Written by Alexander Minshall

How to get there:

The natural buttresses and quarry at Ilkley have a car park a mere 100m from the rock; for those of us relying on public transport, you can get either a bus (the X84, which also runs past Caley on the way) or a train into the town of Ilkley, and then walk up the hill to Ilkley moor (signposted 'Cow and Calf'), you'll see the crag and car park on your right as you go up the road. Or you can follow the track across the moor that forks off from the main road just before the cattle grid, through a gate.

Crag Character:

The Cow and Calf are the highest part of the natural crag and the massive boulder on the hill directly below it respectively. The routes on the Cow are mostly very steep and strenuous, with very few easier routes. The Calf has no bona-fide routes, but does have several excellent boulder problems and highballs with nice flat landings.

Heading leftwards from the Cow is a collection of short boulder problems, then the entrance to the quarry (also known as Hangingstone Quarry), and left of this is the large undercut slab of Doris buttress, home to several good routes. There are also several shorter routes and numerous boulder problems to the right of the Cow. The rock on the natural buttresses is immaculate in quality, but can get rather green during wet periods over winter.

The quarry is approximately a square, with routes mainly spread over two sides. Of these, the main face is usually clean except for over deep winter, and catches the winter sun nicely once you've climbed out of the shadows. The other face (on your left as you enter) has some impressive lines, but can be quite green. The rock in the quarry is of surprisingly good quality for quarried grit, the holds are generally sound but watch out for loose chockstones in cracks. The large horizontal break can be quite sandy, and is home to several pigeons that can fly out of the break and scare the shit out of unsuspecting leaders and soloists! You have been warned'

Good Routes:

On the natural buttresses, check out the easier lines of:

  • Doris (S)
  • Cow Crack (VD)
  • A Climb (S)
  • And if you're a boulderer at heart, then have a look at Three Mantels (S); the first mantel is said to be 5c! A butch pull and press on this will lead to the next 2 far easier mantels, a good little solo.

    The quarry has some great easier stuff, have a look at:

  • Nailbite (VD)
  • Fairy Steps (VD)
  • Flake Crack (HS)
  • Josephine (HS) - This has an airy traverse and a crawl/twist around the corner into a large niche, just don't breathe in!
  • Old Crack (MVS) is awkward at first, but a fun route with an interesting finish.
  • Harder routes on the natural edges include:

  • Lost Boots (VS 4c)
  • Bald Pate (E1 5a)
  • Transparent Wall (HVS 5a)
  • Cow Rib (HVS 5a) is very exposed, and would be given at least E1 5b if it were in the Peak! A good route to stop HVS leaders dead in their tracks; pro is probably sufficient for most people though.
  • The quarry has several awesome routes at VS, including S Crack, Napoleon and Walewska.

    Seek out Cherry Valley Rib and Peg Crack at HVS 5a, and the classic of Tufted Crack (E1 5c), well-protected with technical moves up the striking crackline. A good first E1 if you can cope with awkward jamming!

    There's also Fairy Wall and Waterloo in the quarry at E2. If you think you're all that, then check out Sinister Rib (E3 5b), allegedly quite easy at the grade if it's in condition, or in the quarry Wellington Crack (E4 5c), a true contender for one of the best E4s on grit.

    Having done Propeller Wall (E5 5c), I would recommend the headpoint approach as the crimps are difficult to find and use properly, you don't want to blow the sequence when you're on the upper section! The lower section to the break makes a very nice V2/3 5c boulder problem though. The route was originally given VS when climbed by our very own John Syrett in 1972!

    Guillotine (E6 6b) is the other classic 'chop' route in the quarry, climbing a knife-edge arete with a balancy yet powerful sequence, and a crux that tries to kill you!

    Some other routes to stand at the bottom and dream about are Deathwatch (E7 6b); it's 'only' 6b, and it'll go on a top rope but could you bring yourself to solo it? Milky Way (E6 6b) is a stunning line, looking like the bastard offspring of Wellington Crack and Ray's Roof! Or follow in the big JD's footsteps and go for the greatest prize of all; The New Statesman (E8 7a) follows the knife edge arete of the Cow, a line that just cries out 'climb me!'. If you're after beta then you'd best watch Hard Grit'

    Good Boulder Problems:

    There are several short routes to the right of the Cow that offer a bit of fun, if in doubt consult the Yorkshire Gritstone Bouldering guide. Ditto for the quarry, the starts of several routes are good fun to play on with a pad.

    The Quarry
    Check out the overhanging wall on the left as you enter the quarry; has a flat ledge about 3 metres up, and a square hole chipped into it. There's lots of good eliminates and traverses you can make up on this. The start of Short Circuit (E2 5c) is an excellent V2 problem, as is the start of Waterloo, known as Spider Wall (V2 5c).

    The Calf
    But some of the best problems are on the Calf. The Ring (V1 5b) uses the obvious natural thread on one corner of the Calf, and it is possible to not use it for either hands or feet at V3 6a. The arete to the right of The Ring (the L arete of the overhanging face) has good jugs, and goes at V0 5a. On the slabby side of the Calf is Pebble Groove (HVS 5a), following the leftward-trending runnel; high and a bit scary, hence the HVS.

    The overhanging face is home to some awesomely powerful problems, most find getting off the ground a problem in itself! The overhanging corner/groove of The Gnome (E2 6a) is probably worth V3. Good landing with a pad, jugs all the way and easy to back off makes it a perfect candidate for your first 'E2? solo. It's Ilkley's answer to those steep V1 problems at the Leeds Wall!

    And if you still want some action, check out the area between the quarry entrance and the Cow; landings aren't generally very good though, so watch out.

    Ilkley (Back Quarry)

    Ilkley Back Quarry a nice little bouldering venue, well-hidden from other climbers, and is about 200m or so right of the main quarry, as you look at it from the car park.

    Either go into the main quarry, climb up the slopes at the right end and follow the paths to the quarry, or from the car park walk rightwards past the Cow and Calf, and follow the edge of the crag past two smaller buttresses, Lost Boots and the Olicana buttress (both are in the Yorkshire Gritstone and Y.G. Bouldering guidebooks). Turn left just past the Olicana buttress, and left again when it opens out.

    The Back Quarry wall is on your left, recognisable by the right-hand section being decorated with a bright blue contemporary fertility symbol. The topo can be found here.

    The climbing
    There's about 20 or so boulder problems here, mostly V2/3 and below, on nice rock. Careful with the top-outs as they don't get much traffic and are a bit heathery. Some of the landings are a bit slopey, I'd recommend having a spotter with you to stand on the pad so it doesn't slip out from under you if you bail. Some of the landings are relatively flat, especially the far right area.

    Some problems might need a bit of a brush to clean the dust off (although when I worked my way through all the problems, there was only one or two holds that needed cleaning), but on the plus side this piece of rock stays relatively clean and dry, even when the rest of the crag is green and minging! It's also south-facing, so it's a nice little sun-trap, and isn't too windy. The tops of some of the routes are a bit fragmented, take care when topping out and test all the holds by carefully tapping/tugging on them before you put all your weight on them. Also, the top-out itself is a pure mantel on a few problems, the top may be covered in soil, heather, loose gravel or a combination of the above. Feel free to brush/scrape/sweep the top-outs to make it all a bit more pleasant for the next person.

    There is a lot of other rock dotted around the edge of Back Quarry. Most of it is completely rubbish from a climber's point of view, but there are a few possibile gems of new lines dotted around it, but mainly a few scrappy low-level traverses.