Rock climbing in Orkney is not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced climber. Routes consist mainly of coastal sandstone rock and cliff routes, on crumbling or weed-covered stone. Mainly known to climbers for its majestic sea stacks, Orkney is in fact virgin territory for rock climbing, providing great potential for new routes. Coastal climbs will also allow you the opportunity to experience Orkney’s nature close up. With millions of breeding seabirds in the summer months you’re sure to see the piratical great skua, gannets, razorbills, guillemots and, if you’re lucky, the colourful puffin.
Hoy – (High in Old Norse)
The south island of Hoy has some of the most spectacular and challenging sea cliffs in the UK and without doubt, The Old Man of Hoy is Orkney’s most famous climbing challenge, attracting only the boldest climbers to tackle its intimidating 137m.
The stack’s climbing history has been well documented in numerous publications and television “spectaculars,” from the first ascent by Messers Baillie and Bonnington, to the more recent climb in September, 2006, by Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
Whilst the magnificent structure, which stands on a lava flow, is probably the biggest attraction to Orkney for climbers, the area can provide many other challenging climbs.St John’s Head to the north of the ‘Old Man’ is the highest vertical sea cliff in the UK and standing at 351m would be an extreme challenge for any climber. Indeed all along the west side of Hoy the cliffs are spectacular and virtually virgin territory for climbers. In the late summer evenings the setting sun turns the cliffs a rich fiery red.
Although the ‘Old Man’ is the best known stack in Orkney there are various other climbing challenges on offer throughout the islands. Actually getting to your desired climb can be a serious challenge in itself. The swell and tides around Orkney shores can be fierce and un-predictable. For local information or a description of selected routes visit:
www.orkney-seastacks.co.uk - Guide for climbers
www.orkney-climbing-club.com - Orkney Climbing Club
Yesnaby Castle is found just south of the Brough of Bigging at Yesnaby, on the west coast of the Orkney Mainland. The first ascent up this 115ft sea-stack was made by a Mr Joe Brown and some friends in 1967. It has regularly received visiting climbers ever since.
North Gaulton is found on the west coast and the stack is very much the big brother of Yesnaby Castle, as they are both set in an amphitheatre of cliffs which guard against any approach, the only difference being that North Gaulton is almost twice the size as Yesnaby Castle.
The Needle, a stack on the south-west coast of Hoy offers a real challenge. Climbers must find their way through the only known route, beginning on the landward corner on the south face. A perilous journey to a monstrous pitch at the last hurdle will take you to the summit.
On the east tip of the island of Stronsay you will find The Brough, which is a huge, flat-topped stack. There are three pitches, taking the climber up a distance of 80m in total, and descent is by a 30m abseil. The neighbouring island of Westray is also worth a visit where you can find The Castle of Burrian on the outskirts of Rackwick Bay.
Lastly, it is imperative that the appropriate safety procedures and precautions are followed while rock climbing in Orkney, due to the nature of the rock.