St. Bees Bouldering

St. Bees Bouldering

 'Let's not fuck about then- St. Bees it is.'

 Thus starts a Sunday's bouldering in one of the best locations in Britain.

Decision made.  I have a few days near Grange-over-Sands on the south coast of Cumbria, my old mate Paul who works in the Highlands can come down for a Sunday of climbing.  We have a look at Langdale, which is a bit of a faff for either of us; I would like Dow, Duddon and the slate quarries (cause I've got a guidebook- never climbed there), but that's not so easy to penetrate from the North.  But someone has recommended St. Bees to Paul: just like finding a decent plumber we would rather go by word of mouth than any amount of advertising.

Paul has changed since we worked together - he is wearing a Rab orange mountain jacket.  This is a bigger change than it first looks: when we worked in the Highlands everything we had was either issued by work (we went up Ben Wyvis in steel toecaps) or it was army surplus.  Black and Olive Green, nothing else.

'Yeah' he says, justifying himself before I've a chance to rip it out of him.  'I just think I've probably grown up a bit.  I don't think I'm going to be judged by people as less manly just because I've got an orange jacket.'

He looks at me.  A confession is clearly coming.

'In fact, I've even drunk a gin and tonic.  In a pub.  Everyone else had a pint, but I had a G and T.'

Truly the world has changed.  This kind of seismic shift in attitude deserves support.

'Its white wine for me,' I say supportively.

'WHITE FUCKING WINE!?' he explodes.  I have gone too far. 

Tips for St Bees: a simple  ten-step process for enjoying your day

1.  Go steady down the cliff, 

Especially  when your bouldering mat is like a fucking sail.  The paths are allright, just a pain to find.  We stumbled around, back and forth along the cliff top, despite Paul's proficiency with navigation.  Note: it is traditional to complain about your knees at the end of the day on descent from the crag, but of course here the situation is reversed!  Hooray St Bees.

2. Download the topo from Lakes Blocs

I love the punk DIY ethic of bouldering, I like it better still when it is really competently done.  Lakes Bloc is the best topo I have seen for free: proper guide book quality.  If you haven't got a printer, try printing at Thetford Library where the bloke on the computer next to you will openly read it over your shoulder.  I don't know if this is rude or shows hope for the future: you decide.

3.  Stumble along the shore wondering if every boulder you clamber across is Yellow Desert Scream (font 7a+)

Don't worry, because the Apiary area becomes apparent as soon as you see it.  If you are wondering whether you have reached it, you haven't reached it.  One massive clue for us was the number of people wearing bobble hats and puffer jackets.  When you are there, realise that you have come to somewhere that is fucking ace.  Take a second to appreciate the sea: if it is high tide, this might be more obvious than you like.  In an emergency paddle your bouldering mat out to the Isle of Man, you can see it clearly from here. 

4.  Quail at the hardness of the sit-starts

Cumbrian grades are notoriously stiff in trad climbing and it is thrilling to see that tradition continued!  After about ten minutes, me and Paul fucked off all the sit starts and started to just enjoy the meat of the problems.  Frankly, loads of it was too hard for us.  I will be back for Yellow Desert Scream though, it looks amazing.

5.  Invent a  new move

Paul has created the chicken-wing knee bar on one of the problems.  This is where he knee- barred onto his own elbow while chicken-winging.   It didn't work for my body-shape, nor probably anyone else's.

6.  Do some no handed.

There are some nice slabby bits, but some of the easier stuff can be climbed no handed, just like Johnny Dawes: Paul had seen his video about no handed climbing but had to have it explained who Johnny Dawes was.

Anyway, we had a good hour or more trying some problems no handed and it was great.  The sandstone seemed to suit it in places: its got the same sort of micro changes in sloper topography as grit (look for those very slightly dished changes in angle), and decent breaks and pockets a bit like (but almost completely un-like) slate.

When you do a good no handed problem, keep walking past it and congratulate yourself on how absolutely nails it looks.

7.  Bottle out of the Fisherman's Steps

They look lethal.  Tough lot them fishermen.


8.  Watch the squall coming in across the sea

and flinch as it hits.  Curse the soaking your down jacket is getting.  Bail, as the foam is blown across the sandstone ledge.

9.  Head up the semi-roped  path

Decide that you are unfit as your thighs swell and burst.   Remember that at least your knees aren't screaming, decide which you prefer.  Having your mate jog past saying 'You're unfit,' helps create motivation to finally start Training (New Alpinistically).  When you get home anyway, which will be many hours worth of drive away along the coast road.

10.  Regret the lack of a camera 

Wonder why this blog had no pictures?

St Bees is a great day out.  It would be worth doing even without the high quality boulder problems.  Next time we go, we'll be taking a rope: those sport routes look pretty tasty.




  1. Hi Peter, met you at St Bees. Alex and myself used to do a lot of rock climbing all over the UK even down in Cornwall but it was usually multi pitch mountain routes up to HVS only. Dumbarton Rock was one of our local cliffs though which has plenty of boulder problems. My favourite route in the Lakes is Overhanging Bastion.
    My first time at St Bees and I was impressed. Atmospheric place.
    PS I found with my own blog a few photos make all the difference to other readers/ climbers as they can see the routes as well as any description.
    Stone Monkey is still one of the best climbing videos I've seen on TV.
    Best regards. Bob.

    1. Hello Bob, liked your blog. Amazing place eh? I regret the lack of camera, but I've a suspicion nothing I could take would have done it any justice.


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