14 May 2010


I've just got back from a week long trip, with the university, to the west coast of Scotland. We were based in Oban and the week was split into three distinct section: two-and-a-half days climbing, two days canoeing and two days sea kayaking. This post focuses solely on the days spent climbing.

Cheddar Direct (Font 4), Dumbarton Rock.

I headed north on Thursday, leaving Carlisle at mid-day and stopped once, at Dumbarton Rock for a break, but more importantly a bouldering session, before continuing north. I've never climbed on Scottish rock before and I don't think you could have asked for a better venue to break with this tradition than Dumbarton Rock. The place is steeped in history; it was the place where Scottish bouldering was conceived and all the big names of Scottish climbing have cut their teeth on the basalt found here. However, one of the finest climbing DVD's I've seen focuses on the impressive line Dave MacLeod worked, that cuts sharply up the main cliff and this was the main reason for my visit; to look at what is an iconic line of British trad climbing. Needless to say I didn't go near the route, but instead I ticked off the problems on the yellow bouldering circuit featured in the book Bouldering in Scotland, before continuing onto Oban.

The next day I headed further north in the search of more Scottish rock and I ended up an hour up the road at the crags of Polldubh, which is probably the Highlands only roadside crag! We set to the routes on Pinnacle Ridge and having topped out on a VS, named Severe Crack, we found ourselves at the foot of a HVS called Hodad. I think I made a flippant remark: "we'll just pop up this one, seen as we're here" and about twenty minutes later I found myself shouting: "take us. I'm off" and the very next second I found myself in a crumpled pile at the bottom of the crag.

Looking up Hodad (HVS, 5b) after decking out from the penultimate move.

Two pieces of gear had ripped when I fell from the penultimate move, which meant that the ropes didn't really come tight until my feet had connected with the floor. However, I was unhurt and after a quick rest I was back on the route and almost immediately after I was flying through the air having fallen from the last move this time. I came up short of the ground thankfully and after one more half hearted attempt I called it a day and moved on to another route.

This experience was strange though. When we had looked at the fear and anxiety surrounding falling during lectures it was determined that there were four strategies to deal with it: imagery, relaxation, self-talk and embracing it as 'fun'. I didn't really believe this last strategy could ever be adopted, but I found myself enjoying the falling sensation and after the first fall I was perfectly happy to get back on the route. I always thought this would not be the case, instead I thought I would run from the prospect of another fall, but embracing it as 'fun' helped remove the fear and allowed me to focus on the basic act of moving on the rock.

That evening we planned our final day of climbing and it turned into a proper adventure, which started at 6am in the morning and finished at 9pm that evening. The reason for such an early start was because of the need to catch the first ferry to the Isle of Mull so that the crags on the outlying island of Erraid could be taken in.

On the Isle of Mull heading for... you've guessed it... the Isle of Mull.

It was a bit of a mission to get to the crags; not only was there a forty-five minute ferry crossing, but also an hour long drive across the length of Mull and then a forty-five minute walk through the Sound of Erraid and across the island to the far south-western corner. However, it was worth every minute and every penny; it could quite easily go down as my best day's climbing ever.

Approaching Erraid off the Isle of Mull in the hope of taking in the climbs on the Upper Teir of the Main Crags.

The routes were on ten to twelve meter high granite cliffs and if that wasn't enough the setting was one of the best; golden white beaches, crystal-clear water, lapping waves, fisherman setting lobster pots and yachts sailing around the coast. What more could you want? Did I say there wasn't a single cloud in the sky and there was only the lightest of sea breezes.

Is this Scotland? One Dead Puffin (HVS, 5a), which features on the front cover of Scottish Rock: Volume 1.

We spent a good five hours at the crag and there wasn't that much need to climb, but we still did, just sitting in such a location is an activity in itself and in someways it was a shame we had to leave at 4pm to catch the last ferry back to the mainland. It would have been nice to have spent another day, week, month or even a year at the crag.

Heading back to Oban after a successful day.

More pictures of the week can be found here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

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