Around the Bloc: Goldsborough Carr
- Sunday 30th October 2022
by Tom Peckitt
Goldsborough Carr is a 24-carat quality crag set in the sparse, rugged landscape of County Durham, not far from the historic town of Barnard Castle. The crag protrudes through the sweeping moorland offering solitude in a stunning location, combined with a dense and mixed population of climbs. It really has something for everyone, from delightful easier grade climbs, perfect for a newly fledged outdoor enthusiast, to utterly desperate challenges providing a rich reward for the accomplished climber. The rock is immaculate, relatively fine-grained gritstone of the highest quality and similar in nature to that of Slipstones.
The climbing consists of short routes (often now climbed as highball boulder problems), boulder problem walls, arêtes and roofs. In this article, I’ll be looking at the crag from a bouldering perspective. The majority of climbers tend to tackle these short routes as solos so a pad or two provides a welcome sense of security. However, many of the routes offer adequate gear placements should you wish to protect them. The bouldering offers a high contrast of pleasant, easy climbs and harder testpieces, with everything in between. I doubt there are many gritstone crags with such an enjoyable and concentrated circuit, plus you can call into Barnard Castle on the way home for a proper pint and some food. The bouldering is covered in Yorkshire Gritstone Bouldering Guide, Volume 2 (2011) by Steve Dunning and Ryan Plews. Many well-accomplished climbers have left their mark, leaving a trail of impressive ascents for us to enjoy: Steve Crowe, Steve Dunning, Andrew Earl, Nick Clement and Ian Cummins to name but a few.
The crag has both north and south-facing aspects in an open setting. The exposed nature of the crag enables the breeze to dry the rock quickly after a spell of rain. These factors equate to a venue which allows year-round climbing but the environment can be particularly harsh in the depths of winter. Perhaps the best time of year is spring and autumn as the temperatures offer the optimum friction without baking in summer heat or freezing in the winter chill.
The pick of the bouldering circuit
There are numerous noteworthy problems at this compact crag. Due to its top-quality nature, I would recommend starting at one end and climbing as much as you can before reaching the other. However, for the purposes of this article, I have to be selective by choosing the classics and most interesting offerings. Once you have made the short walk from the parking to the crag, the first gem to greet you is Old Moss (Font 5+) in the Enigma area. This superb test of technique is easy in principle but surprisingly involved for a problem low in the grade ranking. If you took an indoor climber who can confidently climb Font 5+s inside, they would most likely be dumbfounded by this problem. Use the twin arêtes and heel hooks to climb directly up the face with a tricky move just over halfway. Enigma (Font 6a) starts as for Old Moss but branches left into the groove. A direct start to Enigma is also possible and bumps up the difficulty up to Font 6C. In addition to these, this well-packed area hosts a collection of easier grade but gratifying problems from Font 3+ to the high Font 6 category.
Just around the corner from the Enigma area, the overhanging nose feature of Hubris (Font 6A+) offers a difficult and somewhat daunting prospect. An easy start leads to bold, long moves on flat holds and a lofty mantel. Place your mats well for this one. To the left of Hubris is Ian’s Arête (Font 7A) which climbs the right side of the arête feature with another highball and unnerving finish. Continuing around the escarpment will lead you to a stunner of a problem, George's Roof (hard Font 7B) on the Thornbird Buttress. Having climbed this on several occasions, but never seeing anyone else climbing there, I am not sure if my method is the norm. Making a large move from the back to a decent jug in the roof, I swing my feet high onto smears, matching the jug, then busting out to the lip – an intriguing sequence but a highly fulfilling one and unlike most roof climbing. Finishing up the arête on the right-hand side, the end of The Obsessed (Font 6C) will land you with a whopping Font 7C tick.
As you proceed toward the heart of the crag, you pass other notable problems such as The Long Reach (Font 6B+), Clamp Master (Font 7B+) and Borstal Breakout (Font 6B+). These are all excellent with other worthwhile problems in the immediate vicinity. However, in my opinion, the highlight of the crag is the Thin Wall Buttress further along the edge. The Thin Wall Buttress boasts an abundance of superb highballs/mini-routes, difficult roofs, walls and traverses. One of the most desired ticks on the buttress is Jumping Jack Flash (Font 6B+ or E2 6a). Locals will be very disgruntled if you jump to the flat jug from the ground on this. For the proper tick, you start on the left at the break and climb via edges to gain the jug. Continue from there through some tricky moves then up, up and away to an easier (but sometimes gritty) finish.
Ian Cummins added perhaps the most iconic problem, Beth’s Traverse (Font 7B+). This aesthetic belter traverses a series of single-pad crimpy ledges to join Jumping Jack Flash. The step-like feature means that your feet are underneath the roof whilst traversing, therefore, increasing the load on your tips to substantial proportions and rendering a considerably difficult challenge. This is without question one of the finest traverses in the count(r)y. If that doesn’t provide enough of a contest for you then try the extension, Prelude, starting further right on the obvious flat jug and avoiding the plinth for feet. This elevates the grade significantly to Font 7C+. Holeshot (Font 7C) starts under the roof, adjacent to Beth’s Traverse but negotiates the steep overhang using crimps and raw power to join the final edges of Beth’s Traverse. Finish by pressing out to the start of, and climbing up, Jumping Jack Flash.
Two of the proudest and most satisfying lines on this buttress are Fiddler (Font 5+/E1 5b) and Fiddlers Arête (Font 5+/E1 5b). Fiddler tackles the tall face to the right of the arête using slopey breaks, whilst Fiddlers Arête conquers the arête on the left-hand side. After a tricky start, the route eases leading to a steady but highball finish. A direct sit start to Fiddlers Arête (Font 6C) has been added by starting low on the far left, using a creaky flake and climbing under the lip to join stand-up.
Whilst I could probably fill this article by describing the brilliance of this buttress, it is probably fitting to end my description of this section by tipping my hat to Second Coming (Font 8B) and the first ascensionist, Steve Dunning. Dan Varian made the second ascent when Dan’s undoubted talent for climbing hard problems paid off as he spent many sessions working on the strenuous and technical moves, commenting that it may be one of the hardest problems he has climbed. There’s a video of Dan making the second ascent on the internet somewhere, which is well worth checking out.
The next boulder along from the Thin Wall Buttress hosts several enjoyable problems, notably Bass Special (Font 4+) and This One’s for Bill (Font 7A). Bass Special climbs the gently overhanging arête using large juggy breaks, whilst This One’s for Bill adds contrast by using go-go-gadget arms to stretch from an undercut to poor slopey crimps.
Finally, if you can muster the energy to carry on, you will find yourself stumbling upon a selection of pleasant boulders, such as the South-East and Diagonal Boulder, which can yield enjoyable climbing from Font 4 to Font 7A+. The main attraction to Goldsborough is the south side of the crag as described. However, the boulders continue around the north side too. Very different in nature and more lowball than the southern counterpart, these problems offer a mix of grades and climbing styles. Well-detailed in Yorkshire Grit Bouldering, Volume 2 they are certainly worth checking out… but probably when you have ticked all you can on the southern side.
The final word
Goldsborough deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the finest of moorland grit crags. Although not as extensive as other similar crags, for example, Slipstones; the sheer quality, density and mixture of climbing delivers a superb climbing venue, which is framed by a typically compelling County Durham landscape. Although this article merely offers a snippet of the crag’s delights, I have hopefully presented an enticing glimpse into its character and inspired a few of you to pay a visit, whether that is for the first time or after a long hiatus since your last trip. One thing’s for sure, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, the only aspect that may let you down is the archetypal British weather – even then Barnard Castle offers a pleasurable escape...
Due to ground-nesting birds, the landowner has been granted a dog ban so please - no dogs.
This article first appeared in the print issue of Climber magazine.