Pressing on for the last few miles to Ullapool, the obvious increase in motorhomes on the road makes us realise we’ve joined the North Coast 500 driving route. Great to see so many tourists contributing to the local economy, but the impact on infrastructure is evident even out of the main summer season – the garage in town is gridlocked with poorly parked rental vans, with a queue spilling out and blocking the High Street.
Driving on through Coigach and Assynt you can certainly see the attraction, as every turn reveals another enchanting sandy bay or towering Munroe. Stac Pollaidh, Ben More Assynt, Suilven and Quinag slip past with their characteristic shapes picked out against the perfect blue sky.
No Munroe bagging for us this trip – we’re heading for Sheigra, a tiny hamlet on the west coast, about 10 miles south of Cape Wrath and the northwestern tip of Scotland. The magnificent Torridonian Granite of the Second Geo is one of the country’s most celebrated seacliffs, and there’s the added bonus of a gorgeous beach complete with camping field and an honesty box. We feared we might arrive to find it rammed with giant white Winnebagos but arrive to find it completely empty apart from a pair of kayakers.
The climbing is reached in 5 minutes or so from the beach, and the routes on the left side of the face can be accessed easily without any abseiling nonsense – convenience seacliff climbing. … and what routes! The main wall overhangs almost 10ft in a hundred, yet the incredible pockety nature of the rock (we’re not talking monos here – huge jugs abound!) means it can be climbed almost anywhere at 5b/c, with easier routes taking lines of weakness.
We started off with a couple of very good VSs on the left end, Sideslip and Sideline, while we got used to the rock and the sun had a chance to creep round and banish any hint of dampness (shade until about 2pm). Then we did Juggernaut, E1 5a, which has a slightly thin start before blasting up unbelievable jugs and steep cracks up a fine arete. We finished off with Bloodlust Direct which takes the stunning red wall in the middle of the shot below – with a bit of sports climbing fitness in your arms, and a confident approach, this feels pretty okay at the grade (though you really wouldn’t want to hang around with wilting arms). It fully merits the 4* rating in the guide – I can’t think of many better E2s anywhere. Simply OUTSTANDING!
By now, Helen has worked up the enthusiasm for a quick dip…
… and then it’s beer o’clock dinner on the beach followed by a short plod up onto the headland to watch the sunset. It was 10.33 by the time the last red sliver disappeared over the horizon. What a magnificent spot!
Next day, more of the same, as we head down to Treasure Island Wall for a couple of 3* routes: Tall Pall, HS, and Plum McNumb, VS. Both good and with more of a seacliff feel, starting from an abseil approach not far from the briney.
Then back to the second geo, where another ab gives access to Shark Crack, HS, up a slabby corner to a really unlikely steep exit.
Finally we rapped in again, a bit further left, to the tremendously exposed Black Pedestal belay, before exiting up Black Night, HVS.
Another great day on granite followed by a superb sunset.
A couple of days later and we’re back for more seaside adventure. Back in the second geo we do Sutherland Summer, VS, which is confusingly out of sequence in the guidebook (it’s the 2nd route on the wall) and for a few minutes think we might have a new route. Despite the fabulous weather, the rock is quite damp in the shade, and we head down to Treasure Island Wall in search of dry rock. Wrong! A major swell and some freaky microclimate mean that it’s absolutely sopping and we escape up SunSpot, a pleasant Severe.
Out to sea, an ominous black cloud is building on the horizon and sure enough an impressive sea fret engulfs us. It’s starting to look like we should have gone inland after all.
Undaunted, we launch up May Tripper, E1, but got lost in a sea of (damp) jugs and ended up climbing the appropriately named Wanderings, E2. Excellent. Next, Helen leads Sarah’s Route,
For a final route we did Fingers, E1, which takes a completely preposterous looking crack through steep territory to the far right of the wall, but has huge hidden jugs.
More good climbing, but we couldn’t help but think we’d have enjoyed it more with a later start and allowed the sun time to shoo away the dampness.