A classic phrase from a classic climber, George Smith. I think it was used in his excellent article about Lleyn climbing a few years ago, and I had good cause to use it on a recent trip to the Far North, which is far north of the Lleyn but certainly has the potential for similarly high quality experiences. In general North Scotland lacks good choss compared to North Wales and North Devon / Cornwall sea-cliffs (apart from the Old Red sea-stacks), but it seems there is enough lurking around the fringes if you know where to find it. My partner Steve knew where to find it, except he didn't know he knew because he sold the cliff to me as "clean and beautiful", well one of those is certainly true. Actually the cleanliness is partly true, it's just the occasional bit of cleanliness likes to detach itself to reveal more potential cleanliness underneath.
So the Far North in general. I'd been to Creag Shomarlie before and I'd been to Scrabster before, but never the section of coast in between. It was cold and desolate and beautiful when the sun came out. There's just enough civilisation up there even if it doesn't stretch to two-lane roads and cafes in every hamlet. Ben Hope and Ben Loyal provide a dramatic backdrop to the coast, or is it the other way around as the coast is spectacular in itself. It reminded me a lot of Devon and Cornwall, the difference being you can feel the emptiness and solitude at your back, compared to D&C where a few miles inland and you're in back to back villages and towns and back to back caravan jams.
We didn't actually do that much climbing up there, due to driving, cold weather (belaying in t-shirt, windproof, bodywarmer, hoodie, downie, snood, beanie and gloves and still freezing?? Yup welcome to May!), crag complexity and the need to balance out the Cocoa Mountain cafe with the Craggan pub, but it was certainly interesting exploration. The most interesting being The Tiger....for which I went through as many motivational fluctuations as the stripes on the cliff. The first photo Steven sent looked kinda scruffy - unpsyched. The next photos shown in person showing the scale and dramatic rock markings - psyched! Abseiling over the grassy edge onto highly variable terrain - unpsyched. Belaying at the bottom and looking at all the potential lines - psyched! Following up and encouraging the newness to wear off a bit quicker - unpsyched. Lying in the Tongue hostel thinking about the next line I spotted - psyched! Standing on the headwall with two shallow cams at my feet, two more okay cams 6m further down, looking up at fragile rock leading to a final smooth gearless groove - ummmmm..... Well I spotted a tiny bomber C3 placement under an overlap and topped out and it was a bloody brilliant adventure up a bloody dramatic cliff. You're not going to mistake it for mundane honeypots like Sheigra...
Requires a non-provocative approach and a double set of cams. A fine adventure up the central black stripe with good climbing but spaced protection and variable rock.
1. 5b 12m. Start as for TT or on a rock left of the blowhole, depending on swell. Gain the smooth wall at the black/orange boundary, where fine bold climbing leads to a good foot ledge and large cams above. Belay or on the ledge just right useful to prevent rope-drag.
2. 5b 33m. Continue up the orange/black boundary to the overlap and traverse right beneath this on quartz rails. Pull over leftwards (medium cams) onto a block. Step left to avoid dubious blocks then climb boldly to the final slim quartz groove (tiny cam on left). Finish delicately up this.