High and Mighty – Bouldering in Scotland

April 4, 2017

Snow capped peaks, vast loch’s, and huge rock walls are some of Scotland’s most iconic natural features in the eyes of many an outdoor enthusiast. For decades, even centuries, people have explored and found adventure in these natural landscapes. Even today, mountaineer’s, climbers and water sports enthusiasts the world over travel to Scotland to experience some of the best of these activities. When it comes to bouldering however, Scotland is maybe not the first place to be spoken of. While Scotland may have miles and miles of rugged and untamed landscapes, it is a perfect entry to bouldering in some of the most spectacular locations in the British Isles.

Glen Nevis represents perhaps the biggest and most popular bouldering area Scotland has to offer. With Fort William at it’s foot and Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis to it’s north it is one of the most important glen’s in the country. It represents the epicentre of Scottish adventure, and boasts not only one of the country’s highest waterfalls in Steall Falls, but also some of the highest quality bouldering. Glen Nevis also has possibly the largest diversity of bouldering in the country, with short walk-ins to some very impressive boulders such as the Cameron Stone. Offering a good variety of boulder problems on excellent schist, the Cameron Stone boasts a range of problems starting at Font 5/V2, and culminating at the dizzying heights of Font 8B/V13 with Dave Macleod’s recent test piece, Gimme That Swing. The landing’s are generally good, if occasionally wet (a tarp here is very useful), and the boulder is certainly better enjoyed in sunny weather.

Close by is also the Heather Hat Boulder, which has a handful of problems well suited to combining with a trip to the Cameron Stone, or as a side act warm up for missions further up the Glen… Another 30 minutes walk up the hill will take you to Sky Pilot, Glen Nevis’ premier and most awe inspiring bouldering venue. While it may be the show case spot of the glen, it is also the most intense, with less than a handful of problems below 7A.

Further to the north is the venue of Torridon. Here you will find one of the largest and most varied bouldering areas in the country, not just the region. Sat just to the South East of Torridon itself, the area is one of the more beautiful spots you could hope to lace up a pair of rock shoes at. With grades starting all the way from Font 3, there really is opportunity for everyone to feel part of the landscape and enjoy the climbing. The sandstone rock is perfectly suited for bouldering, and the area boasts a huge range of features from slabs and arete’s, to overhangs and roofs. Torridon really has it all. Some classics to put on a hit list would be North Face Direct (Font 5+/V2) on the Ship Boulder, Launch (Font 4+/V1) on the Celtic Boulder, and then harder classics such as the iconic Malc’s Arete (7B) and the incredible Stokes Croft (8A). The area tends to dry quickly but be careful not to climb on damp rock, as damage is easily done to softer rocks such as the sandstone found here.

Moving back down south, Glasgow’s best crag. Dumbarton Rock. For years this crag has been widely recognised as the home of Dave Macleod’s historic traditional route, Rhapsody. The first route in the world to be given the grade of E11. But what many people don’t know, is that Dumbarton is also home to a vast expanse of bouldering. Dumby, as it is more affectionately known, is also home to Scotland’s first Font 8A/V11 boulder problem, Pongo Sit Start as well as a host of hard links from Scotlands own, the legendary Malcolm Smith. But while Dumby offers a historic flavour, it also offers an urban feel, as well as a great selection of lower grade problems, to cater for all audiences. The slick basalt rock provides over 50 problems at grades below font 6A! That’s an astounding wealth of climbing at a low grade range. From there another hundred or more problems go all the way from Font 6A/V3 up to Font 8B+/V14, in a good range of styles. While the rock type may make these problems feel more difficult, the skills and techniques learnt from this style of rock will certainly provide a more rich experience, and give a climber a lot more tools for future endeavours. The approach is negligible and the landings generally good. The setting is also spectacular with Dumbarton castle providing a unique feel as well as the close proximity to the ocean to it’s west. Dumbarton may not be to everyones taste but it’s certainly worth visiting.

Bouldering is one of climbing’s quickest growing genre’s, and with the minimal equipment and knowledge required, it is easy to understand why. Scotland is one of the most scenic locations in the country to enjoy this activity, as well as experience rock climbing as a beginner or intermediate. While bouldering in Scotland can be considered time consuming, it provides a huge reward if the conditions allow and motivation is there. To be be able to experience some of the countries finest natural landscapes through an activity such as bouldering is a special thing. So please, respect the rocks and the places in which you climb them. For more information on these areas, UKClimbing.com is an excellent resource, and will also offer links to other useful sources from guidebooks, accommodation, crag etiquette and directions.