I’ll be honest. I discovered Thorn Crag as a result of a somewhat desperate Google search: “easy bouldering UK”. As that search indicates, I am by no means a boulderer. A nasty ankle injury bouldering indoors early in my climbing career, compounded by a trip to Font with friends of vastly superior ability and not enough pads for me to toddle around doing my own thing stymied my interest for a long time. But recently, and with no particular flashes of revelation or psychological introspection on my part, I’ve started to look on the sport with a fonder eye. I have, of my own volition, done some bouldering indoors, and my fear of further ankle injury seems to have faded of its own accord, so coming off problems is no longer the trial it used to be.
A wet weekend in the Lake District made me, for the first time ever, suggest to my boyfriend that we go bouldering. Because everything else would be wet, you understand. It’s not that I actually wanted to hang out in a beanie, saying “gnarly, dude!” every ten minutes. Incredulous and disbelieving boyfriend finally convinced, we set off to Bowder Stone. Not exactly an ideal venue for a beginner, but it was tipping it down, and so had the decided advantage of being, at least, dry.
Well, I didn’t send anything. But I did pull on a couple of routes, even managing to link two or three moves together, and got a satisfying flapper that I could tape up and made me look cool when the locals arrived in the evening. And, most shocking of all, I enjoyed myself, because I had absolutely no expectations, and very little interest in any of the grades. The weather was so rubbish that I was pleased to be climbing at all, and the fact that a 6a and a 7a felt about as difficult as each other meant that I was happy to be able to pull on, without the frustration of not being able to top out.
Another bouldering adventure?
Which is why, as the leaves in Manchester started to turn, and a noticeable chill appeared in the air on my cycle into work, I mooted the possibility of another bouldering Saturday. Boyfriend was only slightly less incredulous this time, but my behaviour at Bowder Stone (no tears, tantrums, or sulks) seemed to assure him that I was serious.
And thus, last Saturday, we headed for Thorn Crag. Now, I should warn you that it is a 40 minute walk-in; enough to put off even the toughest boulderer. But the path winds its way uphill only very gently, so it’s really not as off-putting as it sounds.
As the Lakes Bloc guide turned its nose up at ‘pit stop boulder’: the first boulder encountered on the path, we struggled gamely on to ‘the crag boulders’. This lovely collection of gently off-vertical monoliths, with routes varying from 3 to 6a, seemed like the perfect introduction to gritstone bouldering. And, in a way, it was. Frictiony, featureless and fabulous. Pulling on was hard enough but once I’d remembered how to trust my feet I had a grand time padding my way up short slabby routes.
We would have stayed there longer, but the midges became unbearable, and so we turned West, in the hope that there might be a breeze closer to the sea.
There wasn’t. But it turns out that creating a midge vortex by swinging a hoodie above your head is far more effective than trying to hide from them by burying your hands in your sleeves and pulling the hoodie drawstring taut around your face, and if you climb fast enough they can’t keep up. Excellent motivation, and the added bonus of discouraging you from getting too hung up over one tricky move.
Seaview and Trackside Boulders
Seaview boulders is a great venue for a novice boulderer. The landings are lovely and flat for most of the easy stuff, and the routes aren’t high enough to be scary. It’s also prime gritstone climbing: featureless slabs on which to hone your smearing and sloper skills. But to convince your partner to tag along, there’s a good sprinkling of 6as, and a couple of harder routes for them to spend hours on. With bonus lumpy landings, just for that extra little frisson of excitement.
We finished the day off at Trackside boulders. A fantastic 6c rail traverse requiring solid heel hooking skills kept my boyfriend busy, while I stormed all the routes on the highly featured (but somewhat green!) boulder a few metres away. I left with sore skin, more midge bites than I cared to count, and a surprising sense of satisfaction, not at sending a heap of 3s and 4s, but at having tried, fallen off, and then tried again.
So as I sit here, my ankles and wrists swathed in hydrocortisone, I’m idly googling ‘moderately difficult bouldering UK’.