New Arbroath E8: Bolts or No Bolts?

© Neil McGeachy

Robbie Phillips and Neil McGeachy climbed a new E8 6b on the Arbroath sea cliffs earlier this year, named Deil Or No Deil (E8 6b). After both climbers headpointed the project, they discussed bolting the line - in-keeping with the cliffs' history. We caught up with Robbie and Neil to find out more about the route.

Robbie Phillips carefully climbing Deil or No Deil   © Neil McGeachy
Robbie Phillips carefully climbing Deil or No Deil
© Neil McGeachy

Deil or No Deil is a line up the landward face of the sea stack - Deil's Heid on Arbroath Sea Cliffs. Neil first noticed the line a few years ago, but dismissed it as he wasn't particulary keen to climb on the sea cliffs and had been informed that the rock quality was very poor, hence why it hadn't been bolted. Neil commented:

"The problem lies in that the sand stone is so soft that holds tend to crumble and gear placements tend to blow when loaded. With regards the grade, to be honest I have absolutely no idea what grade it is! This was because of a few reasons; The route has a British 6b crux a bit above suspect gear, followed by sustained techy 5c - 6a climbing on poor rock, topped off with a horrible top out on very chossy sandy rock.  It is a shame that the rock quality is so poor, as the route actually climbs really well, with cool grit-like moves and it is in a stunning setting. "

Neil described the precarious nature of the rock and the difficulties faced in fixing a grade to it:

"It felt about techy French 7a+ to me, but in a horrible situation. I also personally have no experience of grading headpoints. I have never headpointed before and all new routes I have climbed to date have been done ground up with no abseil inspection. We were just going to grade it HXS 6b, but opted for E8 6b, as we wanted anyone who tries it to be aware of just how bad the gear and top out is."

He added: "We spent a long time cleaning and testing the last few holds until we were happy with what we were pulling on. I personally couldn't imagine myself being on the top few metres on-sight."

Having completed the climb on trad gear, both Neil and Robbie agreed that the line would be better suited to becoming a bolted sport route. Neil explained:

"This was always the plan and is also the plan for my project on the right hand of the same face. This is down to a few simple reasons: 1. Arbroath Sea Cliffs is a sport climbing venue and it's only fair that development is continued in this vein. 2. The area was developed mainly by local activist Neil Shephard. Sheppy is a legend and has committed so much time to developing the region. The last thing I wanted to do was offend him with some pointless trad v bolt statement. 3. The route would be far better as a sport climb and would allow more people to try it rather than leaving it as a pointless trad climb that no-one ever climbs!"

Neil added: "To be honest, this whole experience was just about me having a bit of a laugh locally and was never taken too seriously. It provided me with some good fun local sessions and head games, which was always the point really."

Robbie Phillips standing under Deil or No Deil E8 6b
© Neil McGeachy

Robbie has been adding to a growing list of hard trad climbs and Deil or No Deil is so far his only trad first ascent in Scotland to date. He shared his thoughts on grading the project:

"I haven’t got a wealth of trad climbing experience from which to draw the most accurate of grade estimations; all I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that it feels deadly serious! When I compare with some of the routes I have climbed recently, it makes “On the Rocks” (E7) and “Off the Rocks” (E8) appear rather safe. The climbing is easier, but I don’t expect holds to be crumbling apart in my hands when I climb those Northumbrian classics. Also something like “Deathwatch” (E7) at Ilkley; it has a similar difficulty crux at equal height with more or less the same consequences, however “Deil Or No Deil” doesn’t finish there, it has an easier crux higher up with ground fall imminent and a harrowing top out offering the leader a true soul searching experience."

Summing up the experience, Robbie commented: "All in all an enjoyable jaunt up a leaning tower of sandy choss, welcome to Arbroath!"

Watch a video of Deil or No Deil below:

Robbie is sponsored by: Edelrid, Evolv and Metolius

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30 Mar, 2015
No reason why you can't have a good trad thing within a pre-dominantly sport area. The main consideration is surely no.3 - whether it makes a better trad or sport route.
31 Mar, 2015
Aye, looks great fun but knowing the nature of Arbroath sandstone I'm all for the bolts.
31 Mar, 2015
Good style not bolting it. Seems you could have made it a bit safer? Cam out by the right arete,3 or 4? Surely the point of such a route is the bottle aspect.With bolts it would just be a yet another blah tick. You at least will remember the experience of going for it in trad style. Bolt placers might want to use Blah Tick as a new route name... Mitch
31 Mar, 2015
Where? It's quite a long way away to that arête. You'd have to climb up another line, place the gear then downclimb, then climb up the left hahaha and it would a horrendous swing I imagine. Maybe I misunderstood? On that note, Neil has scoped out the right hand arete! Planning on leading possibly, harder than left hand maybe? Psyched!
31 Mar, 2015
Cam on the right arête? I'm with Robbie, that would be about as useful as a chocolate fireguard unless I'm missing something. A real shame the rock is so sandy and sometimes friable at Arbroath, particularly if at all damp ( when the pebbles can pop easily). Having said that there are a number of great wee routes there which the bolts make safe and relatively popular. From my perspective, as someone who has climbed there a lot, it is an ideal venue for sport routes and a marginal or downright poor one for trad, but what would I know;)
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