Local Knowledge

Not many things in climbing polarize opinion like limestone bouldering of the Derbyshire Dales, in the heart of the Peak District. Polished, tweaky and steep, the limestone crags exist in a symbiotic relationship with their more famous gritstone cousins, the dark rugged battlements which sit around the edge of the Peak. While the rounded high-friction grit comes into prime condition during the winter months the limestone is for the most part wet due to groundwater seepage. Only in the spring does it dry out enough to climb (and even then some crags may never dry out in any given year), happily at just the point when the weather becomes too warm for the friction-dependent gritstone. Conversely when the autumn weather brings lower temperatures to tempt climbers back onto the gritstone, the limestone crags start to seep, and so you have the yin and yang of Peak bouldering.

Dedicated boulderers move between the two in accordance with the seasons, giving them a fresh set of challenges. Gone are the windy moors, proud photogenic lines, highballs, bald aretes, technical slabs, sloping topouts and strong bolt-free trad ethic. In comes the savage steep power of the limestone. We're talking crimps, gnarly slots and pockets, traverses, linkups and problems that finish on a jug and drop off. Rock quality can be variable–there are crags where almost every problem sports holds held on by glue or car body filler. There's more than a fair share of chipped holds too, from the 1980s before people knew better, when the limestone crags were just seen as rain-proof summer training venues before the advent of indoor walls.

A side-effect of this training venue legacy is the number of rules, eliminates and unwritten conventions sported by many problems. It's a difficult concept to rationalize and explain to visiting climbers but one that must be embraced. It can't be denied that some of the limestone venues offer more of an aesthetic challenge than the more accessible gritstone. It's not for everyone. Any potential limestone suitor needs to be prepared to put the hours in, to come back to the same crags week after week. The limestone rewards loyalty, to build up the engrams, and batter the flesh of your fingers into submission until a hold that once felt gnarly now feels like an old friend. Any time away will be punished, back to square one. It's a harsh mistress with harsh grades to match.

It's probably no surprise that globetrotting foreign visitors are conspicuously absent. It doesn't have the mystique of Fontainebleau or the eyepopping scenery of Castle Hill or Rocklands. But the limestone does have an undeniable ability to get under your skin. It keeps you coming back, year after year. To test yourself and get better, to come back and succeed where you once failed. Where it punishes weakness and injury harshly it rewards form and success equally generously. Break down a few key problems and before you know it you're in deep. Suddenly you feel like king of the crag, as if you own the place. Yet you don't care that others hate it, that half your mates wouldn't be seen dead there. You'll keep coming back, these are your crags now.

For that reason Peak limestone is quintessential locals rock type. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Photo Editor