Blackstone Edge

Blackstone Edge is one of those places where the weather is as much a part of the crag as the rock. The wind is always windier. The sun is always sunnier. The damp is always dampier. That might be a French word.


It’s a place to seek out on bright winter days, when the ground is frozen, the rock is velcro and wet landings are non-existent. It’s a place to flee to on hot summer evenings, when the air is cooler on the moors and the cotton grass is dancing. It’s a place to attempt on super windy days, if only to experience biting cold, flying mats and the miserable feeling of defeat.

I first explored this crag with Gareth Wallis about a decade ago, and I’ve been returning ever since. In previous decades it had been the playground of various locals, who enjoyed it and kept it to themselves. Mostly, they were trad climbers just having a bit of fun. They climbed the obvious lines and then they went home to eat Lancashire hotpot and drink any sort of tea that isn’t from Yorkshire. And that’s exactly what Gareth and myself did on our first few trips, though I must confess I prefer hot Ribena as an apres-climb refreshment.

Gareth made an online topo in 2005, and although a top-secret US government team of internet hackers have repeatedly sabotaged every site it has been uploaded to, it has been a success. I know for a fact more than five people have been bouldering at Blackstone in the last decade. Once, I even saw chalk that wasn’t my own.

As a result of this increased interest, a few new lines were climbed, including the crag’s current hardest (note, there is certainly potential for harder) by Nik Jennings. This is Fridge Hugger, 7B+. Here are a couple of ascents on a day when the wet clag almost quenched our psyche. Luckily, psyche does not need oxygen and dry fuel to burn. Dryish rock will suffice…

But the thing with this crag is that it rewards persistence. Many people (ourselves included) came away with the impression that the crag was tricky to find in condition, and that there wasn’t all that much to do once you’d climbed in the obvious spots. I discovered the secret whilst exploring for the guidebook: many of the best lines at Blackstone aren’t obvious. The green boulders are only a small part of what the crag has to offer. All the bestest things are hidden round corners or down slopes or just a bit further on…  Here’s my list of the top ten best lines at Blackstone, the ones I think are premium quality gritstone plums. Climb any of these and you’ll be happier than the lobster in the tank when the tsunami hits the restaraunt.

  1. Paw Print 3
  2. Subtletease 4
  3. Cleft Of The Brave 5+
  4. Trig Slab 6A
  5. Blackstone Slab 6A
  6. Look To Windward 6B
  7. Pony Club 7A
  8. Hero 7A
  9. The Wedge 7A+
  10. The Lady’s Not For Gurning 7B

And you might as well admit it, you’ve always felt a bit like a lobster. Maybe you are actually a lobster. Have you considered that? Those big pincers might be a clue. Lookout, here comes the chef…

So those are the best of the best, in my highly esteemed opinion. Alongside those, there are other great problems – Blackstone Best, Nik’s Groove, Nick’s Traverse, Ape Hour, Swingers, Fridge Hugger etc, etc, etc. And there are the south crag routes, all small and perfect for soloing one after the other. And the highballs near the trig point if you fancy a flutter. In short, loads of things that will make you smile. Unless you are a lobster, in which case I’m not sure this is something your face can do. Sorry.

Here are some videos of various problems climbed in the last few years, most of which you will only find if you get the new Lancashire Bouldering Guidebook. That’s a hint, by the way. In fact, you should probably buy three. One for the crag, one for toilet reading and one for the coffee table. If you don’t have a coffee table, this a good reason to get one.

Anyway, videos. You might as well watch them. There’s not much else to do in that tank.




Happy New Projects

There is a very large rock upon which we all cling and clamber, each with our different sequences and styles. For this eternal boulder problem, gravity is not the enemy. Yes, I’m talking about planet Earth, vast mother of all boulders and boulderers. And the thing about being on Earth is this: you’re never going to top out, so you’d better think of some other purpose for being here.

The noble and pointless pursuit of bouldering (on the small rocks dotted all over the big rock) seems as good a reason as any. Of course, it faces hot competition from competitive cup stacking, tea bag folding and golf. Google those on youtube if you want to understand them. Except golf. Don’t expect to understand golf.

So as Earth once more completes her orbit round the sun, passing GO and collecting £200 in the process*, it seems fitting that I write about things to come. Today Earth begins her circuit anew, and since we boulderers all tackle Mini-Earths for fun, it seems a good time to cast the light of my Mini-Sun on new Mini-Voyages. Projects! Those beguiling lines of potential energy; those beckoning gulfs between our imagined abilties and our real limitations.

Projects then…

In this big ole county, there are many. And I want to do them all. Sadly, I can’t. Hopefully someone else can. In fact, I’d really love it if Lancashire’s harder lines got some attention. To that end, I’ve described tons of projects in the guidebook. Some will be fairly easy, lines I’ve just never got round to. Some will be moderately hard, lines that will take most people a bit of effort. And some will be BOOM-SHAKE-GROWL-HARD! Sorry about the caps. I have keyboard tourettes.

It’s the hard ones I’m going to write about here. There’s still time to get these done before the guidebook goes to print, and who knows, perhaps some hero will take up the challenge.

1. The Mono Project

Tucked away in the centre of the quarried colossus that is Wilton 1, this is a heavyweight vertical slice of desperation. A loud Up Yours to woody-trained roof-danglers, this wall is furiously thin. It’s possible (but fairly hard) to get your feet onto the starting jug, but from then on the handholds are all shy hyphens which seem to retreat into red embarassment when your fingers attempt an encounter. Did I say all the handholds? I misspoke, for there is one deep depression which may even be bottomless. A mono, drilled in the dim and distant past, extending into the even dimmer future. So what should you do with it? Place a finger in here and lock it down to your ankles, then pop for the finishing jug. If you can do all this, then you’ll be a man, my son. Or a woman. You may in fact change gender upon completion of this project. Who knows? Either way, it’ll be worth it.

Click the images to get a bigger version. Mostly screenshots, so not great quality pics.

mono project

2. The Super Whirlwind

On a hilltop far from anywhere, on a boulder steeper than night, there is an unfinished line. This location is Crag Stones, esoteric gem of the Bowland domain. Boulderers of hardy constitution will brave the 40min slog through bog-nasty fields to furtle on the dark side of this woody made of rock. There is a 7A called Black Whirlwind which climbs the second half of this line from a raised rock seat. Crawl lower and there are large underclings, from which progress will be attained if you snatch like the gods and crush like the elephant resides in your fingers. Conquer this wild beast and even the wind will bend to your touch. But you’ll still have to walk back through the bog.

crag stone project

3. The Other Impossible Slabs

John Gaskins WOZ ERE. In fact, over half a decade has passed since he climbed Endless Nameless, a wandering toes-and-fingernails tester tackling the centre of a slab surely drawn by the world’s master slab artist. That line goes at 8B, and it has never been repeated. It’s high and it’s hard. But who cares about such things when there are unclimbed lines to either side? To the left is a slot, which can be mantelled with a bit of persistence. From here to a sidepull there is a metre of blankness. There are pebbles, divots, unhelpful smears and even more unhelpful shadows which you have to test one by one just in case they are handholds. Nik Jennings put some time into this line, and declared it likely 8B. The landing is good enough with pads. The only thing that isn’t good enough is you. But supposing you rattle this one off with ease, there’s the possibility of an even harder line just right of Endless Nameless. I have no idea what the moves are. It looks vaguely possible, though some may disagree. If your curiousity is piqued, I’d advise bringing a rope and a spade, because the topouts all across this slab are overgrown. Dig these off and I imagine it would be a fast-drying sheet of gritstone perfection. Right now, it’s a lovely luminous green. Here’s a photo taken in the dark. Trust me, that’s rock I’m balancing on, not just hardened slivers of evening gloom.

Stabworth project

4. The Blunt End

Embedded in the heather and peat of Lancashire’s eastern reaches, far from the road and the grasp of convenience climbers, there is a boulder shaped like the head of a hammer. The blunt end of this has what look like holds, if you engage your Infra-Grit vision (for some humans, holds of this colour sadly lie outside the visible range). I’ve tried the mantel on its own, a stern gurn-fest that will likely be 7B/7B+ish. A sitstart is definitely possible, spanning from the back of a small roof to slopey lip holds. Bring your clampiest heels and your best upper arm bumps. Incidentally, there is also a sitstart to the sharp end of the hammerhead, finishing up the left of the arete, which has yet to be done. This will be about 7C, a consolation prize for a big hitter who gets knocked back by the main event. Appropriately, the hammerhead project is NAILS.

blunt end 2

5. The Last Great Brownstones Problem

The what now? Brownstones is all climbed out, surely? Actually there are several lurking monsters of megamassive ultradiffculty. Look to the Loooong Baaaack Waaaaall for a glimpse of these seldom appraised entities. In true Brownstones style they climb walls between cracks. The Last Great Gaps. Most of these are squeezed-in wotsits, but the best is a wall several metres wide, an unbreached line of curving chunky layaways that all face slightly the wrong way to be useful. Finishing at the halfway break would be a fine achievement. Topping out would be even finer, and a sitstart would be the icing on the bottom of the cake. Sadly, this line is often damp, so a dry spell is needed. But this is the last great glory at the most popular crag in Lancashire, and you don’t get owt for nowt round ‘ere.

brownstones project

Well, that’s enough for now. I predict the grades of all these projects will begin with an 8 and end with an oof. There are other projects in the 8th grade, but these are a few that fascinate me the most. There are also others that I’m not telling you about because I covet them so, or because other people would be miffed if I so brazenly flaunted their existence. Such is the nature of desire within this game of Mini-Earths. Why, you ask, would I even mention these other, more shadowy things? Because there h still have to be secrets. Even in 300 pages of guidebook descriptions, there has to be something to hunt for…

So let’s see what the new year brings. I hope it brings new people to new mini-worlds, with mini-glories and so mini fun times. That was a mini-pun.

Happy New Projects, everyone!

*Incidentally, Earth and all the other planets have by now passed GO so many times that all the fake Monopoly money has been handed out, and the great celestial banker is having to scratch I.O.U.’s on passing space debris. Unfortunately, this game was started a very long time ago, before small plastic houses were invented, so the gameplay has been limited to going round and round and round – with the occasional snide remark as one planet passes another. It’s been eternally boring. Like most Monopoly games.