The Yesnaby Castle (pronounced YEZ-na-bee) is no castle at all, but instead a poetically named great rock which rises from the sea off of the less-trammeled hills of Orkney, Scotland. It is comparable both in height and in rough appearance to a twelve-story building, and is precisely the sort of thing which would instill in men the thought that the gods were at work crafting scenic views upon the face of the Earth.

Geologically, the formation began as the leading edge of the cliff which now ends a few hundred feet behind it; at some point in history, a section of that cliff collapsed, wiped away by the so-easy-to-underestimate forces of howling winds and pounding waters. Yesnaby is not alone in these characteristics, as other similar rock formations -- denoted as 'sea stacks,' formally, include even taller ones in Scotland, the Old Man of Hoy (standing 449 feet tall) and the similarly shaped North Gaulton Castle standing 215 feet tall, and Lange Anna ('Long Anna') of Heligoland, Germany (she stands a mere 154 feet tall, but still taller than Yesnaby). But Yesnaby is geologically more interesting than any of these because it stands on two 'legs' -- whatever forces of nature have conspired toward its creation saw fit to build for it a short pedestal upon which to stand, and to leave a gaping hole at the base between those supporting structures. And though one is at least five times as thick as the other (and I'm reliably informed that for lack of good footholds in certain stretches, takes probably ten times as long to climb around), they are so positioned so that if the smaller leg ever wears through (and seeing the sea continue its assault makes it inevitable that someday it will), the entire edifice will crash into the waters below like a mortally struck titan slain by a greater foe.

Climbers have been taking on Yesnaby since the late 1960s (so far as we have records), leaving their mark in the form of wedges and pitons and abandoned bits of rope here and there, and yet even these seem to be swallowed by the greatness of the structure, as though they are simply natural outgrowths of it. From straight above, the entire formation looks slightly boat-shaped; and though the top is hardly level, it is comfortable enough to walk about on without fear of dropping over the side, and an easy enough thing to imagine building a house upon, growing a small but sustaining garden on the remainder, and sitting on the porch to view the magnificence of the great sea spread before it.


Some information on climbing the Yesnaby Castle may be found at Orkney's handy guide to its sea stacks.



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