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Climb Europe

Dorset Rock Climbing

The cliffs of Portland, Swanage and Lulworth on the Dorset coast are excellent climbing destinations. Portland has a huge number of sport routes, Swanage has great adventurous trad climbing and some sport climbing, whilst Lulworth is great for deep water soloing (DWS) as well as sport climbing.

Sport climbing at Portland

Portland is well known as one of Britain’s best sport climbing venues. Circling the Isle’s lofty fringes are around 6km of virtually unbroken limestone cliffs, where almost 1,300 well-bolted routes have been developed. Most of the routes are single pitch up to 30m high, across a wide range of grades from F2 to F8b including many in the mid-grade range.

Portland rock climbing guidebookThe style of climbing at Portland is on steep routes above the sea.  They tend to be just off either side of vertical on jugs, crimps, pockets and glorious flow stone features – something that is not often found in Britain. 

Map of the main rock climbing areas on the Dorset Coast

Map of the main rock climbing areas on the Dorset Coast

Dorset Bouldering GuidebookPortland is also a great bouldering destination that offers a diverse selection of settings and problems.  The style of bouldering varies from smooth and fine-grained to rough and wave-washed limestone rock.  With both short and high ball problems, along with roofs, slabs, technical and powerful problems, there is something for everyone.

Portland has a very mild climate which makes it an ideal venue for being able to climb all year round, since there is limited seepage and lots of sunshine in the winter months.  The east and west aspects of the cliffs means that you can find the sun at some point all day during the winter and shade in the summer.  Also unlike most sea cliffs, tides are not an issue as most cliffs are situated high above the high tide mark.

Rock climbing at Swanage

The rock climbing at Swanage is certainly varied and with limestone sea cliffs that run unbroken for 5km it offers a unique climbing experience.  With over 750 routes you will find adventurous trad climbing, friendly trad climbing, sport climbing and deep water soling (DWS).

Historically Swanage is known for its adventurous trad climbing where it is necessary to abseil down to ledges around 5m above the sea.  This style of climbing is over rugged terrain that is steep with many overhangs and roofs that are as good as anywhere else in Britain. However it is possible to find some friendly trad climbing areas such as Subluminal and the Cattle Troughs, where there are many easier routes.

Some of the most popular areas at Swanage are the bolted quarries at Dancing Ledge and Winspit with their wide range of sport routes.  During the summer months, Swanage is also great for its deep water soling (DWS) at places such as Connor Cove.

Hayley Stokes on a classic Portland crimpfest

The above photograph shows Hayley Stokes on a classic Portland crimpfest.

Rock Climbing at Lulworth

Rockfax Dorset Rock Climbing GuidebookLulworth is famous for its fantastic overhanging faces above through-caves that make it a world class deep water soling (DWS) venue, especially at Stair Hole.  There are other crags that offer mainly sport climbing, though these routes tend to be in the higher grades.

Rock climbing guidebooks for Dorset

The Climber’s Club and Rockfax both publish extensive climbing guidebooks for Dorset.  The Climbers’ Club have separate guidebooks for Portland and Swanage that also includes the bouldering. Rockfax’s Dorset guidebook covers all the rock and sport climbing, whilst they have published a separate guidebook for the bouldering, call Dorset Bouldering.  Buy all of these Dorset climbing guidebooks from our shop.

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Swanage rock climbing guidebook

Swanage rock climbing guidebook

Rockfax Dorset Rock Climbing Guidebook

Dorset rock climbing guidebook covers Portland, Swanage and Lulworth

Buy rock climbing guidebook for Dorset from our shop.


Read an article by Tom Newberry describing the best sport climbing areas in the south west of England that includes Portland.