Sport Climbing on the Limestone cliffs of Yorkshire

Unless you haven’t been paying attention…we love climbing! But here in the uk climbing is mostly either traditional (Trad) or bouldering. Now don’t get us wrong, we love those two having experienced our first outdoor climbing trips on the local gritstone boulders or quarried grit crags. But what is less abundant in the UK is sport climbing, we searched some out over on the limestone crags of Yorkshire and instantly loved it. The way it gave is the ability to push ourselves like we do bouldering, but get that sense of fear climbing at height gives us…only with added security.


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We had never really given much thought to sport climbing outdoors (indoors roped climbing is always sport when leading) as climbing is so dominated by Trad and Bouldering in the UK. We always wanted to give it a go on the continent and further afield in places such as Spain and Thailand where sport is the preferred climbing style of choice, but in the UK it was something of a fable!


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Of course, any climber in Britain has heard of the legendary sport climbing venue of Malham Cove, but that also comes with the hardest grades in the country, way out of our league. We had always been lead to believe that sport climbing in the UK was reserved for the hardest of climbs where there was no possible way to protect the climb using trad gear. Maybe it was to put us off and keep up on the more favoured traditional routes…but we set off searching non the less!

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So, what the hell is the difference?

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Trad:

Traditional climbing involves climbing with a rope and as you climb placing your own protection in the cracks and holes in the wall. This protection is usually in the form of “Nuts” which act like a chock stone, or “Cam” which are closed up to place and open us like an umbrella within a crack. This protection is not always as solid or as available as you might want, placements can be marginal or spread far enough apart that at certain times a fall might result in you hitting the floor!

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Trad is usually more of a “head game” than anything, for most climbers you would climb within your technical ability and not expect to fall, falling on trad gear is avoided!! For this reason trad has a grading system which takes into account technical difficulty and level of protection. Trad is also quite closely linked to the ethics of leaving behind no trace, you climb, place gear, take it out and go, leaving the crag exactly how you found it. It can be quite scary though!!

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Bouldering:

Bouldering consists of climbing low level boulders above a bouldering mat or pad. Usually these are around 6-7 ft high but can be as low as a couple of feet or in the highball range towards the 15ft end! Bouldering is where you really push yourself, trying hard “problems” and falling off several times before eventually “sending” it.

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Bouldering is also a much more social type of climbing with less time needed sorting gear out, harnesses etc. Many people can try the same problem together and share techniques and beta, where as trad can be a lonely place standing on a wall high above your gear!
Bouldering however can be dangerous in other ways, landings can be less than ideal and top outs high and intimidating above a small mat!

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Sport:

Sport climbing on the other hand is kind of the best of both worlds! Not everyone agrees but for me it’s now become my favourite type of climbing. In Sport climbing you once again climb with a rope in high routes, but this time instead of placing your own gear you use bolts that are drilled into the wall as protection.

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These are spread out usually at regular intervals and super safe to fall on. Like bouldering with sport you push yourself to climb harder things and falling off is all part of the progression. Of course, no one likes falling off above their last clip and so you still get that buzz of fear, but this time at least you know if/ when you fall the bolt will catch you!

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Settle

We came across a couple of crags in the Yorkshire village of Settle that ended up perfect for our fledging sport climbing careers! The first, Castleberg, is a 10m high limestone cliff overlooking the town. The second, we came across later on, Giggleswick, just outside of the main village and offering many more routes at different grades and heights!

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What makes these crags great is that they offer a variety of grades to work up but the bulk of the routes sit in the middle giving us plenty to go at. They are also quite close to Malham too, meaning they are usually quite quiet too. Perfect!

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We took a total of 3 trips over to Castleberg and then finally bought a guidebook for the limestone crags in the North and made it over to Giggleswick on our last climbing day before my knee op.

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In that time we took it steady and learnt the ropes of outdoor sport climbing, in the end we managed to climb up to 6a, doing 3 routes at that grade which we were quite pleased with. Indoors, where the grades are usually a little softer, we have climbed up to 6c, so this is in line with our expectations.
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We feel pretty confident that after getting back to full strength again and starting to really push ourselves more we can get up to 6b and maybe even try a few 6c’s outdoors. Giggleswick has so many routes to try, we really can’t wait to get back once we get the chance!

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Each of these crags has it’s own atmosphere that adds to the adventure of climbing there. At Castleberg the crag can been seen from all over the village and as you ascend the rock you feel so much higher than the 10-12m you have climbed. The panoramic view over the town and surrounding countryside is quite lovely.

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Giggleswick on the other hand is in the middle of nowhere in the rolling Yorkshire dales, sitting on top of a hill, just like Castleberg, the climb feel much higher but this time the views below include lush green meadows full of cows and sheep! There is a real wilderness feel to climbing here, the walk in requires you to scramble past caves and though fields of sheep and rams!

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Climbing on limestone was also a learning curve for us being used to the grippy texture of gritstone. The shapes of the holds and the slippiness of the rock gave us a new challenge that initially made the climbing feel much harder than the grade suggested! Once getting the hang of the style of climbing we realised that we actually really enjoyed it!

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Sport climbing has fast become our favourite type of climbing, the thrill of climbing high cliffs and crags on a rope, climbing into the bolts as we climb and the intensity of taking a big falls.

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But yet being able to push ourselves, go for those tricky on the edge moves and risk that fall knowing that the gear will catch us. That combination is something that I really can’t wait to get more of…Once my knee heals up!

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What an adventure! Have you ever tried any climbing outdoors? If you enjoyed it maybe it’s time to take it to the next level and try leading some routes!!

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.