Scotland has to be one of my most favourite places in the world. On two conditions mind 1) The sun is shining and 2) there are no midges. It seems these two things rarely coincide but when they do there is nowhere I would rather be.
We seemed to get lucky and the week we had planned to visit coincided with wall to wall sunshine and the midges being on strike. This trip was the definition of why I love to go climbing and it reinforced my mindset that, for me, where you are and who you are with is all that matters.
We started the trip on the Orkney Islands, a short 1.5 hour ferry ride from the mainland. The journey also treated us to staggering views of the massive sea cliffs including the Old Man of Hoy and the 346 metres high St John’s Head (the third highest sea cliff in the UK). What an introduction to the area!
The island of Hoy is covered in beautiful white beaches with tropical looking waters. Being able to peacefully spend our time here in the van blew me away and that was before I had even see the sea cliffs.
One of the many tropical looking beaches on Hoy
We spent four days on Orkney and we climbed three equally amazing routes:
1) The Old Man of Hoy. The plan was to climb Original Route, E1 the classic and the first climb done on the stack way back in 1966! However, it looked pretty busy and was out of the sun for the whole day. We decided to go for the holiday option and climbed South Face, E2 in the sunshine. Every nook and cranny seemed to be filled with fulmars. I am pretty sure the route deserves and extra E grade for the birds – it was vomit central!
Alex sat above Mucklehouse Wall with ‘The old man’ in the background
2) Roaring Forties, Rora Head. Mucklehouse Wall is one of the most impressive cliffs I have seen. Roaring Forties had a fairly sandy steep start but the rock quality got better and better. This was the hardest climbing of the trip and I found it really involved and struggled quite a bit.
Alex climbing through ‘the beard’ on the final pitch of Roaring Forties
3) Castle of Yesnaby. This was our first swim to a stack of the trip and it turned out to be the longest. We felt pretty badass abseiling down to the sea in our wetsuits, the swim across was about 25m and due to the early(ish) start the sea mist hadn’t yet burnt off and it felt quite eerie swimming across in the still water. ‘The Castle’ itself is only a single pitch and we climbed ‘Meditation’ a tricky little E2 5c (and even got cheers from some spectating tourists!). Since we had gone rouge from sea stack etiquette and worn wetsuits we decided to make the most of it and enjoy our time in sea swimming around and jumping in.
The castle in the morning sea mist
With time running out we hurried back to the mainland and drove along the North West highlands tourist route road that treated us to beautiful views along the coast. We only had two days left and two sea stacks to climb.
Beut evening views on the North West coast of Scotland
Am Buachaille. This was one of the more remote and tricky to get to. Bad navigation (although we blamed the guide!) across the moor meant we hit the coast too soon and had to stomp over a few headlands before finally seeing the stack. We only had to swim across a short channel to reach this stack (at low tide) but it was dead weedy and gross. The rock felt really different on this stack more rounded with pod like features. The guide book said it was “home to a flourishing fulmar colony” which had filled me with dread before I had even arrived, however we only bumped into one or two, which made quite a pleasant little outing.
Am Buachaille from the wrong headland!
Top of Am Buachaille
Evening abseil off the stack
11pm sunset on the walk out
Old Man of Stoer. The final one on our tour and my legs were really paying the price, my left leg was so stiff it felt like I had a constant dead leg! Luckily the walk was only 45minutes along a nice tourist path. We were ready once again with wetsuits but a sketchy looking tyrolean was in place. The sheath had blown on one end but the core was in tact so we cracked on. Stoer had the best rock quality and least birds, it was definitely a nice one to finish on and again we even got a cheer when we topped out.
Stoer summit selfie!
This trip is up there with my favourites, there really was nowhere I would rather have been. Not even the fulmar vomit or extremely tired legs could dampen our spirits. See you next year Scotland!