Warning – this post contains no actual climbing!
Ellens Geo is another of the chapters in The Great Scottish Sea Cliffs – just a mile or so down the coast from Sarclet, and sharing a bit of its conglomerate geology, layered in amongst the sandstone, the main climbing is on a proud south-facing wall thrusting out into the sea. It has been developed over the last few years by a perhaps unlikely pioneer – Simon Nadin, a.k.a. The Buxton Stickman and renowned for his hard grit routes and success in the early days of competition climbing. In the book, he describes his rekindled enthusiasm for climbing after a move from the too-familiar Peak to Caithness, and the discovery of Ellens Geo on a sea-kayaking scouting trip.
As well as the book, we’d been inspired to visit by recommendations from Mark and George who’d done a couple of the E2s the week before and proclaimed them to be world-class. The development is much too new to be covered in any guidebook, so we set out armed with a decent but distant topo from UKC and a bit of approach beta from the boys.
Parking at Whalligoe Steps, we were accosted by a local to warn us that the famed steps themselves were closed for repair (300 steps cut into the back of a deep geo / zawn,
… once used be fisherman – including this chap’s grandfather – to land catches of mackerel). He was a bit nonplussed when Helen explained that we were there for the climbing, not the steps – obviously it’s still somewhat off the radar!
The 15mins walk up the coastal path is spectacular and worth the effort in its own right. Soon the crag comes into sight (the actual geo itself is just beyond it, though to date there’s only one route in it).
There are a handful of routes in the HVS / E1 range, which mostly stick to the major corner features breaching the smooth banded walls in between which are home to a couple of E2s and then a bunch of bigger E numbers. Our thinking was to get a feel for the place with one of these, Layercake HVS, at the far right of the crag, which had the benefit of being easily identified as a huge corner (we’d got no route descriptions) and also might give some shelter from the fierce southerly wind (which was making standing up a challenge at the top of the crag). Ab line set up and here’s the view down the corner:
Ten meters down the abseil it was obvious I was intruding into a fully occupied high-rise housing development – it was wall-to-wall (or rather floor-to-ceiling) birds and guano, with anxious-looking occupants nervously guarding their delicately balanced eggs on any available ledge or crevice. For their safety (as well as mine) I selected reverse gear and started jugging.
Looking down the other couple of candidates: Where the Taught Waves Hang, E1,
and Ham it Up, HVS, it was much the same story.
Looking out across the intervening wall, perhaps unsurprisingly, there was much less evidence of bird occupancy, and the routes do look inspiring.
Here’s what we reckoned to be the rap point for Hundreds and Thousands…
… but they’re all E2 and up, and were being blasted by a 50kph southerly. Factor in that it was just me and Helen, we were on an unknown crag with only sketchy information, no phone signal, and no one knew we were there… “Good Mountaineering Judgement” got the better of gung-ho enthusiam for once and we decided we’d have to revisit at a future date. This post is by way of a bit of beta for other intrepid explorers and a memory jogger for when the stars align for our next visit!