Fancy sunny cragging by the sea watched by dolphins and whales.... no it's not the Med- its north-west Scotland!!
The low lying, boggy Rubha Mor peninsula north-west of Ullapool seems an unlikely place to find one of the gems of Scottish rock climbing, but scattered along it's coast is north of the border's answer to England's gritstone edges- the sandstone sea-cliffs of Reiff.
an essential stop on the British climbing circuit, well worth the long drive
The cliffs saw initial development in the 1970's from Brian Lawrie who chanced across them on family holidays to the area soloing many of the obvious lines. Returning with ropes and partners in the early 80's word gradually leaked out and development quickened with most of the leading activists of Scottish rock climbing in the 80's and 90's leaving their mark culminating in Dave 'Cubby' Cuthbertson's wildly overhanging E7 Undertow. The cliffs now feature around five hundred routes across all the grades and are the most popular rock climbing destination north of the Great Glen.
The Reiff cliffs are made of clean, rough, hard sea-washed sandstone, more akin to very featured grit than the softer sandstone varieties found south of the border. Ranging from bouldering to around 20 metres in height, the cliffs are a mixture of non-tidal and tidal with most featuring flat wave-cut platforms at the base and walk-down access routes. Whilst the most accessible crags are a few hundred yards from the road-head, as a general rule the climbing gets better the further you go, with the excellent venues on the northern tip of the peninsula requiring around an hour of often boggy (wellies useful!) walking from the car.
The climbing is mostly steep and well protected- with sustained technical and pumpy climbing generally being the name of the game. Climbers operating in the E1-E4 grade range probably have the greatest choice of 'must-do' routes but there really is enough for several visits for climbers of any standard, with superb routes at all grades.
there really is enough for several visits for climbers of any standard, with superb routes at all grades.
The rock is generally fast drying though, as with all sea-cliffs can be a bit greasy in the morning and some lines suffer from seepage. The low-lying coastal landscape often escapes the attention of the rainclouds that can thwart activities inland so it can be worth risking a mediocre forecast, though beware of stormy seas. Being right next to the sea and with cliffs facing south, west and north, sun, shade and a refreshing dip can be sought at will and climbing on the south facing cliffs is often possible in the winter months.
All the climbing is protected by traditional gear, with small wires and cams proving particularly useful, and while the routes are short, due to the horizontal break nature of the rock, half ropes (or one half rope folded) are a good idea. While there are the possibility for numerous entertaining sea level traverses, deep water soloing options are limited. However, for those keen to explore, the 'Baby Taipan Wall' on the north side of the Rubha Mor (see RockFax's Deep Water guide) sounds worth a look.
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The climbing is located in four main areas which are subdivided into individual cliffs. The first area lies below the road on the final approach to the village of Reiff consisting of the Stone Pig cliffs (named after the 'pig-shaped' boulder above the road) and the small Mechanics geo. These are home to exacting steep wall climbs mostly in the E-grades but with a few excellent easier routes as well.
Moving on, the second area lies just across the small loch below the village, a few hundred yards from the Reiff road-head. The closest cliffs which take their name from the squat pinnacle offer climbing mostly in the lower grades, as well as the super classic E1 of Westering Home and a few harder test-pieces. Round the corner the slightly erroneously named Bouldering Cliff features longer, steeper and harder climbing with the adjacent Black Cliff and Orange Walls offering more mellow outings.
On the other side of a lovely shingle beach bay, the An Stuir area offers a wealth of climbing with the Seal Song geo and Minch Wall/Bay of Pigs cliffs being well worth a visit. Finally, for parties who seek almost guaranteed solitude, the northern tip of the Rubha Mor peninsula, guarded by the hours walk offers possibly the best climbing at Reiff, for the E-grade climber on the superb Golden Walls and stunning Leaning Block and for those in search of easier grades on the friendly Rubha Ploytach cliffs.
All in all, Reiff is an essential stop on the British climbing circuit, well worth the long drive. See you there!
How do I get there?
About an hours drive north of Ullapool, Reiff is really only practically accessible by car, but please park considerately at the road-head as space is limited and issues regarding parking have occurred here in the past.
Where do I stay?
The campsite above the stunning Achnahaird beach (well worth a visit) has sadly closed, but a new campsite conveniently located next to the pub (The Am Fuaran) in Altandu is under construction while for those in search of more comfort the area has loads of lovely B&B's and rental cottages. Wild camping above the cliffs is also possible (the bay just before the Seal Song cliff is an obvious spot) though you may need to carry in water and please don't camp within sight of the village.
The SMC Northern Highlands North guide has the most comprehensive coverage of the cliffs with all but the most recent additions included. The classics are all covered in the SMC's excellent Scottish Rock Climbs and in volume two of Gary Latter's Scottish Rock which probably has the best topos for first time visitors.
|Food and provisions?
Foodwise, small village shops are found in Polbain and Achiltibuie and the Am Fuaran pub does good food, while Ullapool has a range of shops and possibly the best fish and chips in the world!
possibly the best fish and chips in the world!
What else does the area offer?
For those in search of a day in the mountains the climbing and scrambling on Stac Pollaidh is superb with something for everyone, while across the valley the iconic nose of the Fhidhleir HVS, is one of the classic mountain routes of Scotland. Up the coast, the Old Man of Stoer offers one of the best sea-stack climbs in the UK (the classic route goes at VS) while back inland the crags of Ardmair offer superb steep climbing, as long as the midges are bearable!
In the case of total washout or need for a rest-day the Achiltibuie Hydroponicam may prove interesting to the green fingered and there are numerous outfits offering wildlife site-seeing trips to the famous Summer Isles.
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