Our Wee Country: Climbing in Ireland by Jake Haddock
I don’t know what it is about the climbing in Northern Ireland but it has always left me grinning from ear to ear… whether that's due to the quality of the climbing, the friendly company, or just the little adventures you always seem to find yourself in, even if you’re just out to ‘potter’ about. The climbing in the North is as diverse as it is underdeveloped, from the stunning 100m cliffs of Fairhead to the pristine granite and tranquillity of the Mourne Mountians, what lies between them is everything that makes climbing in Northern Ireland so special.
Running it out on ‘Thrill issues of the Jellyman’ E7 6B*** Binnian, North tor, Mourne Mountains
For me, it started when I was struggling through my teenage years, obsessed with the climbing wall and doing dynos between every hold possible. It wasn’t until I joined the NIYCT (Northern Ireland Youth Climbing Team) and got the chance to go climbing outside that I was really able to appreciate what we actually have here. I could go on and on about the little adventures I’ve had climbing in this beautiful country but I want to focus specifically on the two main areas that I can just never get tired of: Fairhead in the North and the Mourne Mountains in the South.
THE MOURNE MOUNTAINS
Just 45 minutes drive from Belfast, the Mournes have to be one of the true gems of Northern Ireland, the tranquillity coupled with the 360 degree views make it hard to find a better place to just be, never mind to climb. The climbing offers a variety of different challenges and experiences, each mountain has its own unique setting and climbing style, from the gymnastic climbing at Buzzard Roost to the technical, bold slabs of the Binnian Tors.
The commiting high crux on ‘The Mushroom Boyz’ E7 6C *** Binnian, North Tor, Mourne Mountains
The sublime ‘Cloud 9’ Font 6B *** Chimney rock, Mourne Mountains
My favourite place for bouldering in the Mournes has to be Binnian. When I passed my driving test at 17, I was there at every possible opportunity with my friend Tim, projecting our long term project ‘triggers’ font 7b, a one move wonder that seemed that we would get next go, every time… but never did (until about 3 years later, get in!).
The area is full of large granite boulders, lending itself to technical slabs and also some fantastic crimping and sloper moves. Although the area is probably most famous for the proud, bold routes and test pieces, my favourite part about it is running from boulder to boulder with one pad getting sand bagged on the “6bs” put up by local legends Rob Hunter, Ricky Bell and co. There are no established boulders above font 7c but there are so many great problems that make the long walk in with a boulder pad well worth it (the views alone make the walk in worth it, never mind the bouldering).
If bouldering isn’t your thing, the routes will definitely leave a huge smile on your face, Binnian houses some of the most famous routes in Northen Ireland, TheMushroom Boyz, Tolerance, Thrill issues of the Jellyman and Electra (just to name a few). Spanning across the grades, the routes on Binnian are never shy of quality and always give sheer satisfaction. Some of my best memories are from walking out of the crag with one of my friends, yammering on about all the moves and feelings from sending a project.
I’ve got my eye on a few new routes here this year, I’m stilling looking forward to adding one of my own to this crag… so watch this space!
It would seem wrong to only mention Slieve Binnian, as within a short drive from the car park there are loads of other mountains with amazing quality. Lower Cove, Hen mountain, Buzzards Roost, Bearnagh, Pigeon Rock and much more are all in close proximity… so if the sun is shining and you have the weekend off work, you will find no better way to spend your weekend than adventuring into the Mournes!
Walk outs don’t get much better than in the Mournes
OK, so what can I say about Fairhead? Whether you are a route climber or a boulderer this place has it all. In a way the climbing is like a good curry, it leaves a smile on your face, full of spice and tasty moments but if you’re not careful with your preparation you could be in an uncomfortable situation. OK… maybe that's a weird analogy (no pun intended) but climbing in Fairhead is incredible, I love it. There is something about it that stands out as one of my favourite places to climb anywhere in the world. The style of the boulders suits me to the ground; it’s gymnastic, crimpy and helps to be brave. The landings aren’t always great, but a large amount of the local climbers have spent time building landings. And with the help of a few stashed pads by the locals, you get landings almost like those in font… kind of!
The routes at Fairhead have been drawing in climbers from all over for a long time; the 100m cliff boasts amazing, varied climbing across all the grades and a stunning backdrop of sea views and beautiful local scenery.
The cliff and the boulders on a stunning autumnal evening.
Although the route climbing at Fairhead is more acclaimed, for me it’s about the boulders. My first memories of bouldering at Fairhead come when I was at school, local legend and one of my climbing heroes, Ricky Bell used to take me out after school in the winter, armed with a generator, spot lights, truckloads of beta and even more psyche. We used to run from boulder to boulder, classic to classic and Ricky would give me the beta and share stories about the history of the problems -- where they got their names and which holds were going to ‘blow off’ if you crimp to hard! Here’s a cool wee video Ricky and Craigy put together of the old night sessions at the boulders.
The boulders in Fairhead stretch right along the cost. There is just so much potential and possibility with many established projects and new lines to be cleaned. There isn’t a polished foothold in sight, it’s a very special place and somewhere I don’t think I will ever get bored of. This year I have my eye firmly on a few projects, repeats and also new boulders that haven’t received any ascents. If the weather holds good and I can stay injury free it will be another really good years in the Fairhead boulders!
The climbing scene in Northern Ireland is growing and quickly, it’s a friendly, quiet place to climb full of characters, history and personality. I’ve climbed all around the world but still yet to find anywhere that has the same, unique qualities of climbing in Ireland. This blog post touches just on two fantastic areas but there are more, the rough Cooley Mountains, the unique potato cave in Cushendun and of course swimming pool wall. It’s not France, far from it but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Working the last moves on the classic ‘Spindle’ Font 8a.
Fighting on the small undercut of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Ladder’ Font 7C+, Fairhead