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
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
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
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
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.