The Old Man of Hoy – Brian Mead

I’d always vaguely thought the Old Man of Hoy would be a great objective but didn’t think I’d actually get there until Hely asked me if I fancied going along with himself, Boylan elder (Chris) and Barry Dyde. So all was at an advanced planning stage when Barry unfortunately had to drop out, however he was replaced in the nick of time, by, well Nic, as it happened.

So with precision military planning from Hely we set off one May Friday evening on the Queasy Jet flight to Inverness, picked up our hire car and headed north into the fading Scottish light to an overnight hotel stop just short of the Orkneys ferry terminal.

After the next morning’s ferry, followed by a drive and a bit of sightseeing at the oldest archaeological site in the UK (Scara Brae), we finally took the ferry to the Isle of Hoy itself across the infamous Scapa Flow. The landlady of our accommodation appeared to have three or four jobs as well as running a dairy farm and which seemed to include that of post mistress, school bus driver and a few others we suspected. The Island is a strange place, with just two pubs/restaurants/hotels, no police and very few vehicles, in fact when driving around the island locals walking along the roads would often wave to us. Hoy also has a lot of wind, a lot…

Miraculously however the following day dawned sunny and windless so this was it, we sorted our stuff and took the 20 minute drive to the car park a mile or two walking distance from the “Old Man” and after a bit of a hike we found ourselves standing on the cliff edge gazing across at our objective – a slight attack of the collywobbles made itself felt!. The first challenge however was getting down the cliff to the bottom of the stack which turned out to be a fairly challenging, and in places, slightly scary affair – slipping wasn’t an acceptable option! Anyway with relief we finally got there and gazed up, and er up – more collywobbles..!

There was no one else around and the weather was perfect and we’d run out of excuses so we geared up and Nic led off up the first pitch to the stance at about 20 mtrs. I followed up then led through with some trepidation as it was necessary to step down a bit (worse for Nic to follow in fact) then traverse airily to the bottom of the crux crack system. At this point I discovered that the rock was totally covered in sand and I had to more or less brush off every hold before using it – a Dyson would have helped. However the first roof went ok but the second (crux) roof was a rather more daunting affair and I spent some time faffing about, putting gear in then trying the move this way and that, getting helmet jammed etc. before realising that if I didn’t get on with it now I’d run out of gas completely and fall off. So with a lot of grunting I managed finally to heave out, up, over and back in balance, and then spent about 10 minutes panting and generally trying to regain my composure. After that it went fairly well with Nic coming up and leading through again, but now on fairly chossy, even muddy, but fairly easy but occasionally run-out climbing. The main challenges in the 3rd and 4th pitches were the Fulmars who just didn’t like us being there and made it very obvious – we were covered in Fulmar puke by the time we finished the climb. The top pitch, an inviting corner crack, was an absolute delight and of course very spectacular and the final top out just sublime. We both just sat there and chilled out in the sun for some time contemplating the rather more direct way back down. The top was actually furnished with a log book and one or two party games for the amusement of those making it there – very thoughtful. Unfortunately Chris had been unable to do the crux roof on pitch 2 ( well he is getting on a bit now!) which left Hely sitting at the top of that pitch till we returned following a few vertiginous abseils and from there it was a full 60 mtr free hanging abseil to terra firma.

The following day was spent sightseeing, and sheltering from the incessant wind as well as feeling very lucky to have had a wonderful weather day for what was an utterly memorable day out.

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