|Date: June 1st 2013
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney
Some weekends you're sat on the sofa on a Sunday night sadly thinking "Jeez work tomorrow, where did the weekend go?" Happily on this occasion PJ were sat there thinking "Was that really only 2 days??"
Alan had announced a scouts' trip to Tory island and it was one of those places you always mean to visit but never quite get around to, so we were definitely up for tagging along. The weather however wasn't going to play ball. After a rare week of (windy) sunshine in Ireland the forecast was for a band of rain to engulf the north on the Saturday, right when we'd want to be hanging off some nice dry rock. Sunday was to be better though so after a week of "Will we, won't we?" we finally made a decision on Fri night to pack up the camping gear and settle for a wet walk round the island if need be.
There were a few navigation issues en route to Magheroarty which I put firmly down to my grumpy navigator who still pined for the warm bed and a long lie in but we made the 11:30 ferry in good time, thanks mostly to it being 30 mins later than we'd thought. We'd driven through pelting rain near Errigal but over the island things were a lot clearer and the sky was an encouraging patchy blue. The wind meant that the sea was quite rough but it made for an exciting voyage as we soared and swooped through the waves, the scouts whooping and cheering at the prow for most of the journey until sea-sickness laid a few of them low. Highlight of the crossing was spotting a basking shark coasting by the boat and everyone rushed to grab blurry odd-angled photos of the fin and tail.
The east end of Tory containing Tor Mór is impressive, more so the closer you get to it. PJ and I had watched a Youtube video of Iain Miller and friends climbing this ridge / stack / promontory and it was on the cards for the weekend. First though it was off towards the lighthouse to set up camp before jumping on the bikes we'd brought for a tour of the island and an up close inspection of Tor Mór. It looked very scary from the west side but I toodled across the narrow path to the start for a closer look and was happy to find easier grassy slopes on the back end, though, we'd still need to be roped up for the narrow sections. PJ was distinctly nervous about the whole project so we retreated and joined Alan, Margaret, Hazel and the scouts for a snack above the east bay at Port an Duin. Alan had mooted the possibility of joining us to climb Tor Mór but had to catch the ferry back at 4pm so it was never going to happen.
Instead PJ and I sounded him out for climbing areas and got pointed towards Derek Hill's artist studio at Ard Lathan so we cycled back over there after lunch. There's a looping path that circumnavigates the island but the northern half along the cliffs was more suited to mountain bikes that our city-slicker hybrids so we abandoned them after some bone rattling sections and continued à pied. Eventually on the east side of Poirtín Ghlais (roughly 850/470 grid) we discovered an easy descent route onto a black slab, directly opposite the sea stack that looks split in 3.
The 12m wall next to the left of the descent looked to have a few routes on it and we duly clambered up a VDiff line, starting just above a triangular rock pool, which we called "Basking Shark". A Severe 2m to the left was devoid of gear for the first half but finished nicely and as I belayed PJ up when we spied a silvery seal lazily floating in the bay just below us. The route just had to be called "Seal Spotter" after that. We hurriedly took a few photos then climbed down to try and get a closer look. The seal fearlessly studied us studying him (her?) from just a few feet away and we took some delightful photos.
Returning to our wall I spotted a line around the corner that led up through a black bookish crack to a shelf and then further up right on to a blocky wall. The crack leaned out somewhat and was open bottomed but there was some brilliant laybacking deep at the back on both sides with a huge inviting jug at the top. PJ and I could see the moves and eagerly got set up. It turned out to be a lovely Hard Severe on grippy rock with gear aplenty (my kind of route) and I had to give a little whoop as I mantled onto the shelf. Some very nice moves. As I started on the blocky finish I came nose-level with some sweet smelling flowers growing defiantly from a crack and so the route was named "Smell The Flowers". Our seal friend played about below us the whole time, the sun had been shining all afternoon and the top of the climb was a cracking place to be.
We headed back to camp and got a beep of the horn and a wave from the man himself, Patsy Dan, as we neared the campsite. The number plate on his car reads "King of Tory" and I had to comment on it when he wandered over during our cooking of dinner, earrings glinting in the evening light.
"I love your number plate, by the way."
"You know, some English people were over here a few years ago. Ah, they were all right in their own way."
PJ and I exchanged amused glances.
"And they says to me: 'Sure not even the Queen of England can boast a number plate like that!'"
After dinner we had a bit of fun with the local seagull population, throwing the scraps just close to enough to us that only the bravest gulls dared approach for a nibble. They swooped over head, landed, hopped closer and swabbled among themselves until a dozen of them were lined up on the wall eyeing us warily and the food eagerly. Again we delighted in some great photos.
The local nurse (a male) also wandered over and chatted to us about the corncrakes, explaining how they lived in nettle patches, made a rasping sound and bemoaned their new status as the owners of the island. Apparently environmental laws protecting the corncrakes were preventing slanders from plowing fields and building fences and nobody on Tory had a good word to say about them.
We'd assured the King we'd be in the Club Sóisialta later on for the box playing festival and we wandered over there when we'd figured that enough people had arrived that we wouldn't stand out too much. It was 10:30pm but the club was half empty and dead quiet, though there were instruments aplenty scattered about. A €5 charge at the door had diminished our drinking money somewhat so we took turns in pretending to go out for fag and sneaking back to the campsite for a wee refreshing top up from our illicit supplies. By midnight things started to liven up a bit and we enjoyed 2 hours of excellent ol, ceol agus craic before we judged ourselves refreshed enough to stagger back to a welcome bed.
PJ was determined to get her lie on the next morning after the early start the day before and a looming G8 diary meant that lie-ins would be wishful thinking for a few weeks. So I busied myself with breakfast, moaned about my sun-burnt bald head and tried to cajole her into going over to Tor Mór again. We de-camped to the pier and then set off to the east of the island again.
The ridge out to Tor Mór starts off easily enough on sloping grass but I was filled with trepidation and didn't want to take any risks. We roped up, pitching it in full rope length sections and placing an occasional piece of gear. We only had about 2.5 hours and in hindsight we should have moved alpine style but it was unknown territory and we both just wanted to not do something stupid.
There were some narrow sections but generally it was straight forward until we got to the first rock step. Some gulls seemed to nesting in the chimney that splits the brown wall here, and which seemed to be the most natural way up. A few gulls swooped over our heads and we were unsure in they were just acting normally or were trying to protect a nest. I stayed to the left of the wall and scrambled easily up some white blocks to a corner but this led to a harder section of the wall and I could only longingly eye the chimney and wish the birds away.
Time was also running out; we estimated afterwards needing 4-6 hours to get right to the end and back and our 2.5 hour window was woefully inadequate so we retreated after taking some pictures and vowed to return. All nerves had by now been banished and we were moving much more slickly so if nothing else we got some pre-Alpine multi-pitch practise in.
Back at the sunny pier we indulged in ice cream and a few left over beers from the cool bag and watched the local children alternately fishing and diving into the harbour, tossing some reluctant canine friends in too. An idyllic scene.
There's always something magical about an island trip; I remember my first Gola experience being thrilled and frightened on Buzz Lightyear, the children swimming in the sea, filling the tent with sand and the craic around the bonfire; my first Owey trip climbing a crumbling new route and standing at the midsummer bonfire in the pissing rain alternately drying my front and back in the welcome roaring heat. PJ and I won't forget our first Tory trip either, it was just a brilliant weekend and there's loads of reasons to go back, Tor Mór and new routes aplenty just some of them.
05 Jun 2013
Great article. I had forgotten the meet as, like you, I have always meant to go. Its great to get very close to seals but best not stroked. Their teeth are very big and toxic; that's not a joke.