Around the Bloc: Kyloe in the Woods, Northumberland
- Friday 16th April 2021
Kyloe in the Woods is one of those venues that could easily make it on many peoples ‘Desert Island’ bouldering venues. Set in the middle of a forest in Northumberland, the approach walk along the forest track is lovely and in around 15 minutes you will come across this fabulous south-facing and steep sandstone crag nestled amongst the trees on the left of the track. It’s worth reading the guide before you set off to make sure you are following the right combination of tracks but it’s not that difficult to get it right.
The forest has been thinned out in the last few years and, importantly, in front of the crag. This opens the crag out more and makes for better climbing conditions. Talking of which, this is an all-year-round venue, especially as it’s sheltered from the elements and the steep nature of some of the problems, particularly at the start, keeps them dry in the rain. In terms of problems, there is a good selection from Font 3 through to Font 8b+ with the many in the 5 to 7 range and close to 100 to choose from. The bouldering tends to lean towards a technical nature and can vary from delicate to strenuous with some traverses thrown in for good measure. If you have route climbers in the party there’s plenty for them too including some classics but they are becoming a rare breed at this venue.
So what to climb? Andi Turner takes a walk down memory lane and extols the delights of the magic that is Kyloe in and highlights his favourite problems:
It’s been 20 years since I first visited Kyloe in. It’s always had a magical quality. A rolling barrel of purest silver-grained sandstone, cratered and pricked with pockets and puckers. Crested with crenellations and flutings and sloping back onto a magic carpet of hollow moss and pine needles. The crag shimmers amongst the trees oozing its mythical status, helped in no small way, by likes of the improbable line of Malcolm Smith's Monk Life (Font 8b+), a perfect line of sustained hard climbing. This was Malcolm’s famous 10-year project and even though it’s now had a fair amount of repeats, including the second ascent from the Northumberland legend that is Andy Earl, it still retains a spectre of awe. Add to that the incredible hard sustained traverses of Lothlorian (Font 8b) and Leviathan (Font 8b+) and this trio beggars belief. It seems that almost every trip I have made north up to the County has always involved a visit to the woods, either through desire or necessity brought about by the weather – its overhanging aspect sheltering it from any short deluges of rain.
On first acquaintance, I topped out each route I tried but on subsequent visits it soon became apparent that this wasn’t required, the first few moves providing the meat of each route. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was first on the list. With a hefty grade of VS 6b (Font 7a+ or 7b from a sit start in bouldering grade speak), this surely couldn’t be right? The initial moves are desperate, beyond what should ever be expected of any VS leader, but quickly lead into a bucket fest to the top. This route's first ascent was made using combined tactics in the form of a human pyramid to reach the first decent holds, but subsequently, a devious and powerful method has been developed in order to climb this route without human aid.
The best problem there though, in my skewed opinion, is undoubtedly The Pearler. Fitting in with the classic County sandbag style, this one masquerades as a lowly Font 5+, but don’t be deceived. This is the start of a tough E3 and the crack alone is worthy of HVS in its own right. If you can’t jam, expect it to feel somewhere in the 7s, but remember, that’s not an excuse. Just learn to jam.
Moving into the harder realm, the real opening gambit has to be The Yorkshireman. Given Font 7b+, but it’s always been Font 7c to me and I’d never take that away from anyone else. Kyloe in really tests your technique, but you’d never get a chance to test it if you didn’t have a good deal of power to boot. The Yorkshireman is one of those problems that you need to figure out and then crank up the power in order to tick it. Now simply add the traverse all the way from the left, no jams or foot ledges and you have a V13 tick…
Sitting neatly between The Yorkshireman and The Pearler is a dimpled diagonal flake hanging tantalizingly on the wall. Gaining this and then using it provides the meat of the problem Jocks and Geordies (Font 6c from standing or 7a from a sit start). Stretching up off the undercut with feet on smears already eight feet off the deck is always a memorable move. Now, just the problem of getting down.
Skirting over onto the left-hand end of the crag the problems take on a different nature. The crag becomes dramatically less steep, but in exchange for this, the holds become considerably smaller and sharper. However, the Marmoset (Font 3 or 5+ from a sit start) contains probably my favourite hold anywhere. The flake line is rippled and dimpled and, at one point, a dimple coincides with a perfect thumb placement. If I could make holds, that’d be the one I’d make. The problem is worth doing for this in its own right.
One final problem, one which I never leave the crag without doing is Bad Company (Font 5+). It’s about the closest thing to a warm-up available but has superb moves. The bubbled wall is punctuated with popped pockets, the choice of which ones to use is the crux of the problem. With the right concoction of holds, the moves are well-balanced, without them it becomes a desperate grovel. Top out and magic away across the forested carpet. There are many other great problems to try including the likes of Swan Wall Direct (Font 5+), Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (Font 7a+), Crucifix Traverse (Font 6a), The Elf Direct (Font 6a) and Red Rum (Font 6b) to name but a few, plus a whole host of link-ups. So make a trip into the woods and feel the magic.
Access relationships at Kyloe in the Woods are good, please ensure that they stay that way. Park sensibly (don't block the gateways) and keep dogs under control, particularly when crossing fields with grazing sheep and cattle. Woodland Management will sometimes engage in deerstalking in these woods and there will be a sign on-site when the stalker is working and Woodland Management will prohibit access to the crag. These notes are from the BMC access database. Click here for more details.
The Northumberland Bouldering Guide by the Northumbrian Mountaineering Club and written by Steve Crowe and John Earl offers the best collection of problems and is the one to aim for. Northern England by Rockfax also has a selection of the best routes and problems.