St Bees Bouldering
As usual the weather forecast for the autumn half term was typically mixed. A fair amount of wet weather was to be mixed with some occasional dry spells. One plus was to be warm temperatures for the time of year with some suggestions Halloween was set to be one of the warmest on record.
The Peak Mountaineering team kept active through the early week wet weather with some mountain biking and visits to a couple of indoor walls but we also had in mind a plan to visit somewhere new and so, after some full on guidebook and weather forecast perusal, we hatched a plan to try the bouldering at St Bee’s Head in the western Lake District.
It’s a bit of a haul up to that part of the Lakes but we were tempted by the lure of quality sandstone and some time by the coast. After booking a few nights in a cheap hotel to give us a warm and dry refuge, we loaded up a Peak Mountaineering van, stocked up on travel sweets and hit the road.
St Bee’s Head has become a popular bouldering destination in the last few years (as well as being famous as the starting point for Wainwright’s Coast to Coast long distance walk) and to get there we took the lovely coastal road that skirts the western edge of the Lakes. It’s a good journey and it didn't seem long before we were at the parking place by Tarn Flat Hall farm near the village of Sandwith (parking fee of £2 per car payable).
One of the big attractions of bouldering is its simplicity. It’s climbing in its most basic form and perfect for days when cooler temps give good friction while also allowing an activity that doesn’t require climbing’s usual stop and go cycle of climb then belay. We also only needed to carry bouldering mats, rock shoes, chalk and a bit of food and drink - so it makes getting out and busy very easy.
The bouldering at St Bee’s is right next to the sea and getting down to the boulders from the cliff top is an adventure in itself. There are several descent routes which all require good footwork and a steady approach, although locals have added some lengths of climbing rope on some of the trickier parts. The prize, once down at sea level, is a host of stunning sandstone boulders with good landings and in the most stunning of settings.
There are grades for everyone from beginner to pro, most of the boulders aren’t affected by the tides and on shore winds dry the rock fairly quickly after rain. Once dry, the rock is fantastic to climb on with great friction, brilliant lines and interesting weathered features.
Over the days we explored a selection of areas and tried a great range of problems. We failed on some (but that just gives us a good reason for a return visit), succeeded on some that were so good they will be hot favourites to come back to as well, enjoyed the solitude of the coast (we hardly saw any other climbers) and sat eating lunch on boulders surrounded by crashing waves. We’ve also had plenty of time where it was warm enough to climb in t-shirts or a light insulating layer and even when the winds chilled us a little it still felt as warm as most coastal visits we’ve had at warmer times of year.
St Bees has most of what you need and for food there are good supermarkets a couple of miles away in Whitehaven. There is also enough information online to give you all the details to get you started (a downloadable free guide is produced by LakesBloc) and we also had great support from the locals we talked too. It has been a great trip and so, if bouldering is your thing, please make sure you schedule a St Bee’s visit in for the future. You really won’t be disappointed.
Posted by Paul
Lets keep the conversation going.......
We are always keen to receive comments about our blog posts. Please send us your thoughts via our Contact Form and we'll add them to the page.