Raven Tor is the jewel in the crown of Peak District sport climbing albeit a rather polished one. Handily positioned as it is by a road it was the scene of many aided ascents in the late fifties and sixties—it was these routes and the in situ gear that was left on them that provided the protection for the early free climbs and helped introduce the concept of sport climbing into the UK. Having said that Tom Proctor’s A Little Extra climbed in 1979 actually had a new bolt placed on it—as elsewhere Proctor could see where the future lay…
It was Ron Fawcett (who else?!) who was to make the biggest impact initially. His ascent of the mixed protection old aid climb, Sardine, in 1981 really got the ball rolling. In 1982 he added the completely bolt/peg equipped Indecent Exposure, a multi pitch endurance route that made it to the top of the main part of the crag. The next step was a multi-day, multi-pitch siege based, loosely, on the line of the aid route The Prow which was again, exclusively a clip-up. Meantime the young pretender, as he was then, Jerry Moffatt added the fierce Rooster Booster— peg/bolt protection only.
1984 was the big year though. First off was Fawcett with Body Machine which was a long endurance bolt clip-up. In stark contrast Tim Freeman produced the two bolt long Weedkiller, the first route to breach the impressive roofs. But all were upstaged by Moffatt’s Revelations— the hardest route in the country at the time. Curiously though it only had one bolt, Moffatt used the aid climbers' drilled thread runners for protection so as not to annoy them—a philosophy that didn’t last long!
Steve Lewis went full bolt on Super High Intensity Bodybuilding, Tin Of and Another Toadside Attraction, Mark Pretty made his first contribution with Jive Turkey (which Ben Masterson soon turned into Let’s Get Naked!) whilst Andy Pollit produced the outrageous Whore of Babylon, Out of My Tree, Boot Boys and Chimes of Freedom (reclimbed by Ben Moon when a large block fell off the start). Easier routes, now out of vogue, at the lefthand end of the crag were the work of Malcolm Taylor, Nigel Slater and Pete Oxley whilst Lewis added The Toilet and In Brine. The big news in 1988 was Martin Atkinson’s Mecca which at 8b+ was one of the hardest routes in the world at the time—a tremendous effort and one that put Raven Tor on the world climbing map. More was to come, Hubble was the scene of a race for the first ascent between Moffatt and Moon and with a grade of 8c+ was, alongside Wolfgang Gullich’s Action Directe, the hardest route in the world at the time. Many have tried and few have succeeded and although the grade increase to 9a is somewhat contentious it’s aura has never fully dissipated.
A brief lull followed Hubble until Pretty, after Dialectics, succeeded on Make It Funky which, at 8c, was again one of the hardest routes in the world at the time. Rather bizarrely after doing Mecca 18 times he never tried the extension which he had previously bolted!
It was Moffatt again who upstaged everyone else with his ascent of Evolution, now one of the most coveted routes at the crag and definitely 8c+! As the 1980s generation bowed out the 1990s moved in—John Welford’s Jehovahkill was a truly desperate addition but it was Steve McClure who was destined to be the next ‘King of the Tor’. His Mecca Extension was rapidly overshadowed by the still unrepeated Mutation which, at a tough 9a (now considered a ‘solid 9a+'), again put the Tor on the world map. His Kabaah, The Hajj, Stevolution and Rooster Crossing are some of the hardest at the crag.
Pretty meanwhile, was on an almost endless mission to extend/make more logical/link together any and every bit of rock on the crag; of those routes Proud Whore, The Prow in one pitch, Green Alternative and Call of Nature have become popular as have Kristian Clemmow’s Right to Roam and Ring of Fire.
Since then bouldering links into routes have been all the rage. One of the last gaps was plugged by Buster Martin in 2021 when he climbed the direct finish to Make it Funky to give Persian Dawn (8c+), a desperate bouldery affair. Raven Tor’s ‘last great problem’ though was the free version of Brandenburg Gate. It was bolted for a free ascent shortly after Hubble was climbed and was almost climbed by John Gaskins back in 2003. The route saw few attempts over the next 18 years and had gained a mythical status: a next level project of supreme difficulty. Will Bosi—fresh from the success of the very long awaited second ascent of Mutation—finally climbed Brandenburg in impressively fast time at the end of 2021. The grade was an unremarkable low end 9a+.