As more people grow to love scrambling in the UK’s mountains, we see more requests for recommendations of scrambles that are suitable for children. So here we look at what makes a good family-friendly scramble and also offer you some suggestions to get your kids outdoors on a high! (Please note however, this article does not attempt to replace a guide-book. To learn further information of exact locations, approaches and route descriptions, the guide books listed at the bottom of the page do this job best).
What makes a good family-friendly scramble?
A good family-friendly scramble should in the first place be easily located. Often scrambles can be co-located with graded rock climbs or adjacent to harder scrambles. For example, scrambling on Tryfan is brilliant, but it is so easy to wander off onto harder, more technical terrain than which you intended to enjoy that day. You also want these scrambles to be easily followed: you don’t want to be constantly looking for the line of the route. This helps you remain on that easier terrain whilst at the same time concentrating on your children and the adventure. The route should not be overly commiting and hence there should be plenty of opportunities to escape from the outset. Finally, as little walking as possible will also be much appreciated from those with the shorter legs too! So here I present five (tried and tested), recommended scrambles, suitable for children.
Crowden Clough in the Peak District
I love this route. It must be my favourite way to ascend Kinder Scout too. And once you’ve climbed to the top you can have a picnic with fine views ahead, explore and find aircraft wrecks or just amble off down Jacob’s Ladder, or down the adjacent footpath.
This route offers a lot more interest than you might initially realise. When I take kids up here we start early by boulder-hopping along the stream. I get the kids to take it in turns to find an interesting route that the others have to follow. The trick is to keep it exciting, but simultaneously to get them to try and keep their feet dry. By doing this the kids have to think about their footing, their balance and movement. It also gives me a chance to see what they’re like before we’ve even got onto steep ground. But all that aside, this is just good fun.
As the ground starts to get a little steeper look out for sections that provide more interest: boulders that you can climb over or need to traverse around over pools of water. Inevitably you will arrive at the waterfall. This is fun in its own right, and by the time you climb up this, you’re pretty much done.
Striding Edge on Helvellyn in the Lake District
This scramble comes with an infamous reputation: people tend to consider this scramble to be harder, or more exposed than it actually is. In reality it’s a great way for anyone to ascend to the top of England’s third highest mountain: Helvellyn. On a good day, when it’s dry and not windy, you can choose for most of the way how exposed or exciting that you wish to make it. Just beneath the crest of the ridge, there’s a footpath that runs in parallel which allows you to avoid the gnarly stuff for most of the way. To that end, if anyone in your party doesn’t like it at all, then you can easily clamber off down to the path and safely head back.
To see the route through there’s a time when that path leads you unavoidably to the crest. Here it will feel a bit exposed. You have to continue along the crest for a short way and then down-climb maybe five meters to a worn path. As someone leading the party I would always position myself beneath the down-climber and hence able to best show them where to place their foot next.
The finale to the top up the final flank of the mountain has you romping all the way up on generous handholds and steps, and with only a frisson of exposure. It really is a great way for the kids to ascend this mountain.
Having taken your summit-selfie, the fun doesn’t have to end there, for then you can descend down Swirral Edge which in the book is another grade 1 scramble, but most certainly it’s the poor cousin of the two.
Do not confuse Striding Edge with Sharp Edge, which lies further to the north which takes you to the highs of Blencathra. I have been up Sharp Edge quite a few times over the years and it’s rare to have a good day on it. It’s polished at its crux and even on dry days it retains its greasy sheen. With or without kids, I steer clear of this number these days. (If you want to climb Blencathra with your kids, try ascending via Hall’s Fell Ridge instead maybe!?)
Stickle Ghyll, Langdales, the Lake District
Often when I lead people to complete a scramble of Jack’s Rake I will start the day’s fun and games with an ascent of Stickle Ghyll. For scrambling with children, it’s perfect. It starts at around 200m from the car park, it’s got water, it’s forever escapable and you can end the day back at the pub for ice-cream or hot chocolate depending on how people are feeling.
You can choose to take Stickle Ghyll one of two ways. Go dry, or get wet from the outset. You will see many commercial groups choosing the latter choice with teams of children wearing various forms of apparel, but all those wetsuits, cagoules and buoyancy aids do rather impede the freedom and flow of movement and that’s what scrambling (in my book) should be all about. For me I generally choose to go dry.
I miss out the very first walls which take you up short gushing water spouts and water-falls. Instead I hop into the water-course 50 – 100m or so upstream. With less gear, but helmets worn, the kids can take it in turns to lead the dance through the boulders. They are not allowed to take the easiest line, but should look for interest, whilst all the time trying to keep their feet dry.
Eventually you will come to a 10m or so high waterfall. The rock here is greasy and slippery pretty much the whole way up. You can all miss out and skirt around this section easily enough, or a competent and experienced leader can drop a rope down to be attached to your group who should be wearing harnesses if attempting this climb. On a hot day, the water is not too voluminous in its spate but at the same time the soaking could be a nice way to cool off. On anything but a roasting hot summer’s day, I like to have a flask of hot-chocolate ready and to hand for the inevitable hypothermic shivering wrecks that you’ll then be faced with. A towel and some dry clothes won’t go amiss either!
Commercial groups tend to head down from here: session over. But there is so much more to enjoy from here on. With energy reserves now consumed and replete, I urge you, keep going. In fact the rock gets slightly better as it gets steeper now. (And all the time you’re within 50m or so of the path over to your right). This higher section does now need you the adult to be closely supervising your child/children. At every stage, think carefully where you are best placed, up ahead or down below?
Eventually the scramble comes to its natural end. It would be rude not to continue up to Stickle Tarn, from where you can show your kids another brilliant grade 1 scramble, the scratched and improbable line of Jack’s Rake on Pavey Ark. But this is another route that I suggest that you steer clear of for the time being. While it’s a great and easy route to follow, there is a lot of exposure, potential for falling rock from climbers above and just before the end there’s a chance you may go off route which if you do, will require a calm head from all involved! Instead maybe go for a dip in the water before heading back for your ice-cream, hot chocolate or pint of ale.
Y Gribin and East Ridge of Snowdon, Snowdonia
Many people are really keen to visit the summit of Wales’ highest mountain: Snowdon. And for most, they traipse up one of several motorways that lead ultimately to the top. Well, if you are not keen to join this train of refugees there’s an alternative in the Y Gribin Ridge (not to be confused with the Y Gribin Ridge in the Ogwen Valley – also a good scramble for children to have a crack at).
You start your day walking amiably enough on the Miners’ Track before breaking off left up a short bank of slabbed rock. These initial moves allow you an early opportunity for getting your eye in on the steep ground. It’s a good place to watch your charges individually move up the rocks. Here you can proffer advice on route choice, holds, and foot-work. If the youths are looking uncertain at this stage, or really at any point for the first half of the ascent on this scramble, there are ample opportunities to escape off back to the main path below.
But, if they like it, carry on! The ridge will slowly narrow and in places you can choose between slippery polished corners or slightly grippier and juggier, (but more exposed), arêtes. There’s plenty of wear, tear and polish too, to show you the way.
All too soon the joy comes to a natural conclusion and you find yourself on a grassy saddle with Y Lliwedd up to your left and Snowdon up to your right. If you have scratched the itch of Snowdon on a previous expedition, head left and seek out further grade 1 scrambling interest as you climb to the summit of Y Lliwedd. Before you do so however, maybe enjoy a picnic where you are, whilst you still have some solitude.
Should you decide to go for Snowdon itself, again, steer clear of the paths, which will seem the natural way up. Instead, continue to gain height, but by looking for a route that is direct and over to the right. This is the east ridge, and it will spit you out almost at the very top of what must be one of the most crowded mountains of the UK. All in all, it’s a great way to ascend Snowdon, almost free of anyone else the whole way up.
The Elie Chain Route, Fife, Scotland
For my fifth recommendation I wanted to offer you something north of the border into Scotland. But alas, my own personal scrambling experience in Scotland tends to be on terrain that is way beyond the reach of my primary-school-aged children. So I take this fifth suggestion from Dan Bailey, the editor of UKHillwalking.com and resident with his family in Scotland.
He suggests taking a look at the Elie Chain Route which is billed as Scotland’s first via-ferrata and is a perfect bite-sized adventure for families. The idea that it might be a via-ferrata is a little misleading, since on this route there is no need for a harness and/or via-ferrata kit. On its own, this could be graded as a grade 2 scramble, but a huge chain stapled into the rock and with in-cut steps, makes this a much easier proposition than any normal grade 2 outing. Be aware however that some of the sections go quite high for younger/smaller children, so be sure to check it out first before taking your youngest along for the adventure!
Scrambling is fun
Scrambling is exciting, it’s airy, it’s exposed, it’s exhilarating, and most of all it’s simply a GREAT way to ascend a mountain. Also it is so important to allow our kids to have adventures, to experience a bit of fear and to allow them to grow through these experiences. It’s also important for us as parents to step outside our own comfort zones and to grow some of our own confidence and trust in our kids. There is no reason not to take your kids on a scrambling adventure: just make sure you go prepared for the day and you’ll all have a great day to remember!
If you have never tried scrambling, make plans to do so now! As well as being exciting, airy, exposed, exhilarating, and a GREAT way to ascend a mountain, it’s also extremely addictive.
Recommended Scrambling Guide Books
Scrambles in the Dark Peak Easy Summer Scrambles and Winter Climbs (Cicerone Guide)
North Wales Scrambles: a guide to 50 of the best mountain scrambles in Snowdonia
Scrambles in Snowdonia: Snowdon, Glyders, Carneddau, Eifionydd and outlying areas (Cicerone Guide)
Scrambles in the Lake District – South (Cicerone Guide)
Scrambles in the Lake District – North (Cicerone Guide)
What is scrambling?
Scrambling With Children
Five Grade 1 Scrambles to Get You Started
Top Tips to Get Your Children Walking
Family Friendly Adventure Walks With Children
Tips and Advice: How to Get Your Kids Climbing
Ten ways to be better at map reading
Outdoor First Aid – Five items of essential first aid kit for the outdoors
What to do in an Emergency Outdoors