Craig Willas or Healaugh is one of those crags that I have wanted to visit for some time but have never been able to get friends interested in going to.
With Cath doing the coast to coast cycle route I had my chance. Unfortunately I was unable to contact the gamekeeper (ring before 8am apparently) so I went to Reeth to get some food and ask at the tourist information centre. The response was not what I expected: “we are not allowed to give out that information because you may be a shoot saboteur”! Despite this I thought I would walk past the crag and if no shooting was taking place I'd take my chance.
A few tourists were parked at Surrender Bridge and were either sunbathing or paddling in the beck. The walk in to the Old Gang mine was along an easy track. Just beyond this a faint track leads up and right to some further old buildings then a traverse back to the flue taking care not to stand on some logs. The flue is then followed all the way to the crag.
Note that if there is shooting in the vicinity of the crag you will know about it: the flue contains several shooting butts made of stone from the collapsed roof and the crag is in full view of these.
The weather was hot with a cooling breeze. Hot enough that I climbed in only a pair of shorts. Only the second time that I have done this in Britain!
The crag is composed of a fine grit and varies from 3m to 12m in height. Early in the season there may be a dusty feel to the rock after winter weathering, the crag being at an altitude of 550m. The landings vary from reasonable on the warm up circuit to pretty bad beneath some of the bigger buttresses. It is similar in some respects to Slipstones but rather than being clean cut and smooth, the rock here contains finer strata and is rippled in a manner similar to the Sadcocks wall at Crookrise. Thus the routes often consist of hard moves between breaks or pulling on the ripples. Also the crag is not as extensive as Slipstones.
The climbs to the left of the flue (looking at the crag) are generally shorter than those to the right and being on my own with no-one knowing I was there meant that I was taking some care in what I attempted. The warm up circuit consists of around 25 problems in the easy grades combined with a lack of height. Indeed jumping off the top of some of the problems would not induce injury!
The best areas here are the Friars Block and the boulder containing “On The Level”. The former has a series of face problems from 4b - 5c while the latter is a rippled leaning wall with awkward exits. The other boulders here could be good fun for kids since they are not high and have grassy landings.
I hadn't used any of the more advanced features of my camera for some time and set up some interval shots so that I had time to get into position. Unfortunately I only found out that “Int 60” meant 60 minutes not seconds when I got home and read the manual! I would have been hanging around for a long time to get a shot. (Remember to use “Int 3” next time!)
As you move right however the situations become more serious. In general the problems/routes also become harder as well as higher. Falling off is not an option! There are some fantastic looking lines here. At the right-most end of the crag there is another good buttress for the lower grade climber.
By the end of a couple of hours I had done almost forty problems and routes and my fingers were beginning to feel the texture of the rock a little too much. In addition the bright shiny thing in the sky was taking its toll. So I packed up and headed back to the car for a little sunbathing and recuperation before heading eastwards again to meet up with the women.