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Stanage Edge (Derbyshire)

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Stanage / English Peak District / South Yorkshire / Derbyshire

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      07.09.2007 20:55
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      The Holy Mecca of British Climbing...and popular with everyone else too.

      You have no danger of not being able to find Stanage Edge. I actually laughed the first time that I got out of the car at the absurdity of worrying that we might somehow “miss it”. Stanage is the most northern of the “eastern edges” in Derbyshire, a series of dark millstone cliffs that run across the moors in a roughly north-south line. It’s not the tallest of the group, but boy, it sure is the biggest, running for approximately four miles. Standing in an exposed, high spot, the Edge is visible for miles around, a dark, faintly foreboding omnipresence on the horizon.

      Stanage lies immediately west of Sheffield, and overlooks the small town of Hathersage to the Southwest. It stretches from “Crow Chin” in the north to the “Cowper Stone” at its southern end. Its proximity to Sheffield and the fact that it is possible to drive to within 20 minutes walk of any part of the crag makes it a very popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, whether they be walkers, climbers, parascenders or just people who want to park up and admire the view. I can hardly complain about the crowds though, having visited it myself at least twice a year for the last 17 years since I was a student, and keen climber, in the Midlands.

      Here are my observations of this holy Mecca of British climbing from my numerous visits:

      *** The good things: ***

      1. The accessibility.

      I am going to list this as both a good and a bad thing. It’s certainly an easy place to visit. Most visitors seem to approach from Bamford and Hathersage to the west and park on the road below the edge, although at weekends it’s advisable to get there early to guarantee a space. (The alternative approaches are from the A57 at Moscar Lodge, for the northern end of the Edge, or across the Hallam Moors from the East). From here it is an easy scramble up through the bracken on well-worn trails to the bottom of the crag. If you intend to walk the top, there is a proper path leading up at either end and along the crest. This is laid with loose stones and a bit uneven (stout boots advised), but is an easy gentle walk that is basically level once you have conquered the initial incline. You can also get up on the top using part of an old “Roman Road” from Brough to Doncaster that ascends about half way along.

      I would assume these paths are not easily accessible for the physically disabled but I’m not really qualified to comment.

      2. The community (aka crowds).

      This is related to point 1, and again both a good and a bad thing. You are never alone at Stanage, certainly not if you visit the more popular southern end. On the plus side, if you walk the top, you will almost certainly meet someone to pass the time of day with, from serious walkers to families on an afternoon out. If you are climbing there, you will almost certainly be surrounded by others more familiar with the crag than you are, and (in my case anyway) much better climbers than yourself, doing routes that you would need brown Teflon pants for.

      3. The view.

      This is spectacular, and unimpeded. On a clear day you can see for miles, with rolling hills and valleys toward Hathersage and bleak moorland behind you to the East. The highest point on the Edge, High Neb, stands at 458m.

      4. The historical interest.

      There are several abandoned millstones lying around at Stanage, which were used for grinding grain in the local mills in the 19th Century. However, these gave the flour an unappetising colour and fell out of favour even before the mills themselves shut.

      Another man-made feature is the presence of small, rounded hollows in the top of the Edge. Public access today is taken for granted, but the area used to be a private grouse moor and these were created to provide drinking water for the birds.

      There is also the Roman Road.

      5. The rock.

      The rock at Stanage is “gritstone”, often called “millstone grit” due to its past use. This is a sedimentary rock. The Peak District used to be a great river delta, which gradually filled up with layers of mud and sand; these compacted over millions of years to form strata of shale (from the mud) and gritstone (from the sand). Some layers of grit were laid down in ways that left absolutely uniform rock, free from lines of weakness, and this is what is found at Stanage. The quartz (sand) grains in the rock provide a sharp surface to tear open grains, perfect for milling…and for climbing on. The friction is amazing, and the rock eminently sound – what more could a climber ask for!

      The cliffs came about, by the way, because of the layers and because gritstone is strong; where an underlying weak layer eroded, the gritstone on top “snapped off” leaving a cliff.

      6. The variety of climbing routes.

      With over a thousand routes to choose from, there is something for everyone. There are three star* routes right along Stanage, and the more popular southern end of the crag is absolutely littered with them. Most are single pitch, with the longest routes only around 80ft/25m, and most between 40 and 60ft. Most climbers early in their careers will want to climb the famous VD “Flying Buttress”. At least it’s easy to find ;-) Sooner or later everyone also feels the urge to try climbing those overhangs direct! And of course, Stanage is the home of “Right Unconquerable”, which Joe Brown made look easy in a momentous leap-forward in British climbing in 1949.

      7. The southwest orientation.

      Stanage is a suntrap and on a fine summer’s day you can climb late into the evening. If the midges don’t eat you - see below. The rock dries out quickly after rain.


      *** The bad things ***

      1. The community (aka crowds).

      I am not going to labour this point; after all, I am part of the problem. But in general, my favourite climbing is that which gives a feeling of splendid isolation. I’ve never experienced that at Stanage, although to be fair, there are some areas that have less “traffic” than others. Expect to queue for most of the three star “trade” routes on a summer weekend though.

      I have also experienced a hint of “climbing snobbery” at Stanage that I haven’t elsewhere. Fortunately I know my place as definitely-not-a-rock-god so it’s never bothered me but it’s disappointing to see.

      2. Going to the toilet.

      There is nowhere, I repeat, nowhere where you can discretely have a pee at Stanage, at least not at the more popular, southern end. Bracken does not provide cover, especially when you have crowds on a cliff top 25m above you. This provides a dilemma for the climber: you need to keep adequately hydrated but without overdoing it. At the very least, go before you arrive! I unfortunately always seem to leave Stanage dehydrated, due to the exposure of the place and my lack of exhibitionism. I am seriously considering buying a “she wee” for my next visit.

      3. The wind.

      Stanage is high up, and often windy. This can be a blessing on summer days, as the crag faces southwest and becomes quite hot, although you can then not notice yourself burning! Most of the time though, I am very glad of a hat.

      4. The dust.

      Which brings me to my next point: dust. Stanage is suffering from its popularity, and eroding at an alarming rate. The sand is blown around by the wind, and it’s fair to say that after a day’s climbing here you will be picking black stuff out of your nostrils for a week.

      The most popular routes are also sadly becoming extremely “polished” to a smooth finish.

      5. The midges.

      Unfortunately, Stanage suffers from swarms of these little blood-suckers. Strong repellent is needed.

      6. The southwest orientation.

      Although really a blessing, this can mean that it gets really hot at the crag, too hot for anything too strenuous and there is little shade.

      7. The grading of climbing routes.

      Best summed up as, “Northern grades are hard”. Stanage is hardest of all. The grading across the crag is consistent but be aware that some of the “Severe” routes here would be described as “Hard Severe” or even “Very Severe” in other parts of the country. In addition, climbing on gritstone can come as a surprise to the uninitiated – a pleasant one when you find that your foot really will stick to nothing, but a scary one when you are looking for a foothold in the first place and decide that “nothing” will have to do. Gritstone tests your balance as it’s full of rounded edges and nothing “definite”.

      I have to admit that Stanage is not my favourite crag. I will even admit - sacrilege! – grit is not my favourite rock.


      *** Overall***

      Overall, then, Stanage’s advantages outweigh its disadvantages and it offers an enjoyable day out for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. And if you climb then you will visit many times, it’s as simple as that.


      *** Other useful information ***

      There is limited cheap and cheerful accommodation near Stanage but the most popular place to camp when climbing is North Lees campsite, tel 01433 650 838. This gets very busy and it’s advisable to book. The National Trust owns most of the surrounding land and camping is understandably forbidden.

      If the weather’s wet or you’ve been driven away by a swarm of midges, then you can always spend some time browsing around the excellent “Outdoors” shop in Hathersage, where there is also the obligatory collection of tearooms and greasy spoons.


      *the highest rating under the star rating system, denoting an excellent route

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    • Product Details

      Attractions: High Neb,