Anna Fedorova gives her insight and insider tips on Battleship Back Cliff, a sandstone crag situated near Weston, on the Isle of Portland. It’s an exciting venue, which offers technical and fingery sport climbing routes, with a couple of trad routes thrown in. Some of its key features include the recently developed Workout Wall for those working the harder grades, as well as some easy beginner climbing on the Block Slab.
Sport climbing in the UK at higher grades. There are only a couple of 6a’s and 5’s here, with most routes ranging from 6c to 7b.
What I liked most …
The range of routes is great, and they tend to be pretty interesting to work on. On a sunny day, it’s amazing to be near the sea as well, as it keeps the air cool and provides some pretty stunning views, especially when you get to the top of a route. The crag stretches along the coastline, and there are a number of other crags in close proximity, so there will never be a shortage of routes to climb.
What could be better…
The bolting isn’t always great, especially the first bolt is often too high for my liking. It would be really worth bringing a clip stick here; a high proportion of climbers I saw at the crag had one. This means it’s quite easy to borrow one if you are a worried about the first few moves.
It is also not a great beginners crag, as there are relatively few easy routes, but Battleship Buttress, which faces the main cliff, has some easy sport and trad routes perfect for practice.
Access and approach to Battleship Back Cliff
A three-hour drive from London, give or take – if you leave early enough in the morning, the crag is easily accessible for a weekend away from London. The approach is easy, just a short walk (around 10-15 mins) and a scramble from a good parking spot.
The approximate postcode for Battleship Back Cliff is: DT5 2JX. UKC gives directions for driving to the crag. Get yourself to the area near 52 Reap Lane – it’s an estate of fairly new houses. If you reach the left turn onto Sandholes Close, you’ve gone too far.
Park up nearby and walk down the track to the right of the way you drove in. It passes in between a stable and a barn. Once you reach the cliff, you will find a steep path down. There is usually a rope in place, but be prepared in case it’s not there. At the bottom go right and walk the path northwards for 150 metres.
The cliffs do not go all the way down to the sea, so there is no need to worry about the tides, as with some other crags in Portland.
This crag has occasional restrictions due to nesting birds. Always check the BMC Regional Access Database before your trip to ensure you stay within the allowable areas.
This is primarily a sport climbing crag, with only a small smattering of trad routes, so trad gear is not necessary. It can be a bit chossy in places, so if you are nervous bring a helmet, though we didn’t. A clip stick can be a real help with some routes, which have a really high first bolt.
The crag itself
On a sunny day, the views over the sea are phenomenal, and the flaming sunsets at the end of the day can take your breath away, though it’s worth being aware of how windy this place gets due to its proximity to the coast.
The climbing is pretty technical, so right up my street, but the bolting is often a little sparse and the sandstone cliffs are pretty chossy in places, eroded by the sea water, which makes me nervous.
Note if you are going in the summer, there are some restrictions at the crag between 1 March and 30 June due to nesting birds – full details are on UKC.
Best routes at Battleship Back Cliff…
My favourite routes of the weekend included a 6b called Searing Tunnel of Re-Injury (which I took a huge fall on, but still think it’s a great route). On the harder end, particularly memorable was a 7a+ called Psychic EMF, which has a two-star rating in the guidebook. It’s quite a project, and watching climbers work on it made me want to climb harder.
We were only there for a day though, and I can’t wait to come back to explore! There are 21 routes with one-three stars at this crag out of 35 total, according to the guidebook, though mostly in the harder grades. UKC lists 89 routes in total, significantly more than the guidebook, so worth checking out before you leave, if you like to get deep into the climbing geekery (like we do!).
Accommodation near to Battleship Back Cliff
Here are a few options, but there are a number of other around. Many are mentioned in the climbing guidebook, or on this website.
Sea Barn Farm
This looks nice on the website, but quite pricey. A standard grass pitch comes at £14 during low season, plus £4 per extra person; £17 in mid-season, and £25 during high season.
Where to eat on Portland
There are quite a few pubs around, which is probably your best bet. We went to the Cove House Inn, which has nice views of the sea and sunset in the evening, though I can’t say I was impressed with the food. There is also a Tesco on the Isle of Portland itself (Postcode: DT5 2AD) which is open until 11pm on a Saturday.
If you camp/stay in a dorm at the YHA, they do cooked breakfast in the morning, but you have to pre-order it. They also sell beer and wine in the evening. If you don’t pre-order, there is a nice café down the road that does breakfast too (even cheaper!), to which the staff will point you if you ask.
Guidebook for Portland?
Portland – The Definitive Guidebook, by Steven Taylor, Ben Stokes and Jim Kimber