UKC

Trad Development Scotland 2018-21: North Article

© Dave Rudkin

Following on from South of the Great Glen, North of the Great Glen is the second of this year's articles documenting some of the recent trad climbing development in Scotland. 

The North of the country contrasts with a more regular studding of rock. It's more of a rough-around-the-edges landscape. Geologically, the north is typified by the bright folds of Lewissian gneiss, the parallel breaks of sediments and the regularly jointed volcanics. It has the dizzying sea cliffs, the post card mountains and the craglets in birch hollows.

Despite its relative remoteness, this is where more of the new routing occurs. The untrodden coastlines and hidden mountain walls have much to offer the explorer. The major protagonists, easily recognised by their all-terrain wellies, are still at it. Occasionally you'll spot one, tramping the hillside with an armoury of brushes, giant rope and huge flask of tea. But it's not just the locals. Climbers from all over the place travel to climb new lines on this last frontier. 

Alongside the annual New Routes updates, recent publications have been particularly exciting. The SMC Islands guidebooks, The Great Sea Cliffs and Great Mountain Crags and a third edition of Scottish Rock all shine a light on the wealth of traditional climbing on offer in the North West. 

My Guidebooks  © Peter Herd
My Guidebooks
© Peter Herd

Anecdotally, I've never to talked to more climbers who have visited Scotland as I have in 2021. Perhaps COVID-19 travel restrictions and the climate crisis have prompted us to evaluate the resources we have on our doorstep.

Mull

Mull and its satellite islands have become popular amongst climbers, particularly since the release of the 2014 SMC guidebook. Guidebook author Colin Moody, alongside Pete Whillance, Cynthia Grindly and Andy Hyslop - who together are responsible for a huge proportion of rock climbing development on these islands - have been taking the ferry over to the wee island of Ulva. The crack team have climbed some reportedly excellent lines mostly in the E1-2 bracket on rock with an "unusually knobbly nature", which "in places resembles ancient writings." In practice, these crack climbs seem to lend themselves to face climbing too so shouldn't put off those without honed jamming skills. 

Lochaber

In northern Lochaber, two major areas have seen development. On the road to the isles, many routes in the V-Diff - E3 bracket have been climbed on the roadside - European Union and Crimson Crags, Gleann Mama Slabs and Druim Fiaclach. Nathan Adam takes up the report:

"I remember reading something online where someone said; You could fill a whole guidebook with new routes on the rock between Glenfinnan and Arisaig. Much of the climbing west of Fort William is something of a quiet backwater and I'm yet to visit a crag where I've had to share it with others." This area is most known for the hard slab climbs at Glen Shian, but there is a huge amount of rock at all grades worth attention. The introduction of the SMC's Highland Outcrops South guide with a selection of new topos has led to the discovery of several good small crags which have proved popular, and thanks to their proximity to the road and that many face south through to west, they are useful for afterwork hits, often catching the evening sun with great views of both mountain and sea. It serves many local climbers well and there is still much good rock to be discovered for those who enjoy solitude or are looking for somewhere new."

Ali Rose adds: "While there's lots of brilliant development at the upper end of the scale there are a few prolific developers in the mid range and I would love to highlight these. If you blink you might miss two crags as you sweep round the bend on the "European" bit of road at Loch nam Uamh - Crimson Crag on the seaward side and European Union crag on the landward.Both have good quality rock for bouldering, short routes, a cheeky solo or just messing around. Steve Kennedy, Cynthia Grindley, Colin Moody and others continue to unearth quality wee crags all over Lochaber."

Further north, in the secluded Glen Pean, an area boasting more untouched rock than the whole of England and Wales, Dave MacLeod has been busy. Some of the stand out routes appear to be Second Round, Second Minute E8 6c and The Crossing E5 6a, climbed with Iain Small and Natalie Berry. The three-pitch line of The Crossing was repeated by Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson, who confirmed the quality of the route, going as far as to say it was "really good!". Dave's exploration of Glen Pean features in his YouTube videos, which give a great impression of the scope and quality of new climbs, and feature the entertaining and insightful commentary we've come to expect from his vlogs.

Kintail

Further north again, in Glen Cluanie, Chris Dickinson has developed the slabby hillscape that everyone drives past too fast to get a look at (it's that or the midges are too bad to open the car door). 

Chris takes up the story on his development of Creag Lundie, a crag that since the publication of his pdf guide has seen a surge of attention. 

"Craig Lundie is accessible, largely midge free and a lovely place to climb on good granite. In time I am developing more climbs on this same granite outcrop (it extends beyond Creag Lundie).The finest routes to date in my opinion are Hashtag, VS 5a, 4c, Zig Zag E1 5b, Firewall Difficult and George Floyd VS 4c."

Chris has worked out a .pdf guide for the area which exists somewhere, but it's either been lost in the ether or eaten by a plague or horseflies?

Skye Cuillin 

In 2018, the extended period of fine dry weather saw Skye Cuillin enthusiasts exploring new terrain. At the fore was Mike Lates with some of the major unclimbed features of the ridge crest in mind. Mike describes the scene:

"There are acres of unclimbed rock in the Cuillin, but only a handful of new routes are added each year. Multiple stars need to align before you even start the climb. Whole seasons have, seemingly, passed without a single suitable day of weather and real life all too often gets in the way. The climbs themselves tend to be technically easier than expected but often require patience, imagination and boldness to stay safe.."

"Early June 2018 saw the stars align for a precious couple of weeks with bone dry rock and good partners available. The summit block of Sgurr Mhiccoinnich faces south and had a number of lines that looked possible. Lucy Spark and I climbed Mackenzie's Flying Groove (E1 5b), which gave two excellent pitches with good protection and deserves to become very popular." Mike and Malcolm Airey also added Canon and Wall (E1 5c) on which Mike comments "it felt like a back-flip would land me in Loch Coruisk on the final moves."

Mike Lates on Mackenzie Flying Groove  © Lucy Spark
Mike Lates on Mackenzie Flying Groove
© Lucy Spark

Mike and Malcy also climbed a line up the impressive North wall of An Stac. Mike continues:

"Highlight of this period, for me, was on the 100m North wall of An Stac that overhangs by 10 degrees and is split by just one soaring corner. I first spied it in 2000 and failed to even reach the corner on my two attempts over the past 18 years. Finally getting onto the huge wall and topping out in one piece will always stay with me. Deploy the Pasty (E1 5b) is what I forgot to call it when I recorded it as North Wall Route. Keep your eyes open and, if you find the stars aligned, be sure to act because the rewards are mighty."

More recently Mike and Dan Moore added two new lines to the Bealach Buttress area of Sgurr MhicCoinnich, the highlight of which was Dan's The Power of Now (E4). 

Over in Coire a' Ghrundda on South Crag, Steve Kennedy, Cynthia Grindley, Morris MacLeod and Colin Moody climbed Wytches Brew and Smidgen, both routes taking corner features at VS 4b. 

Pete Whillance and Cynthia Grindley climbing on Skye.  © Colin Moody
Pete Whillance and Cynthia Grindley climbing on Skye.
© Colin Moody

Despite its remote location, the awesome reputation of Skye Wall has ensured that it has seen a steady trickle of repeats over the past few seasons. Among these ascensionists were Ferdia Earle and Rebekah Drummond, who are in exclusive company as female climbers who have climbed multi-pitch mountain E7.

Ferdia offered a few thoughts about her experience:

"The images I'd seen of Charlie Woodburn and Dave Birkett stranded amidst a sea of veined gabbro must have captured my imagination. I realised that it was probably one of the pieces of climbing I'd most like to try in the world. There was an inevitability to it after that."

"I really enjoy spending time on the UK's mountain crags. Going in for multiple days with a tent most of all. You experience such magical moments in places like these, see so many tricks of the light that you might never have seen before, that the importance of climbing objectives is diminished."

"Pitch two is one of the best I've ever done. From start to finish, every move is tricky and a joy to execute, going from technical and bold climbing on crimps and thin flakes, to a slightly easier finishing crack. As a headpoint, the cruxes were being efficient with practice goes to save skin on the rough gabbro, and remembering lots of tricky and technical climbing."

New routing in Coire a Ghrunnda  © Colin Moody
New routing in Coire a Ghrunnda
© Colin Moody

Over at the north end of the Cuillin, Michael Barnard and Sam Simpson added The Green Mile (E3) to the impressive south face of the Basteir Tooth, while Andy Moles climbed the steep gritstone-esque crack rising out of the Basteir Nick to give Execution Crack (E3).

Extreme Rock enthusiasts James McHaffie and Tony Stone have also made ascents of the Cuillin climbs Megaton and Thor on the rarely visited North face of Sgurr a' Mhadaidh. The routes are reportedly wild and in places serious, especially since the demise of their pegs. They have been upgraded to E4 and E3 respectively.

Ferdia underneath Skye Wall  © Andy Moles
Ferdia underneath Skye Wall
© Andy Moles

Skye Sea Cliffs and surrounding islands

Michael Barnard, probably the current most enthusiastic and prolific new router in the Highlands, has been busy as ever unearthing new crags and filling in major gaps. He describes some of these on Skye:

"This summer Alan Hill and I drove up to Rubha Hunish (Skye) to investigate a pair of steep parallel cracks on the headwall right of the HVS route The Knowledge. These gave quality E3 5c jamming tests, and although we added lower pitches to make full height routes, they would be well worth abbing in for in their own right and a bit of flaky rock in the cracks should disappear with traffic."

A little further south, at the Bornesketaig sea cliffs, Steve Kennedy, Cynthia Grindley and Colin Moody have also added about ten good routes in 2018-2020, mostly around E1.

Wildwood FA  © J Sutton
Wildwood FA
© J Sutton, Jun 2019

James Sutton has continued to explore the area around Staffin and has added a clutch of fine new routes in the mid extremes. As well as climbing new routes he's scrubbed up many of the pre-existing ones. Staffin Slip crag, which was once revered for its lack of traffic and lichenous rock, has been granted a new lease of life - arguably as the single best crack climbing venue in Britain with around 30 spectacular climbs. 

This year the crag has seen a rush of attention from visiting climbers. Unfortunately this also resulted in one of James cleaned projects being climbed before he could lead it. The unintentional snaking gave another brilliant crack pitch at E4 - 'Ymddiheuriadau' translating from Welsh as "sincere apologies".

Further down the coast, on the spectacular Chimney Stack, James and I installed some long-life anchors to replace the rotten old ones. I suspect these anchors will outlive the stack.

At Kilt Rock, Rob Lamey and Mike Rolf added Russet (E7 6c), a spectacular looking climb up the pillar right of Wide Eyed. Whilst this is not the first climb to move away from the continuous cracked-grooves of Kilt and Staffin, it is a substantial jump in standard and is perhaps an indicator of a next level of possibility on these fantastic cliffs. Word is that this quality addition is being considered by a Highland Crag Ethics Select Committee as a peace keeping gesture for nicking James' line at Staffin. 

Mike working the moves on Russet   © valecoastclimber
Mike working the moves on Russet
© valecoastclimber, Aug 2021

Topo of the climb   © valecoastclimber
Topo of the climb
© valecoastclimber, Aug 2021

On the adjacent Elishadder wall, Rob and Ben West also added a route each. Perffaith and Chock-a-Bloc are both given E3 6a and are reportedly excellent. Around the corner towards Tempest Buttress, Andy Moles cleaned yet another giant cracked groove to give Cetacean Siege (E2 5c). 

Around at Neist, Andy Moles has added several good lines with various partners, the highlights of which are a trio of E5s. Vagrants and Breadline take strong groove features on the east wall of Poverty Point, while directly above on the upper tier, Rogue's Wall takes an unlikely line for the grade up a delicately featured wall, which Andy describes as being like a harder version of the classic Wall Street.

Andy Moles on the FA of Rogues Wall E5 6a  © Tom Wild
Andy Moles on the FA of Rogues Wall E5 6a
© Tom Wild

Further inland and, with splendid panoramic views of the Cuillin to the East and Talisker Bay to the West, Nicola Bassnett, Simon Dale and Roger Brown have developed several new sectors of the Na Huranan escarpment. Lochan Buttress is South facing dolerite cliff now boasting seven good routes from VS-E2 with The Reddleman (E2 5c) and Ewe Tricks (E1 5b) being particular stand out climbs. 

New routing in remote parts of the country is time consuming and often plain hard but Nicola highlights succinctly, what to her makes that effort so worthwhile. 

"A few personal thoughts on middle aged new routing:

Splendid isolation
Addiction paired with patience
Dogged obsession and partnership
The best and the most rewarding of times :-)"

Fisherfield

Back on the mainland, in the heart of the Fisherfield 'wilderness', Carn Mor Crag has seen renewed attention. Visiting in 2018, Guy Robertson and Iain Small climbed the big diagonal crack crossing Carn Mor Corner to give Walk on the Wild Side (E6 6c), a route which Iain compared in quality and difficulty to The Kelpie on Ardgour, "but with two hard pitches for good measure."

Guy describes the trip:

 "The main pitch across the left wall of the Corner had almost nothing for the feet, and only flared jams and undercuts for hands - something like French 7b+ climbing to an incredible and unexpected knee-bar rest before a desperate 6c sequence to gain a hanging belay in the corner. Iain showed his true colours here, cruising to the rest and then spending several hours there, back-and-forth on the crux, before duly dispatching it."

"I gave the next pitch across the right wall a hearty blast but about halfway along and after several exploding non-existent footholds I knew I was goosed. Enter Smallie and his nuclear-powered endurance and the pitch was duly dispatched."

"This one is undoubtedly a candidate for best E6 in Scotland. Stunning line, immaculate rock, protection and climbing on arguably the finest mountain cliff in the UK. The sight of the clouds parting as he reached the end of the traverse, leaving us dancing above a cloud inversion with Beinn Lair and A' Mhaighdean emerging from the swirling mists beneath us, will stay with me forever. This was true on-sight wilderness trad climbing at its very, very best."

Ian on Walk on the Wild Side  © Guy Robertson
Ian on Walk on the Wild Side
© Guy Robertson

Back in 2013 Iain Small and Murdoch Jamieson climbed the spectacular wall left of Orange Bow with One Hundred Years of Solitude (E8 6c). As a sustained and technical climb with big fall potential and in a spectacularly remote place, aspiring repeaters would need to expend a considerable amount of time and energy just to get a look at it. 

It wasn't until 2021 that pro climbers Angus Kille and Calum Muskett, accompanied by pro photographer Ray Wood were drawn up from North Wales to try it out. Poolewe has never seen such celebrity presence! Despite the showery forecast, enough of a weather window appeared for the pair to practise and climb the route, Angus managing to lead it placing gear and Calum with a rest half way. Despite not managing to free the pitch, he appeared to have the last laugh as he freewheeled into the sunset and car park, Angus and Ray having received punctures on their e-bikes. 

Later in the year and with another photographer in tow, Callum Johnson also made a free ascent of the route, opting for a small compromise in style by pre-placing a cam on the run-out. His ascent will feature in a film centred around his "Quad Eight Project".

Callum's article about the route here.

Murdoch's article about the route here.

Torridon

A few glens further south in Torridon, the coveted walls continue to reveal great new pitches. 2019 saw Todd Swain, Steve Kennedy, Julie Carter and Mandy Glanvill (and others) lead a crop of fine new routes between VS and E2 Creag nan Uaimh and Discovery Rock. The best of these appear to be Toddlodyte (E2 5b) and Step We Gaily (VS 4c). 

On Beinn Eighe, Michael Barnard reflects on memorable days with Ewan Lyons:

"I had a few days out in 2019 with Ewan which I now remember with a mixture of fondness and sadness following his tragic accident the following winter. The best of these was perhaps a day on the Eastern Ramparts of Beinn Eighe when we repeated the Robin Smith route Boggle (E1 5b) and also added a new line further right. The main pitch of White Hammer (E2 5c) takes an excellent steep crack/groove up the left side of the clean white wall left of Fairytale Groove, but Ewan wasn't too impressed with some slimy climbing on his pitch above it - a fine lead and a good route for a dry spell I suspect!"

Down at Diabaig, Gary and Karen Latter continued development on the slabs. "In the end we climbed just under twenty new routes there, from Difficult to E3, though mainly easier stuff. With the exception of a couple, all are very worthwhile, on the usual impeccable Lewisian gneiss."

Coigach and Assynt

Ian Taylor and Tess Fryer have continued to explore their local patch with a typically steady stream of fine routes. Ian gives an insight: 

"I'm happy just to plod away up in the NW doing the odd new thing that inspires me and not shouting about it. I genuinely think only a dozen folk have any interest in the new stuff. After major efforts developing Spaced Out Rockers Cliff, Creag Rodha Mor and Loch Maree I've either got a bit lazy or just can't find the time for lots of new routing. But I always try to do one new E5/6 trad route a year at each of these venues; Ardmair, Stac Pollaidh and Reiff. Murdo [Murdoch Jamieson] is the only one interested in these as he needs something to warm up on."

Amongst a few of Ian and Tess's recent quality additions are Tubby Twinkle Toes (E6 6a) on Stac Pollaidh, which takes the left arête of Vlad the Impaler,  Sweaty Betty (E4 6a) which takes steep grooves left again, Tigers in a Cage (E5 6b), a blunt arête at Ardmair right of the Burning Desire prow, The Little Book of Death (E4 5c) and Nought to Sixty (E5 6a) at Reiff. 

Ian Taylor onTubby Twinkle Toes   © Stac Pollaidh CCTV
Ian Taylor onTubby Twinkle Toes
© Stac Pollaidh CCTV

Tess describes her tussle with Sweaty Betty on Stac Pollaidh, the line of which was actually climbed by Tom Prentice and Simon Richardson back in the eighties at E2, but whose first pitch fell down before they could write it up - giving us our clean-cut groove.."

"Ian's life's mission is to leave no potentially viable rock on his patch unexamined, and most especially not on the mini-mountain crags of Stac Pollaidh. Once again, he put in the hours dusting off the uncharted territory and then generously gifted me the first pitch - with the proviso that he hadn't managed to give the start a proper clean... (I've been here before: it never ends well)."

"All a bit tentative, even getting to the innocuous starting corner, which proved to be typically unhelpful and effortful. And seriously scrittly, even by Pollaidh standards. Things then got interesting, though reassuringly protected as I got established in the (dirty) groove. Meanwhile the sun had ramped up from lovely Spring bliss to eyeball-melting frazzle. All ability or desire to finesse my way from thuggery to awkward techy-ness dissolved and I resorted to traditional methods in sweaty disgust. Day 2 rematch, following a more concerted attempt with proper equipment (bog brush), and ambient conditions, and Sweaty Betty went down as a future classic, E4 6a, 6a."

Tess on Sweaty Betty  © Ian Taylor
Tess on Sweaty Betty
© Ian Taylor

John Mackenzie describes one of around 20 new climbs on various tiers of the Lurgainn Slabs, on Cul Beag: "The pick of the bunch is undoubtedly Breakout (HVS 5a) at 85m and with three pitches, this route was climbed in June of 2019 by Neil Wilson, Andrew James and I. The climb follows "rippled rock", "a central crack over sandstone billows" and features "entertaining moves bridging to a superb but hidden jug."

photo
Andrew James on Breakout
© John Mackenzie

John continues: "To climb here on a sunny warm day is a delight and savours sandstone at its best. Despite the rather brutal approach, which harbours wild flowers in abundance in season, there are increasingly fine views as height is gained over Loch Lurgainn. All in all, providing you are not after greater technicalities, perhaps this is a Northern Arcadia?"

On the northern end of Reiff James McHaffie made a rare repeat of Otto, a steep wall climb next to the popular classic The Quickening.  Rarely repeated perhaps because it reportedly features 8a+ climbing. Alan Cassidy comments on UKC "A good E7 onsight prospect if you're currently onsighting 8b+."!

Up at Achmelvich, on Clean Cut crag, Ferdia Earle has climbed the clean cut corner right of Flawless to give The Certainty of Tides (E7/8 6c). The climb took a few visits to figure out and features very technical climbing with scant protection. Her partner Andy writes about their experiences at the crag here

Also on the coast, Mark Robson and Simon Richardson have climbed a sea stack 200m south of the well loved Old Man of Stoer. The South Stack of Stoer is hidden on approach and after the Stoer descent, involved some sea level traversing and a 30 swim. Their route up a right trending crack (S) was reportedly on excellent rock. Simon recalls: "The sea was not as calm as we would have liked and the swim back was very exciting! The climbing was excellent on amazing holds - far easier than it looked from the cliff top or even from the start of the route."

The archetypal fin of Suilven has up until recently received little attention from rock climbers. It appears from most angles to lack consistently steep rock and its remoteness is awkward enough to keep most climbers away. Far from being put off by the trials of developing new routes on remote mountain scapes however, Guy Robertson, Phil Jack and photographer Hamish Frost revel in the opportunity. Guy writes about two new climbs with Phil, Lord of the Isles (E7 6b) and Lonely Mountain (E4 6a), in this article

Outer Hebrides

Across the Minch, exploration continues unabated. For many climbers, this island group is the quintessential holiday destination and a site of annual pilgrimage. 

Dave MacLeod has been visiting Creag Mo with various partners for over a decade. In recent years he's climbed with Masa Sakano, Keita Kurakami and Naoki Komine and between them they have climbed half a dozen new routes from HVS-E9. These include The Hard Drive (E7 6b), a climb named in homage to Andy Nisbet, and Mega Bracket/Kagi-kakko (E7 6c), a line that reminded Keita of Japanese quotation marks.  

No stranger to granite-style features (Keita made the first all free rope solo of The Nose), the 90m line of Mega Bracket/Kagi-kakko really stood out to Keita. He comments on the experience:

"I was fascinated by this characterful line. The corner reminded me of Yosemite climbing. I had a very, very good time on Harris. We woke up in the morning (not so early), had a few cups of tea, drove to the crag, walked the grassy approach, found a new line on our gut feeling, cleaned up the line, then climbed it. Not only the climbing, but also everyday life on Harris was very simple. I definitely love it and I hope to return to this beautiful island."

This article gives further insight into the other routes the team have climbed.

Dave's video of climbing Golden Road E9:

Climbing between showers on a recent trip, James McHaffie and Dave Rudkin climbed a new line called Lost in Music (E7 6c) on the buttress right of Little Big Wall. Dave describes the scene:

"We'd ticked off the routes on Little Big Wall including MacLeod's E7 6b over a couple of rainy days. This buttress to the right looked appealing in a steep burly kinda way, and was just about staying dry, so Caff rapped it and checked the gear then led it. I almost flashed it on second but after taking out all Caff's gear I was weighted down. Nice addition to the area, and a good crag to visit if it turns dreich."

James McHaffie on Lost in Music  © Dave Rudkin
James McHaffie on Lost in Music
© Dave Rudkin

Though there is no shortage of new walls to explore inland, the majority of new development on the Outer Hebrides continues to take place on the sea cliffs. 

At Rhubha Cuinish, Ally Fulton and Simon Smith both climbed a concave wall they named My Wave (E4). Ally comments "Safe enough but needs a few genuine onsights to settle the grade. Plum line and hope it gets some traffic! In relation to other routes climbed during the week, it was felt that My Wave! warranted E5, but compared to mainland E4s it's probably E4."

Adventure specialists George Smith and Crispin Waddy have have added a few dozen routes on the Uig and Mangersta cliff areas, typically between E3 - E6.  George reports on some of his and Crispin's recent explorations:

"Going to Papa Geo felt isolated - like if we got in trouble someone was bound to come by sometime in the next couple of years. The main attraction for me was the big diagonal line leading into a groove system. On abseil it was hard to believe how it all linked together on such compact rock. This became Sea Fret (E3 5c) - not because there was any; the fretting came from within! We were glad to see humans at the campsite."

Climbing at Geodha Gunna, George describes the first ascent of I'm going out now (I may be some time) (E5/6 6b/c):

"The start had one short section of excruciating jams that I managed not to fall off. These led to a steady bit before the roof. The roof becomes monstrous on close contact. I shoved a leg into its depths and kept it there whilst I reached as far as I could for a more conventional fist jam. As I committed to the lip one of my two big cams fell out. I heard Crispin shout "It's OK" which may have been code for "get on with it you coward" so I did-and managed to grab the huge finishing flake. This is one of the best crack experiences I've ever had.."

"Crispin's The Shining One (E4 6a) will undoubtedly become the other uber-classic route here (along with Captain Oates (E4 6b)). It is a cool two pitch climb - but the temptation on a big sea or iffy weather will be to simply ab down to a hanging belay and enjoy the perfect top pitch. I mean perfect too. It goes where the others didn't quite dare - and at the same grade."

"In Rubha Thisgeis, Bonxie Beat (E3 5c) felt like an amazing coup; it's as good as it looks; a thin crack in a perfect position. On the other side of the zawn Crispin found the much harder Weirdwolf (E5 6a). There's only going to be a very select club of folk who lead this!

At the Screaming Geo again I was amazed that there could be any gaps left in such a well visited cliff. Crispin's 'Wadfish' (E3 5c) felt incredible in terms of quality and the territory it got through at 5c."

Gunna Geo Topo  © George Smith
Gunna Geo Topo
© George Smith

Also climbing at Gheodha Gunna have been Rab Anderson and Mark Garthwaite, two names that appear with distinct regularity in the Outer Hebrides guidebook. Their recent new routes fall similarly around the E3-E5 mark, following steep arêtes, and cracked walls. 

Uig regulars Mick and Cathy Tighe have developed whole new crags area. Their climbs at Caol Beag and Gheodh Cao mostly fall in the VS-E2 bracket. Mick gives an overview:

"I've been doing new routes, mostly on the sea-cliffs, since the 1970's. I've been lucky in having whole crags to explore and as a result some of my VS-E2 routes have become classics, not because I led them, but because most folk climb at that grade. We developed a crag at Bragar in Lewis a few years back with a dozen or so three star VS and HVS routes, the whole world and his dog goes there now for reasons described... you can take yer granny, yer fat wife, fat boyfriend and the dog. Pepper your article with fat guys on V.Diffs and it will go down a treat… "

On the isle of Pabbay, at the north facing Hoofer's Geo, Ben Silvestre, climbing with Tessa Lyons, climbed a logical counter diagonal to Boosh with Signed, Sealed, Delivered (E7 6c/7b+). Ben comments that its aspect gave great shelter from the heat of the sun but also meant that the start remained greasy and a tactical pre chalking was advisable.

Sam Tolhurst on The Ferry Man  © Steven Van Dijck
Sam Tolhurst on The Ferry Man
© Steven Van Dijck

Researching recent development on the St Kilda archipelago, a series of route names appear as if chapter headings cut from Mackay Brown's "Beside the Ocean of Time" or Melville's "Moby Dick": "The Last and Outmaist Ile, Jesus and the Leper, The Swallow over the Sea, The Dead Travel Fast, The Kraken, The Ferry Man". The evocative names echo an immersive trip for Sam Tolhurst, Steven Van Dijck and Bob Harrison in the summer of 2018. Their exploration included a clutch of 150m routes on the Ruaival Slabs and Face between VS-E4, an 'instant classic' corner on the Isle of Dun (Giomach Sgòr) and a 230m route on the western tip of Soay - Wet Foot West (VS), which might just be the UK's most westerly climb. Sam recounts memories and philosophy on new routing on Scotland's distant peripheries:

"As Bob pulls the dingy back to the boat and sails out a safe distance the resonance of the situation takes hold. 41 miles from the nearest island. No phone signal, no island based rescue service, no radio contact with the island base. With the team down a member, who would have piloted the dingy, we have no idea how we will get back to the yacht, which alarmingly now bobs up and down in an increasingly angry North Atlantic. I thought this exposure and commitment was for the big mountains, but here we are on a Scottish island. We proceed on wobbly sea legs and make what could be the British Isles' most westerly climb.

Whispers of remote and committing climbing are closer to home than many think. This trip to St Kilda ground-up new routing, alongside later trips to headpoint and develop Hoy and Orkney have highlighted to me the extraordinary potential in the UK. This is not about my personal achievements or grades or those of any other, it is about the wealth of climbing to be found in Scotland. Adventures await those who are willing to endure, to be patient and to climb the less travelled cliffs and edges. I feel privileged Scotland has graced me with these experiences. I'd only ask for a little less wind in future."

Kath climbing Hebridean Princess, Caol Beag  © Mick Tighe
Kath climbing Hebridean Princess, Caol Beag
© Mick Tighe

Orkney and Shetland

Moving north to the megalithic Nebbifield of Foula in the Shetland Isles, Dave MacLeod and Calum Muskett made the first ascent of the wall with the serious, 10 pitch, Ultimate Thule ( E7 6b). The name was inspired by the Romans interpretation of Foula as 'the farthest land'. Nebbifield is the continuation of cliff just around the corner from Da Kame. Whilst not as prominent and high (Da Kame is one of the tallest in the British Isles at 370m), Nebbifield is considerably steeper and not exactly short, at 290m. 

Dave comments on his and Calum's experience: "Foula is quite the place. Things in the islands are 'more relaxed' in general but Foula definitely takes it to another level. The locals are however not relaxed about helping visitors. Everyone bends over backwards to look after people coming to visit the island. There is no shop and aside from worrying about how to carry 440m of rope and a huge rack of gear, I wondered how we would carry food for an entire trip as well. I asked around if any of the local crofters had any meat or eggs they could sell and in one email there were to be pre-placed local lamb and eggs at our accommodation. Eggcellent."

Dave has written a full report about the trip in his blog here.

In Orkney, Julian Lines has continued to explore DWS possibilities around Yesnaby while researching for his upcoming DWS guide: 

"I made half a dozen new solos, of which I did two exciting ones on the False Stack. I wasn't sure at first if they were viable as solos, so I had to abseil down with a chalkbag full of stones, dropping them at certain intervals on the route to see where they fell in the narrow trench. I finally felt they were viable, but only at spring tides, which I had to wait patiently for."

"When the spring tides arrived, so did the south westerlies and with it brought swells and Lion's Mane jellyfish. So before setting off I left my towel and a bottle of vinegar at the base just in case I fell off and got stung."

"The first one takes the arête directly under the drawbridge on its right hand side and finishes on the north side of the drawbridge - JL Seagull (F7a S3). The second one takes the overhanging crack to the right of the arête; it is slightly higher but has a deeper channel to compensate. It is also technically easier, but more sustained - Sheep Society (F7a S3)"

Edward Nind continues with some commentary on new routing in the Orkney Isles.

"When I first started climbing, down in central Scotland, I was labouring under the delusions that a) almost all the rock was climbed out, 2) anything left to do would be desperately hard and 3) it was all a bit hard, serious and dangerous. When I went to Orkney a few years ago, I realised that new crags can be 10 minutes from the road, short, solid and filled with easy routes.

I went back to Orkney a year later to explore some of the more spectacular, committing and harder terrain on Hoy and together with friends, found a lot more solid rock than I'd been expecting. I would encourage anyone who is making the pilgrimage to the Original Route on the Old Man of Hoy to download my supplement and check out some of the new routes on Hoy. The routes on Orkney Mainland also offer a friendlier (sub-E1) alternative to the harder routes of Hoy and Yesnaby."

Edward's guide, which features a huge number of new routes climbed in the last few years can be accessed here.

photo
Climbing in the Lang Geos
© Edward Nind

Caithness Coast

Back on the mainland the far NE coast has seen a significant wave of development. Riding the crest have been locals Simon Nadin, Rob Christie, Allan Sinclair and Charlie MacLeod. Simon recounts he had all but left climbing behind upon moving up to this quiet corner of Scotland. Little did he anticipate that from his kayak he would spot some spectacular unclimbed cliffs of (occasionally) solid rock.

Often scorned for its numerous humps and winds as it runs near and parallel to the Caithness coastline, the A9 comes into its own as an access point for new routing on the sea cliffs - the only difficulty being in avoiding the local drag racers as you turn the car. Simon's van can often be spotted on this stretch, parked up innocuously by an open field.  

Often exploring alone or climbing with partner Louise, Simon has spearheaded the development of several major new venues. Most notable for sheer volume and quality of routes are Ellen's Geo, Sgaps Geo and the Waterfall Stack at Sarclet. These cliffs all tend toward vertical or overhanging and the climbs start around HVS. With the exception of a few particular steep or long pitches, gear tends to get spaced or run-out around E5 if the lines between major cracks and breaks are breached. Recently, a cacophony of whispers and some impressive photos have generated substantial interest from visiting climbers who are travelling from far and wide to visit the Pembroke of the North.

Hidden Buttress Topo  © Simon Nadin
Hidden Buttress Topo
© Simon Nadin

Michael Barnard and Alan Hill visited Ellen's Geo recently "to see what the fuss was all about." "We put up various things around the E2/3 mark which may offer further enjoyment to those who've done everything else there! With a couple of quality new E4s from Ian Taylor and crag pioneer Simon Nadin, there is now even more to go at at this great venue. At my rough count there's now five E2s, nine E3s and ten E4s(!), plus a couple of fine E1s to warm up on."

There have been so many good routes developed at these venues alone that the area could easily have a guidebook by itself. Until someone puts this together, a few photos will  have to suffice to give a snapshot of the style and quality. Needless to say, there's plenty more to explore.

Louise following Simon on a new route at Sarclet  © Peter Herd
Louise following Simon on a new route at Sarclet
© Peter Herd


Pete describes himself as a keen 'all rounder' who also makes a living from climbing. He occasionally posts on instagram as @peterherdclimb and has a website www.peterherd.co.uk. 



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14 Dec, 2021

It’s not missing, Chris’s guide to Kintail is here along with a few other mini guides.

https://smcnewroutes.org.uk/mini-guides/

14 Dec, 2021

The photo of Ulva is actually Skye.

16 Dec, 2021

Thanks Mike. Never thought to look there.Just found its on this site too: https://www.ochils.com/extras/forms-documents/climbing-mini-guides/craig-lundie-rock-climbing-guide-2020 . Chris had linked me at some stage so i'm really to blame for losing it. Someone will get a link added to the article and perhaps to the UKC page too.

Thanks Colin. Your pics didn't have attached captions so I guessed Ulva rather than Bornesketaig. Looked too clean/veg free to be East Skye. Now I recall these routes are down by the water.

Pete

17 Dec, 2021

Nice round up - good work!

17 Dec, 2021

Hey pete nice write up. That month in Skye with the crew is one of my most fond memories. Cant wait to return and get more involved! Fate has shown me another way however I am sure I will return for many more stints up there in the future!

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