Saturday, 26 June 2010

Ireland Trip Part 1

It was a warm Friday evening in June the year of our lord 2010. I sallied forth from Sheffield in my trusty steed, the Astra, and collected Oli from Chester station. As is to be expected he was late (he blamed the train), but as is also to be expected, so was I, so we arrived at exactly the same time. We immediately piled down the A55 to Conwy, where we visited the marvels of Tesco, and then continued to Anglesey. We were bound for the campsite at Rhoscolyn, but neither of us had been there before and it turns out that the map in the Gogarth North guide is a little bit less than amazing. So we spent some time driving around tiny country roads in the dark just before midnight before eventually locating the campsite more through blind luck than anything else. We pitched the tent and slept.

Saturday dawned bright and earlyish, so we struck camp and moseyed on down to the port at Holyhead, where our ferry awaited. The crossing passed without anything of note happening, and soon enough we were deposited in Dun Laoghaire on the outskirts of Dublin. Our aim for the day was Dalkey Quarry, Ireland's premier urban climbing venue, and a mere mile or two from the port. In fact we could see the crag, but again the guidebook (well, the printed out pages from the online wiki for the crag I'd elegantly bound together the day before using work's ink and stationary cupboard) lacked a little in the specifics of how to get there, so we drove all the way round the crag a few times before finding somewhere to park. The quarry is a rather pleasant spot, atop a hill with views over Dublin Bay, with quarried granite walls of between 10 and 30m high dotted around the greenery. We headed for the upper cliffs and asked some friendly local climbers for recommendations. They suggested Thrust as the 'must-do' HVS of the crag (although we spent some time looking for a route called Trust before we remembered how Irish pronunciation works), so we decided to warm up on a VS and then get on with it.

It was Oli's lead, so he set off up Helios, a three star VS in the White Walls area. The granite didn't give a great deal away in terms of gear, and he got mildly harassed at one point before reaching a peg and a cluster of other gear, but the climbing was nice and soon enough we were back at our bags and moving on towards Thrust. The route follows a nice crack line for the first pitch, so I had no gear lacking issues, and the crux even featured a crucial knee-wedge, which was a bonus. Oli's second pitch was totally brilliant, with well protected climbing on super holds up a fairly impregnable looking section of rock. This boded well. Flushed with success we moved down to the West Valley for a look at another three star VS 4c called Pilaster. On first inspection there didn't seem to be any gear, so we asked a nearby climber and they told us there was a crap microwire at half height, but it was basically a solo. That didn't sound very appealing (or fair at VS) so we moved on to an HVS called Superette which clearly had plenty of gear. It turned out to be quite nice and rather soft for the grade, marvellous. We then rounded the day off with a spicy little VS number called Tramp which took an innocuous looking corner to a finish round a mean looking overhang. It turned out that the corner was about 5b, but luckily the overhang was covered in jugs and had a stealthy knee bar in it to aid progress. So, our first experience of Irish climbing was pretty positive, although the grading seemed a little varied, particularly with respect to the gearfulness or otherwise of the routes.

After some disappointing football watching that evening we decided to head for Donegal for a few days, so we set off and were almost immediately confounded by a toll-booth free toll motorway. The signs informed us we had until 8pm the following day to pay our few Euro toll, and that this could be effected either by phone or online. Possessing neither an Irish phone or ready access to the internet, this seemed a rather cruel trick to spring, but eventually I imposed on Avril to pay it for us. The rest of the drive went uneventfully (except for some mild confusion when we crossed into Northern Ireland without realising, I was expecting a sign or something), but ended with a midnight mini-epic trying to find a campsite. We finally arrived on a massive caravan park on the shores of a massive lake near Enniskillen, which had, amongst its more redeeming features, a covers band playing Kaiser Chiefs songs very loudly indeed until the wee small hours. Luckily our pitch was at least 20 yards away from the building they were playing in so we had a pleasantly quiet night, ahem.

The following morning was midgy and rather showery, so we continued Donegalwards, then onwards through Killybegs to Malin Beg, a tiny village on the tip of the North side of Donegal Bay. We could see it raining on the other side of the bay, but it was dry at the crag, which was a pleasant looking selection of walls and bays, with convenient ledges running beneath much of the climbing. The rock was pretty intriguing, somewhat reminiscent of North Pembroke's sandstone although with more weird pockets and less small crimpy holds, but apparently it's actually some kind of Quartzite. It was my lead, so I started off up Bosun's Ladder, a short, but friendly Severe, before Oli led the equally pleasant VS 4b Hydrophobia just next to it. A tricky approach past an ominous looking green pool, and a comedy foot-next-to-face high step manouevre at half height were the cruxes of the next route, Splashdown, and then Oli led a fun little VS called Trident, which had some interest from a wobbly crux hold, and the biggest suicide bugs we'd ever seen in residence at the bottom (suicide bugs are these odd little creatures you get at sea cliffs which are kind of a cross between woodlice and earwigs, but have a tendency to jump off the cliff into your eyes at every possibly opportunity). By this point the sea had come in a little, and the nice platforms we'd been basking on earlier (the sun had come out by this stage) were suddenly looking a rather dicier prospect, so we soloed three easier routes at a slightly higher level and then hunger forced us to set up camp and cook tea. As it happened this coincided with a brief shower, so we settled in for the night, camped next to a lovely natural harbour, all of 5 minutes walk from the crag.

Malin Beg:

Monday morning was pretty sunny, so we wandered back up to the crag and decided to abseil in to one of the longer routes, a VS called Second Mate. It was very amenable and full of gear, but its companion VS, First Mate, looked like a much scarier proposition, as did the apparent classic of the crag, so we bottled those and Oli led a geartastic HS called Calvin's Corner. As lovely a crag as Malin Beg was, we decided it was time to get exploring, so we drove a few miles up the coast to the improbably named village of Glencolumbkille, where we had tea, soup and scones in a proper Father Ted tearoom before visiting the even more improbably named Skelpoonagh Bay. Again the guidebook map was useless, just showing a generic bend in an unspecified road, with Peter's House marked in big letters on the corner. Later investigations revealed that Peter did indeed still live in the house in question, but reluctant to start randomly knocking on doors we just picked a promising looking corner and set off coastwards.

Skelpoonagh Bay and Glencolumbkille:

Luckily we had chosen our bend wisely and soon arrived at the top of the crag, which consisted of four large zawns separated by jutting headlands. The principle object of our attentions was a VS called Paradise In The Picture-House, which there was a rather cool looking photo of in the guide, and which was described as “phantasmagoric”. The route takes a rising traverse across a hanging slab above the mouth of a yawning sea cave, leading to a huge quartz vein, up which the route finishes, with a crux roof at the very top. With the waves crashing below the situation was very atmospheric, with the roof proving well protected, but requiring some burly jamming to overcome it. Needless to say Oli particularly enjoyed following that bit. We both chickened out of an HVS which started in the same place before traversing into a hanging corner directly above the sea cave, the guidebook description “change your trousers here and then bring up your second before you change your mind” worried us both a bit, so Oli picked an interesting looking VS called New Beginnings, which followed a striking thin flake crack up an otherwise featureless wall. The climbing was pretty sustained, building to a tricky crux high up the route, but the gear was all small nuts behind thin flakes which hardly inspired confidence, and probably put the route at the scary end of HVS, a good lead by Mr Gray! This chastened us somewhat, so we decided to try and find the campsite the guidebook mentioned in the village, with good, but clearly never to be fulfilled, intentions to return to climb in the evening.

After a brief search we located Dooey Hostel (apparently the oldest independent hostel in Ireland) up on the hill above the tea shop, and found a wonderful campsite in a wooded glade with an incredible view across the bay. The proprietor of the hostel was an amazing chap called Leo, who lived up to my every stereotype of Irish hospitality and then some. He supplied us with tea and a lavish plate of biscuits upon arrival and insisted we avail ourselves of the kitchen, shower and common room in the hostel, which we duly did, and spent a fabulous evening in the company of a couple of friendly Germans who were also staying there, playing shithead and drinking whisky until the wee small hours.

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