Britain's Six Best Outdoor Climbs

Pro climber James McHaffie's six top outdoor British climbs  

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If you’re into indoor rock climbing, you should get out more. You happen to have some of the planet’s best outdoor climbs on your doorstep. But don’t just take our word for it, ask British pro climber James McHaffie. Last year, he became the first person to scale The Meltdown, a slab face in a slate quarry in North Wales that is thought to be the UK’s toughest climb.  

“Most of our climbing is traditional climbing [where the climber takes all their own gear and protection with them as they climb],” McHaffie says. “We’ve got more really high-quality trad climbs than anywhere else in the world. It’s of a smaller scale, but I’ve done some of the best routes in Yosemite, California, and across Europe and the UK is as good as anywhere for the scale you get.

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“It's a very quick transfer from that into trad climbing outdoors. If you can do lead climbing indoors all you need to do is chuck in a few runners along the way and build belays.

“Trad climbing is less physical than indoor climbing — it’s more about endurance and confidence than it is about power. It's a head game, so you have to be relaxed.”

And the most important thing to consider? The nearest café. “You’ve got to sample the local fares,” McHaffie says. “If the weather turns you’ve got to think about where you’ve got to bail back to read guide books.”

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McHaffie says that an outdoor climbing course will open up rock faces in beautiful locations across the globe, but you don’t have to go that far for some of the best. Here’s his pick of the six mightiest climbing spots in Britain.

1 | Stanage Edge, Derbyshire
A gritstone escarpment in the Peak District that borders South Yorkshire. At it’s highest point, High Ned, it stands at 458m.
McHaffie says: “It’s a must. It’s nearly two miles long, and it has everything from quite easy to very tricky climbs on it. It’s also a fantastic venue with really nice views.”

2 | Dinas Cromlech, Gwnedd
A striking open-book shaped outcrop in the Llanberis Pass, Snowdonia, North Wales. Said to be the best crag in the world.
McHaffie says: “The Flying Butress and the Spiral Stairs are great for beginners. Then there’s trickier climbs that people can aspire towards. That’s my local one — I’m down there quite often.”

3 | Scarfell, Cumbria
The cliff facing the adjacent Scarfell Pike, the highest point in England. A mountain crag route boasting spectacular views over the Lake District.
McHaffie says: “It’s got a good breadth of easy and hard climbs on very good rocks.”

4 | Pembroke, Pembrokeshire
A sea cliff known for its hard classic climbs, but with scope for beginners.
McHaffie says: “A fantastic place to hang out. You drop into non-tidal or semi-tidal ledges. There are more serious cliffs, although university clubs will take more people starting out there. They are venues you can go to and second a climber and advance very quickly if you’ve been climbing indoors.”

5 | Shepherd’s Crag, Cumbria
Overlooking Derwentwater, this is one of the best places in the Lake District to learn to climb (hence it can get busy).
McHaffie: “It’s got some really nice easy slabs for people that are leading. And a fantastic café at the base for tea and cream scones."

6 | Glen Nevis, Lochaber
This glorious Fort William valley borders Britain’s highest mountains, including Ben Nevis, making it one of the country's most manly places. You bet Brave Heart was filmed here.
McHaffie says: “Scotland is very good but a lot more serious. You need more mountainous and wilderness experience needed to climb in Scotland. And you need to be able to navigate. Glen Nevis is really nice — lots of short cliffs and the rock is stunning. There and the Ben itself offers good summer and winter routes.”

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