The StellA Bouldering Guide
A series of downloadable PDF guides to new bouldering venues , problems, highballs and routes in Northumberland, including:
The Stell Whiteheugh Ravens Crag
Caller Crag , Corbys and Edlingham Greensheen Hill Parkside Wood
The Maiden Chambers Area St Cuthberts Cave The Bowden Area
The Wanneys Group Beanly Moor and Hunterheugh Blakeys Bloc
Cockenheugh Kyloe Out Rothley
The Ravensheugh Area Banno Crags Titlington and the Turban
South Yardhope Bradys Crag Coquet View
Shitlington Lostworld Lookwide
Howlerhirst High Crag
On The Figurehead
Introduction... ...Northumberland Bouldering
The location of each crag is indicated by its Grid Reference.
The County is covered by seven Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25,000) maps. Sheets 339 (Kelso), 340 (Holy Island), OL16 (The Cheviot Hills), 332 (Alnwick and Amble), OL42 (Kielder Water), 325 (Morpeth) and OL43 (Hadrians Wall). The majority of the crags lie on sheets 340 and 332.
On occasions the problems are referenced to routes that are not described in the climbing guide, or in the second edition bouldering guide. You may need these guides or to ask a local climber help you locate the problems.
Most problems are written up as standing starts off one mat only! Generally sit starts are added at the end of a description where they add either to the difficulty, or quality. Only rarely will a sit start be separately named.
It has long been understood in Northumberland that if a twig is found on a good foothold, then the foothold is out of bounds. The same applies to bedding planes , ledges and footholds in contact with the ground. Usually these are out of bounds. The previous guide wisely suggested that if you are wondering if the foothold is in, then it probably is not!
The NMC website has a variety of resources relating to climbing in the County. If you have this PDF youve probably found it already. Otherwise go to: www.thenmc.org.uk
Descriptions of new problems and routes should be sent to newroutes @thenmc.org.uk. A descrip-tion, grade, date and name of first ascentionist should be included. A photo with a line marking the route would also help.
Greensheen Slopers Traverse
Photo: Steve Blake
It is true to say that there are only two grades, the problems and routes you can do, and those you cant. To the keen boulderer however it soon becomes apparent that this can be sub divided into the problems you can do and your mates cant, and vice versa! Grading boulder problems (and some routes) is an almost impossible task. The table below is a rough comparison of the common systems in use. Visitors to the County will probably find that, until they get used to the style of the problems and the intricacies of climbing on the Countys various Sandstones, the accuracy of the table will be questionable. Grades are an art rather than a science, and while difficulty is central to bouldering , it is easily confused with quality. The pursuit of which is an equally rewarding endeavour.
The various grading systems are well understood, and like grades are an ongoing source of debate regarding their respective merits.
In these PDF guides we have retained the Font grades introduced in the last guidebook and their use is now established and under-stood.
The height of many crags in the County demands a highball ap-proach. Mats can reduce the consequences when highballing goes wrong, but there comes a point when they look very small. Many of these problems would have been considered small routes not long back, (though some in this new series are not so small) and occa-sionally are compounded with bad landings. Falling off them should not be treated casually. While Highballs are self-evident, shorter problems can require careful padding and spotting all have risks. Be careful!
3 4c VB
6a+ 6a V3
7a+ 6c V7
8a 7a V11
8b 7b V13
Photo: Alec Burns
Introduction... ...Northumberland Bouldering
The quality and durability of Sandstone in North-umberland varies significantly both on and be-tween crags. Iron hard rock with a case hard-ened patina can coexist with a super soft cheesy substance soft enough to be shaped by hand. Sadly there is much evidence that the tough pati-na when worn away reveals a soft inner that rap-idly erodes. There are many examples, but Vien-na at Bowden Doors is probably the most famous example, which in its current deplorable state is a much easier and sad shadow of the original .
Over the last thirty years the popularity of Rock Climbing and Bouldering has accelerated and there is much similar evidence of our impact on the crags. Routes and problems on Sandstone, especially on fragile and well-used Sandstone, are a finite resource and need careful and sensi-tive protection if they are to survive.
It is worth repeating that you should not climb on sandstone when there is any evidence of damp-ness. The rock becomes significantly weaker los-ing its bonding when damp, and is susceptible to accelerated erosion and breakage. Once a break occurs, or the outer patina is penetrated, then the effects of erosion are exponential.
Many magnificent routes in Northumberland have es-caped significant damage, principally because the habit of top roping hard routes has not been adopted as readily as elsewhere. Bouldering however, is a particu-larly intensive game which can see a team cycling through repeated attempts on a problem, brushing and ragging between each effort. The impact of this can be seen on relatively recent problems on which holds are already bleaching out., and this is on rock thought of as hard.
We are the stewards of these places. There are many things we can do to minimise our direct impact on them:
1. Everyone should acknowledge and understand the fragility of the medium and learn to walk away if there is any suggestion of dampness and the rock is not in condition.
2. Set yourself a realistic number of attempts at a problem, if you cant do it, leave it until you can do it
On Barnaby Rudge
The Good Book Section, The Stell.
Alec Burns collection
without beating it into submission. We need to have enough humility to understand that the rocks needs are more important than our egos. Learn to walk away and come back when youre capable.
3. Be gentle with brushwork, and minimal with your chalk. Climbing indoors, we can brush the holds to our hearts content; outdoors, the effect can be catastrophic.
4. Poor footwork also impacts, so clean your shoes before you begin an attempt. Modern shoes allow a huge amount of force to be exerted through the feet, eg twisting on smears has a grinding effect that speeds up erosion. Be aware, use good footwork and tread lightly.
5. Dont use the problems for training. Running laps may look cool, but do it indoors on plastic, not on the rock.
6. Take your junk home, dont light fires, dont leave gates open. If you must, learn how to shit in the woods. Do not be generally antisocial.
LOCATION AND CHARACTER
The crag is located on Debdon Moor, approximately 1.5 miles north of Rothbury, a market town
north west of Morpeth, and south west of Alnwick. Rothbury and its environs are shown on OS
1:50,000 map sheet 81 and the 1:25,000 sheet OL332 at GR 064041.
The crag is approximately 120m long and faces north west. It catches the afternoon and evening
sun in the summer. It is exposed and doesnt carry much drainage. As such it dries out quickly. This
also means that if the wind is blowing from the west then you will feel it.
The crag is on Access Land and climbers have a right of access to the crags. However the moor has
signs of being a managed shoot. It is possible that applications for temporary closure could be ap-
plied for. These would have to be agreed by Natural England and posted on the Access Land web
site. This can be found at www.openaccess.naturalengland.org.uk.
The diagrams opposite should be sufficient to get a newcomer to the crag.
The rock is good quality, blocky fell sand-
stone, which has probably been quarried
in antiquity. The problems range in diffi-
culty from 5+ through to 8b. There are
both highballs and problems of a more
modest height, and many will test your
mantling technique to complete them in
good style. Despite having been climbed
on since 2008 some problems are show-
ing signs of wear. The large side hold of
Stuck In The Middle is already taking a
beating. Please tread lightly.
On The Joker
Parking is available in the Debdon Forest pullout on the west side of the Rothbury/Alnwick road
(B6341) Please do not block either the access to the forestry yard, or the main track which provides
access for farms on Debdon Moor.
The crag is a 15 minute walk from the parking area. Follow the track west, and once through the gate
follow another track north. This passes through a small quarry and then a birchwood. Once clear of
the wood, strike north across the moor, passing to the right of the power pole. The crag cant be seen
but will be reached in five minutes, following a variety of quad and sheep tracks cross the moor. Note
that it is prone to being boggy, but a wet hike does not necessarily mean the crag will be damp.
OS Map Sheet OL332 : GR 064041
Aspect: North West Facing
Approach: 15 Minutes
Right of Access Under CROW
The crag was discovered in 2008 by Steve Blake as part of his ongoing forensic exploration of the
Countys undiscovered crags. It was a surprising discovery given the crag is marked on the map and
can be seen from the Carriage Walk (a popular ramble to the West of Debdon Moor). Its discovery is
all the more fortuitous given Steve almost turned back when nothing could be seen on the first ap-
Development by Steve and the Back in the Day team followed pretty promptly . Blake snapped up
the highball lines on the pinnacle and several shorter problems on the rest of the crag. These lines
were either cleaned on the go or with a very long cleaning brush! They are all excellent. Bob Smith,
Alec Burns, Ian and David Murray, and John Earl all got in on the act. Bobs Wandering Minstrel trav-
erse being notable, as is the mantle problem on the Blocky Block. Martin Waugh eventually subdued
the steep Doctors Orders and Chris Sowden, a Yorkshire visitor, nipped in to claim the steep Sowdens
Chris Graham visited and added a characteristically hard and direct start to Stuck in the Middle, while
Dan Varian was made aware of the crag after a Mark Savage photo shoot. After a number of visits,
Dans steely fingers established Great Expectations, (the hardest problem on the crag) . He, or Aido
Holt, climbed the slopers and mantle to the left of Stucks (very) direct start thus adding a very hard
and direct start to the Clown on the pinnacle . There may be others yet to do but they will undoubt-
edly be very hard and eliminate in their nature.
The crag is described from Left to Right. Key features are the Blocky Block, the Matterhorn Block, the
Neb, the Great Expectations Block, Moby Dick and the West Wall.
The Left Hand Section
Making use of his span.
Stuck in the Middle.
The Right Hand Section
Matterhorn Block Blocky Block Last & First
The Neb Great Expectations Wandering Minstrel
Great Expectations Moby Dick
1. First and Last 6a BS
The wall at the far left hand edge of the crag
2. Easy Wall 6b NK
Misnamed, its not easy! A tricky move with poor footholds leads to a large hold and easier climbing
to the top.
3. The Man from the Ministry 6c BS
SS The scooped wall, then up and left, quite awkward. Start with your left hand on crimps and your
right on the arte. Pull on and work your right hand up the arte until the left reaches the quartz
holds up and left
4. The Wee Man 6c BS?
Directly up the centre of the wall.
5. The Little Leaner 6B+ BS
SS Get established on the wall and
drift left to go up the blunt rib.
6. Sowders 6b+ CS
SS Pull up the blunt arte and contin-
ue by an obvious horizontal sloper.
7. Spanman 7a MW
SS Start as for Sowders, but span
right to the obvious slot on the right.
Continue up the right edge (left of the
1 2 6
On The Little Leaner
Bob Smith collection
Last & First Section . ..The Stell The Stell... .Last & First Section
6. Sowders Arete 6b+ CS
Sit Start . The blunt arte which is
climbed on good crimps and reaches
to a rounded finish.
7. Spanman 7a MW
Sit Start. A difficult eliminate. Start
as for Sowders then span, crimp,
udge or squirm up and right to
8. The Flapper 6c CS
Sit Start. From the obvious hold pull
out and left, reach up to the sloping
finger rail up right and then the slop-
9. Bubble Goose 7b+ DV
Sit Start. Climbs the right side of the nose.
The right wall is (obviously) out.
The Tank Block
10. The Tank Arete 6b+ BS
Sit Start . Clamp the blunt arte, pull on and pivot left, palming along the top edge
11. The Tank Groove 6c BS
Sit Start. Layaway up the quartz dyke to a standing positionsimple!
12. Too hard for Blakey 7a? BS
An outrageous mantle up the centre of the bloc should be straightforward, but isnt!
13. Box Arete 6b+ ?
Sit Start. Clamp the box like arte and mantle onto the tank.
10 8 6
The Blocky Bloc ...The Stell The Stell ...Last & First Section
On The Reach
Bob Smith collection
The Matterhorn Pinnacle.
These lines are all quite highball! Thankfully there is a good jug at the top which allows you to compose
yourself for stepping down and across the gap. The variations around Stuck in the Middle are all fun
and some are pretty hard!
14. Crevasse Wall 6b SB
Up the wall of the crevasse using the right arte.
15. Left Edge 6b SB
Up the slab using the left arte.
16a. Eliminate A 6b SB
Up the slab, no left arte and no sneaking
over to the pocket on the right.
16b. The Clown 6a+ (E1 5B) SB
The first route on the pinnacle. Traverse di-
agonally rightwards until a two finger pock-
et for the right hand allows the arte to be
reached. Up this to a jug at the top.
17 18 18a
The Matterhorn Pinnacle.
17. Steelers. 7b/c? AH or DV
Sit Start. Using the prominent low pocket left of Stuck in The Middle, reach over the lip, whistle for
a magic carpet and when it doesnt arrive levitate up on the obvious slopers.
18. Stuck in the Middle Left Direct Start 7b+ CG
Sit Start. Using the layaway edge, muscle up to the bump and layaway over the lip. Using these rock
over onto and into the slab micro groove. Continue.
18a. Stuck in the Middle 7b SB
Sit Start. Using the obvious layaway edge, muscle up to the bump, pop right and right again.
Compress and hook leftward into the micro groove. Continue. (7a from the original stand start.)
19. The Joker to the Right. 6c SB
Up the centre of the wall until the upper arte is reached, Monkey up this to the top.
20. Chessica Rabbit. 7c DV
Sit start as for 18, but use small crimps to drift up and right to the upper right hand arte.
21. The Gully Wall. 6b+ SB
Sit Start. Clamp the back facet until a pull around to the right can be made, which leads to the arte
The Matterhorn . ..The Stell The Stell ...The Matterhorn
On Stuck in the Middle
Mark Savage collection