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Hidden away on the west coast of quiet Co. Clare is one of Ireland's very best sea cliffs. Ailladie is Irish for the blind man's cliff and is lost in the distinctive landscape of the Burren. Which leaves you truly thankful that you can clearly see the pale grey limestone hills, sharp green grass and the odd lonely tree with your own very functional eye sight.
My first trip to the Burren involved a six hour drive from Belfast which we started a bit late so we arrived at Ailladie in the pitch black. I stumbled over to the top of the cliff to have a look. The sound of the waves thumping at the bottom of huge blank walls was absolutely terrifying.
In daylight Ailladie is a much friendlier place. The cliff is a long, clean stretch of cracked limestone which faces straight out to sea. A flat rock plateau called the Dancing Ledges enables you to walk almost half way along the bottom of the increasingly higher cliff passing underneath Aran Wall to the Mirror Wall.
Aran Wall is a 30m high slightly leaning blank wall which has some of the best test-pieces of the crag. The routes on this wall tend to be sustained and strenuous but with excellent gear very like the rest of the crag. Gallows Pole is the classic E2 of the crag. With a tricky start it follows a set of right facing parallel cracks and perfect nut placements all the way up the gently overhanging wall to the top. Sunstone and Kleptomaniac both E3 are excellent and again both really well protected and guaranteed to have you pumped by the top. At the very end of the Aran Wall is one of the best E4s in the country. Wall of Fossils is perfect. It has a wee bit of everything that climbing at the Burren is about and also it's out there on the middle of this blank looking wall. It also has the crux right where you don't want it!
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Mick's Little Viper (VS), Trebanog by Andy Sharp
One of the best medium graded traditional routes on sandstone, good rock and good gear make this a must for those interested in the traditional art!
The very tricky start can be avoided on the right if required, and entry to the thin parallel cracks is via two good pockets. These cracks can be laced with good wires, but make sure you have room for the delightful finger jams which are prevalent.
South Wales is synonymous with sheep for some reason, and while soloing the Viper some years ago I was quite surprised to see two of them (sheep) jump over the top of the route, they were closely followed by a rather large dog. On landing the sheep just got up, had a quick shake and walked away. The dog, however, lay at the bottom for some time before limping off into the nearby estate.
A word of warning to future visitors though, occasionally the crag is visited by some of the local youths they too enjoy climbing but with your gear, so be careful!
It was the last outing of our alpine holiday and, as usual, we were bivvying some distance above the hut to both save time and money and to enjoy the stars for the last time before the long drive back home.
From my deep sleep, snuggled in my Gore-tex bivvy bag I was awoken by the sound of approaching boots on rock. The first party had already left the hut so, as usual, we hadn't saved any time. Gradually the sound got louder and louder. Soon I could hear heavy breathing and an occasional cough from the group as they became accustomed to the cold fresh air as they scrambled up the easy ledges below us. Then, quite suddenly, when the boots arrived right by my head they stopped. After a moment the French Guide started to speak, informing the group about where RAB Survival they were. Ici, I imagined him pointing to the peaks Zone £50 silhouetted against the pre dawn sky, Les Bains, and turning further round Ici Ailfroide and then there was a pause, during which I imagined him looking down towards his boots with a slight frown, Ici he said Les Anglaises. He never saw us or spoke to us, but he knew. There was some low muttering and the group moved slowly off panting and coughing and, I imagine, shaking their heads slightly in disbelief.
We British like to bivvy. So, what exactly is bivvying? The word obviously comes from the word Bivouac defined in the dictionary as a temporary encampment with few facilities. Ironically for my story it comes from the French word bivouac. As far as I am concerned it is now generally taken to mean sleeping out in the open in the wilds or on a mountain with shelter ranging from the clothes you are standing in to something less than a tent.
There are basically three types of bivvying. The Planned Luxury one, as was our experience in the
Ecrins described above, The Planned Necessity one RAB Ranger when you know a route or journey is going to £140 require it and the Unplanned or Surprise Bivvy.
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