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Or as the locals would have you say Fair Head, Aye.

It is a headland on the north east coast of Ireland, in Northern Ireland in County Antrim. Lets hear what our friends at www.northantrim.com have to say about the place ...

This majestic headland with vertical dolerite columns rises to 600 feet above sea level - some truly spectacular views can be had from here across the Rathlin Sound, to Scotland and round to Murlough Bay. The tides that run below are some of the most treacherous in the northern isles, creating as they do, whirlpools and strong currents; twice a day the Irish Sea ebbs and flows sending billions of gallons of water between here and Scotland. One tidal race known as 'Sloughnamorro' runs between Fair Head and Rathlin Island, full of swirls, standing waves and fast moving currents, it can, on a still day be heard from the Rue Point. A victim of the tidal race was the S.S. Glentow which lies at the foot of Fair Head, owned by the local Ballycastle McGildowney Shipping Company and carrying coal, she came in to close on a flood tide and was forced aground, where she later broke up. Another wreck lying close by is that of the American owned 5,300 ton S.S. Santa Maria which was en route from Virginia to England with fuel oil when she was torpedoed just off Fair Head by UB-19 on February, 1918. This whole area saw lots of U Boat activities during both wars and the area is well known for its 'wreck' diving. Fair Head is also recognized in climbing circles as being one of the best Crag climbs in the British Isles - most of the routes are long and follow the vertical racks - the best climbs are climbing grades ++ and a good rack is needed - though, no crowds and a spectacular location. Above Fair Head on the plateau you can find some fresh water lakes the largest , Lough na Crannagh has an excellent example of a crannog in the centre - Built on natural or man made islands in lakes or boglands, they were create as defensive homesteads, some were still being built in Ireland up to the seventeenth century.

Wow, thanks for that guys, I didn't know any of that stuff about the U Boats, or the old crannog, though I've seen it quite a few times. My interest is in the climbing, but before I go on with that I'll just let you in on two other interesting local pieces of information.
Marconi made his first wireless telegraph transmission across open water between a cottage at the foot of Fair Head and Rathin Island. The cottage is still standing and is known as Marconi's cottage.
The Dolerite columns that comprise the geology of Fair Head are the same as the columns that form the Giant's Causeway further down the Antrim coast, and are the same as the formations on the Isle of Skye.

But back to the climbing, mmmmmm, yummy jamming cracks. The Dolerite columns have cracks between them. Some of these cracks stretch the full height of 100 meters up the crag face. The crag is almost plumb vertical and it overhangs in quite a few places. It is five kilometres long. The leaves us with one of the premier climbing locations in the British Isles. Unfortunately it is north facing and is in Northern Ireland. The latter fact has probably done a lot to inhibit many climbers from mainland Britain from climbing there. Why bother going over when you can get to the peak district much faster and when there is all of the politics around. The news about Fair Head is that there is very little sectarian tension in this part of Northern Ireland. The nearest town, Ballycastle, is a traditional holiday town so I suspect the locals are used to having strangers among em. (I hasten to add that the locals are very friendly, especially to the few climbers that make their way here).

The weather is a shit though. Basically you can't be guaranteed any sort of weather but if you make it climbing here you will never forget the experience.

I have been climbing for a little over 10 years and it was only last year that I finally made it to this jewel of a crag. For years I had been told "Fair Head will put manners on ye", and "Bring a large rack, a really large rack"a . I had heard stories of people climbing here and using up all of their big gear in the first half of the climb to find themselves with only a few small wires for protecting 30 meters of a 2 foot wide jamming crack !!, Its ALL TRUE !!

If you go to climb here the first thing is to drop the grade you climb at by about 2 grades. I can climb E2, It took me and my friend 29 hours to climb from the bottom of a 100 m high HVS to the top (This involved being benighted, retreating, abseiling in the next day, getting our ropes stuck on the ab in, just general fuck-off having our asses kicked by the route). Two reasons for this, the climbs are slightly undergradedb and the climbing style involves uncompromising use of the hand jam, a technique which most of us are not spankingly comfortable with.

I'd love to fill you in on some of the history of the climbing at the crag, but my guide book is at home. It has mostly been driven by members of a climbing club called Dal Riada. Three main periods of activity have happened, the discovery of the crag in the 1950's epitomised by Calvin Torrins (who is still climbing strong today) , a return to it in the late 1970's with locals such as Paul McArthur getting involved and a huge renaissance from the mid 1990's through to the present spear headed by Paul Dunlop. The new guide book was required mainly because of all of the new routes that Paul Dunlop has done over the past 10 years. In the 1950's a significant thing happened for climbing in the area. The National Trust gave the care of a hut to the Dal Riada climbing club. This Hut is about 40 min walk from the crag and provides a spiritual home for the club and for climbing in this part of the Island.

I talked to Paul McArthur about the climb that had taken me 29 hours to complete. He reckoned that ours was the second party to climb the route (Scarecrow HVS 5b,5a,5b). It was first done 15 years ago!

So that's it, a brief introduction to Fair Head, I have only been climbing there twice, it put manners on me, it ate all my gear, and I can't wait to go back.


a: the rack is the collective name for all of the metal equipment climbers bring with them. Also known as gear. Generally each time you place a piece of protection into the rock you must connect this to the rope using an item called a quickdraw (also known as an express). The number of quickdraws that you need to use is a good measure of how many pieces of gear you will need to place while climbing. Most of the time you would want to place a piece ever 5-10 meters. Most climbs would involve bringing along about 10 quickdraws. A Fair Head rack requires a minimum of 15, 20+ is better. Those cracks eat gear.

b: This practice is called sandbagging. A grade of difficulty is given to a climb, usually through consensus. When you go to a new area you can look at the grades and you know you can climb grade E1, say, at your home crag, then you should be able to climb E1 here. Sometimes local areas go out of sync with global standards (especially easy at a crag like Fair Head where only a few people climb). You see E1, but its actually harder than that. You struggle on it, perhaps fail, you feel upset because you think 'I can climb E1 !', well you've been sandbagged! One of the best trad climbers in the world (Dave McLoud) was at Fair Head last year and proclaimed Ireland a nation of sandbagger, you have been warned.

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