt. It is better to LO as for Seven Sisters. 4 bolts to LO.

11. Immortalised in Stone F7a
The short well-bolted line at the right edge of the wall, just left of (or under) the Ivy. Four bolts lead up first L then back R until a very thin move gains the twin bolt lower off. (Stud and three bolts) . 4 bolts to LO.

The Back Wall ©

Back Wall
This is an impressive face up to 20 metres high. The striking crack up the left end of the face consists of soft, loose rock and is not recommended. The Back Wall is split by a vegetated corner, which is towards the right side. The shorter right-hand wall has a fine arête overlooking the prominent corner.

12. Pinning The Tail On The Donkey 6a 
The poorest recorded route. It has only been top roped and is not recommended. Start at a lower level than the other routes to the left of a small memorial plaque. Climb the wall to the left of centre to a ledge. Continue up the wall above at its steepest part trending slightly left near the top. No bolts or LO.

The following routes all start from the ledge above the crypt. Pegasus and Myrrh both start at the left end of the ledge up a shallow groove behind the tree.

13. Pegasus F6c 
A top rope problem. Start as for Myrrh below the obvious scoop. Climb up the scoop. Pass to the left of the second bolt to gain a very blunt rib. Finish straight up the wall above. Sustained. No bolts to LO.

14. Myrrh F7a+ ** 
A bold start behind the tree leads to a technical finish on small holds. Climb the shallow groove for 3m step left then follow the obvious curving scoop sweeping back right to finish direct. 5 bolts to LO.

15. Good Friday F7a+ * 
A direct start to Myrrh. Start to the left of a black bulge at the base of the crag about 5m left of the corner. Climb up the wall to the left of the bulge via a prominent pocket then join Myrrh to finish direct. Originally finished further right closer to My Little Pony. No bolts in start.

16. My Little Pony F7a+ *** 
Start just left of the foot of the vegetated gully. Climb the wall to mid-height and move left through a weakness in the wall. Move back right where thin moves lead past the penultimate bolt. 6 bolts to LO.

The next route follows the prominent arête right of the corner.

17. Roasting The Ox F6b+ ** 
Start below the corner left of the narrow wall and the prominent arête. Go up the corner until moves on the right wall can be made towards the arête. Follow the arête mainly on its left to top out (or lower off the top bolt). 6 bolts to tree.

18. The Cat Crept into the Crypt F6b+
Left of The Sepulchre on the steep slab is a prominent crack. Climb the slab just right of this. Top Rope only.

19. The Sepulchre F6b+
Start below the right hand side of the steep slab up the slope at the extreme right-hand end of Main Wall. Climb the slab left of the Ivy mass. Top rope only.

The Back Wall © Steve Crowe
The impressive Back Wall is rather hidden © Steve Crowe.