Rock climbing at Craig a Barns

When the sun is shining, there is nothing better to do than to go rock climbing. A couple of weeks ago we headed to one of my favourite climbing venues: Craig a Barns near Dunkeld, more specifically Polney Crag, a classic Central Scotland venue. It is popular for its ease of access and great selection of single and multi-pitch climbs between Very Difficult and E3.

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A sea of green!

You can access the crag by taking an old military road West from Dunkeld for just over a kilometre before reaching a large dirt layby on the right (you will  have to bump your car up onto the curb). You then need to walk over a fallen down fence and follow a well defined path up to the right, where you will step out of the trees at the left hand side of the crag. Alternatively you can get the train (the station is just south of the town) and walk north through Dunkeld to access the military road west, out of the town.

Your main relocation point of the crag is the well defined abseil point; Hairy Gully, found in the middle of the wall. Be aware though that if wet, this gully can be rather slippery, muddy and generally horrible.

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Jess abseiling down Hairy Gully.

Polney Crag is home to a couple of fantastic VS 5a climbs: The Rut*** and The End***. Both are well-protected but will certainly get your heart racing as you pull through the crux moves, however, you will top out with a smile on your face. There are also many climbs to enjoy at V Diff, Severe and Hard Severe but be careful as some of them are poorly protected and would have the potential for a nasty ground fall if a slip were to occur.

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What a place to be!!

I have been to this crag a number of times now and each time I have been able to explore a different section of the place. It is also a super training ground for those wishing to move into the world of multi-pitch climbing. The rock can remain dry from tree cover but is quite vegetated in places meaning that on occasion, a sling around a tree is the obvious bit of pro.

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#belayselfie

So please go and enjoy Craig a Barns, lead your first V Diff, climb your first multi-pitch route or simply enjoy the excitement of The Rut. Watch out for that Hairy Gully though.

Enjoy!

 

Guide books:  Scottish Rock – South, Highland Outcrops and Rock Climbing in Scotland.

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Stanage: Intro to Grit Stone

Stanage Edge is a 4km wall of grit stone located on the Hallam Moors east of Sheffield. It is separated into three different sections: Stanage North, Plantation and Popular. All of this together offers you over 1300 climbing routes, giving you plenty to go at no matter what grade you climb.

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Stanage Popular

We had two days in which to sample the most popular climbing venue in the UK and after a delicious breakfast of French toast, we headed up the short hill to the base of the crag. This only took us 5 minutes. We wanted to start on something simple, having never climbed on grit before, so we chose an easy looking gully for our first climb. We both thought that we would be in for a tricky couple of days, as our easy gully proved to be cold, slimy and awkward.

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#vanlife

However, as the sun began to poke through the morning clouds and after getting a couple more climbs under our belt, we started to get the feel for the grit stone. It was new to us both and the super wide cracks and sloping edges do take a bit of getting used to. By the end of the first day we had climbed over 10 routes including: Crack and Corner S 4b, Mississippi Buttress Direct VS 4c and the classic Flying Buttress HVD 4a.

As day two began, after more French toast of course, we were back on the grit and flicking through the Rockfax guide book for the next climb. We never had to look far. Be warned though, when the guide book says it’s a popular crag, it really means it. We were staggered by how quickly the car park would fill up and just how easily your plans for your next route could be thwarted by other enthusiastic climbers. Everyone at the crag was friendly and it made for a great atmosphere and a real buzz about the place which was brilliant to be a part of.

Having added Bishop’s Route S 4a and the brilliantly intense Hollybush Crack VD to our ever increasing tally of climbs, the sun was setting on our Stanage adventure. We had been here for two days and we had barely scratched the surface of what’s available. After our cold and awkward start we were both leaving with fond memories and the fact that this is a terrific place, well deserving of its superb reputation. We can’t wait to get back some time in the future.

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Sun setting on the last climb of the day.

Top tips:

Be sure to get there early as the car park fills up quickly so by mid-afternoon you may be struggling for a space at Stanage Popular.

Bring big gear, and lots of it! You will find plenty of use for your biggest hex, torque nut or cam.

Cambusbarron climbing

On Saturday, we managed to get out into the sun and squeeze in our first outdoor climbing of the year!

Cambusbarron West Quarry (Fourth Quarry) is our nearest climbing crag and on such a beautiful day it was a lovely place to be.

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Sven leading  Still Better than Peak (VS 4c), the obligatory first climb of all our visits, and Chris ready to climb.

This crag catches the sun, dries relatively quickly and has some nice views from the top. The rock is dolerite and can be loose at the top, particularly after the winter, so helmets are definitely highly recommended! Many of the climbs are steep and it can be intimidating for less confident climbers. There are good anchors at the top and we’ve taken lots of friends and family to try out an exhilarating abseil. In the summer, you just have to watch-out for midges among the trees: we’ve had to pack up and run away very quickly, when the breeze has dropped.

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Chris happy to be out climbing again, belaying at the top of Cha (S 4a), Jessica and Chris on Not Easy Contract (E1 5b)

You will often find a few members of the University of Stirling Mountaineering Club there, but despite the gorgeous conditions, we had it to ourselves. Access is very easy, just a five minute flat walk from Old Drove Road in Cambusbarron (Stirling), the start of which gives fantastic views across to the mountains, making it a nice venue for a quick after-work climb.

Traprain Law: Climbing in the sun.

Rock climbing + sunshine = a very happy Chris! That’s what I got last week as a couple of friends and I headed to Traprain Law for a day of trad climbing.

Traprain Law lies just outside of Haddington near Edinburgh and is made up of two crags: the Lammer Wall and the Overhang Wall. Both have good climbing graded from Very Difficult to E1 and on good rock called trachyte. Parking is limited, as it’s on a verge beside a single track road, so it pays to get there early.

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Access is very easy!

We were the first to arrive that day and chose to start on the Lammer Wall. This friendly angled slab can feel quite technical due to some small holds and small gear. This can make for some interesting climbing, especially on the M.S. route (HS) which does look a bit on the blank side at first glance.

Moving over to the Overhang Wall we get to my favourite climbs at this venue: Great Corner (severe) and Sabre Cut (VS 5a). These are both great and rather different climbs: great corner as you can imagine, is climbing up through a corner with good holds and big gear with some bridging required. Sabre cut has a great technical start on small holds before stepping out onto an exposed flake which can really get the blood pumping.

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Nice belay

Climbing on the overhanging routes requires more technical skill as well as a profound belief in your rock shoes. To say its polished is an understatement and in the SMC guide it describes the friction as a wet bar of soap! I wholeheartedly agree. Take care on these climbs and be ready for some super slippery rock.

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Traprain Law is a lovely venue which can become a nice sun trap in good weather, although due to the nature of the terrain it can stay wet, so I would recommend letting it dry for a day after heavy rain.

Big thanks to Sven and Kirsty for a great day climbing.

My top tip:

Wear your helmet! While we were on the Overhang Wall, someone climbing The Chute E1 5b fell off and his gear came out. He was very lucky to be ok, the name of the route coming into effect, but he did hit his head and one of the first things he said after the fall was “I should have had a helmet on.”

 

 

Hawkcraig: Climbing on the coast

This classic Central Belt crag is easily accessible from Aberdour and offers some great adventurous climbing from Very Difficult (VD) to E2 6a. The crag is tidal, so a close look at the tide times charts for Rosyth is required to make best use of it. In my experience belayers are not keen on being perched on a rock as the tide moves in around them; however the routes to the far left are still accessible in high tide.

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I have climbed at this venue a number of times now and I must say that it is one of my favourite places to climb near to Stirling. From the back of the car park you follow a path through some vegetation to a clearing, from here you can follow the path ahead to access the top of the crag or turn right for a short way before taking a steep path left down onto the beach. Once on the beach, after a minute or two you will get your first view of the classic of the crag, Pain Pillar VS 4c, which is an excellent and exposed pitch with a bold start. When I climbed it for the first time I could not help but keep an eye on the unforgiving rocks at the bottom, but as you make your way up it gets better and better with good holds, gear and views across the crag. If you are feeling photogenic then ask a mate (not your belayer!) to take a picture of your silhouette as you climb.

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A happy Jessica topping out of Escalator (VD)

There is plenty to go at on this crag for new leaders; in fact I lead some of my first trad routes here and it was a great experience. Please be careful though as the top outs can be a wee bit loose and there are some very spiky gorse bushes that never fail to upset you. The flowers do smell nice though.

Not only is there some quality climbing to be had here but also some brilliant views of the river Forth and the Forth Rail Bridge, making this a very pleasant place to be for an evening’s climbing.

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Belaying on the last climb of the evening. Great view!!

Top tip – after climbing here give your climbing gear a good wash as sadly the salt water can damage it.

More information in the SMC Lowland Outcrops guide book and UK Climbing.

Easter munros

We have a new van. Our second trip with it was over the Easter weekend, when we planned to incorporate two hill days along with some climbing the coast to avoid the worst of the weather.

We set off late on Thursday and found somewhere to spend the night just south of Dalwhinnie. On Friday morning we intended to climb four munros in a loop of about 25km in the Drumochter pass. After setting off, the path quickly disappeared into bogginess before we reached the snow near the top the first munro, Geal Charn, where the wind really picked up.

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Having descended into a valley it felt like a long haul up to second summit, A’Mharconaich, but the potentially unremarkable hills were redeemed by the sight of at least six mountain hares. They were still in their winter coats and stood out brightly as they dashed between snow patches. We also spotted the first pair of ptarmigans of the trip, which may be my favourite of all the wildlife that we see with any regularity in the hills.

Although the hills we were on were not especially dramatic, we had intermittent good views of the ranges to the west that looked a lot more impressive. The descent off the fourth and final munro, Sgairneach Mhor, was marked mainly by the number of red grouse that we came across, followed by a long walk back along the A9 in the rain, which made us consider whether we should have parked near the end of the route rather than the start.

Once back at the van, and after a cup of tea and digestive biscuits, we drove northeast to Cummingston, where we had dinner and spent the night. On Saturday morning we got in a few hours climbing on the sea cliffs, where the rock is very distinctive and difficult to describe, but interesting to climb, if a bit sandy in places.

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We then headed back down to Aviemore via a stop at the Glenlivet Distillery, which puts on a good, and free, tour that includes a dram at the end.

 

On Sunday, the alarms were set for early but very strong winds had been forecast and we woke up with the van shaking, which was a good excuse for another hours sleep. The walk up Bynack More was lovely; it starts in the forest and continues on a good track out into a massive open area of land that is signposted as the Abernethy RSPB reserve.

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It’s a fairly gently and steady climb most of the way up. The sun was out, the wind was less strong than expected and the last steep section was covered in snow and looked beautiful.

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The views were great, with mountains extending in every direction except north and more ptarmigan and hares just added to the interest.

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We took a different route down, descending faster into the valley and following the river back to the main track, and this included a lot of bog, both on the ridge and along the bottom of the valley. The sense of space, however, was quite special.

Our return to the van was followed very quickly by a tasty dinner at Glenmore Lodge. Before returning home on Monday, we went hunting capercaillie in the Rothiemurchus forest, which was lovely, although full of mountain bikers and unsurprisingly, we didn’t see any capercaillie.