And so it came to pass that Margaret Q, Eugene and myself gathered at Bamba’s coffee van at the crown, the plan being to reacquaint ourselves with two of Malin Head’s classics, then paddle out to Glashedy island in the afternoon. Dawson’s Diedre came first, and we used the corner on the left at the top as an exit, which is much better and safer. Then we did The Cutting Lizard, (or Lizard Edge), at a gallop as Eugene had a date, and had to be away for one o’clock. More coffee at the van, then off to Carrickabraghy where Derek was trying to squeeze into his wet suit and awaiting our arrival. The paddle across was almost flat calm, and we continued around the island, through some reefs, and suddenly we could hear singing, quite harmonious, and my first thought was, “What are the Henry Girls doing out here?” It was the Glashedy Seal Voice Choir, and they broke off rehearsals to come and have a look at us. After circumnavigating the island, we beached on some stones, and this is where we met the giraffe. Those of you that have read Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’ will be aware that species survive and indeed evolve in remote places cut off from the rest of the world (like Glashedy) and such was the case with the Glashedy Giraffe. Well suited to the geography, it can stand on the beach and graze the vegetation from the top off the cliffs. The GG has evolved a distinctive eroded head due to continuous and voracious attack by nesting sea birds who disapprove of its activities. In the interests of anthropology, I decided to bring a specimen home, tied a bit of fisherman’s rope around its neck, and towed it behind the kayak. Not entirely sure whether it was swimming or just walking, but when it emerged from the sea it caused a bit of a stir with the tourists. Getting it to stay on the roof rack was more of a problem, as every time I got two legs on, the other two were off. Good thing there were no low bridges on the way back to Culdaff. It seems to be settling in well here, clearing the moss off the roof, and I have plans to use it for crag cleaning at Glenagivne and elsewhere
Owey Island. 2021 Midsummer camping, Kayaking and climbing trip.
Blessed were we with the weather this year. On Friday morning, Dan collected our gear (and Margaret) and Valli, Ivan and I kayaked across to the island. After a leisurely morning Ivan and I climbed in the Black Spink, I led Kobatron, a nice severe, then Bikini Bottom, a sandbag at HS, nearer 4c we thought, then Ivan led the route that I thought was a first ascent last year, which turned out to be a variation of An Finka Dink E1 5c. This has a harder start (which we avoided, as we started a bit higher) but goes left of the crux crack of An Finka Dink to finish with Kobatron. I called it something beginning with Bh….
Andrew and Laura joined us in the evening, then Anthony, PJ, Nigel, and surprisingly Marty (in his electric kayak) in the morning. We top roped Norkapp as a warm up, 400K, then did the usual paddle for those who hadn’t done it before. After lunch, 6 of us had a grand tango* on ‘Taming the Dragon’, a spectacular Diff on an accessible sea stack (*or tangle perhaps more appropriate).
Margaret took photos from the cliff top.
Back to the Black Spink for a final route or two sans PJ, Anthony and Nigel, (who had got lost on the 10 minute walk). Marty led Bh seconded by Laura and Andrew dragged me and Ivan up Kobatron again. Beer, barby, and bed before dawn. The highlight being the mackerel donated by Charles and wonderfully cooked on the fire by Valli, and of course Marty’s singing, duly accompanied by me on bouzouki, usually in a different key.
In the morning there was talk of a big wind a comin, so a hasty departure was made to Cruit.
Fair Head, fair do’s George. The Nordies got their first outing post- lockdown to the Small Crag, Fair Head, hosted by our chair George Carleton. We just squeezed inside the 15 person limit, due to two going for a walk and 2 choosing to boulder, so there was a great turnout. The sun shone, but it was ‘freezin-as- usual’ in north Antrim in the shade, with an east wind. Hardy folk, they who live there, and the grades are on the hardy side too. George arranged different abs, so we were able to spread the number of climbers across the crag, (not that any virus would have a chance in the constant wind). Great to see so many folk I havent been able to see in ages.
After 4 days camping in Knoydart, bagging Margaret’s last couple of Corbies in that area (we were joined by PJ, Anthonius and the ‘Bessie Boys’ – fresh from success on the Aonach Eagagh,- for a couple of nights) we headed up to Elphin, and kayaked into the base of Suilven from the east. The Bessie Boys walked in from the west, having been forced to abandon their mountain bikes early on. Beautiful spot to camp were it not for the midgies.
We were up early and climbed both peaks, the eastern top being more dramatic, and then paddled out, against both the flow and the wind. Never again. The fact that a rucksack was dragging in the water, and the boat appeared to be slowly sinking, didn’t help. PJ-ANT and the Bessie Boys headed even further north to climb Ben Hope, the most northern Munro, and we made our way south to meet up with Finbarr, who had been blown away by Blaven on 2 consecutive days. After knocking off another Corbie at Killilan with Margaret, we went to Skye to climb ‘The Spur’, a ** scramble up Sgurr An Fheadain, and the Forcan Ridge on the Saddle the following day (last time I did that was 1977 with Brendan Twomey and Freezie Lee).
A rest day in Fort William, then Curved Ridge on the Buachaille with Finbarr and Ant, while Margaret and PJ got another Corbie in Glen Etive. Then we headed for Inverness, PJ and Ant homewards, and Finbarr to the Ring of Steall- the last of his objectives. He did it in fairly adverse conditions in 5.5 hours, then broke his leg on the way down, and drove home. He is now in plaster in Dungiven.
Meanwhile, we did Wee Wyvis, another Corbie with Jimmy, then went to Braemar and got another 3, totalling 9 for the trip. Herself well pleased, me knackered.
The base was the Aite Cruinnidhich hostel at Roy Bridge, which the organiser George had booked some months before. We were the first arrivals in the van, on Thursday night, then Jimmy from Inverness, closely followed by Damien and Finbarr. Attempts by the most recent arrivals to find anywhere open to eat and drink in either Roy Bridge or Spean Bridge were fruitless, so Damien rustled up a spagbol.
The forecast was for Friday to be the best day, and with a lower avalanche level in the east, we headed for the Cairngorms, about an hour away. Jimmy and Margaret went to try and bag a couple of nearby Corbetts. The carpark at Cairngorm was filling rapidly when Damien, Finbarr and I arrived, but we stopped for a coffee before tramping across to Coire An Sneachta, Damien twisting his ankle en route. This became a problem for him, despite an ankle support and painkillers, so he turned back just as we started up the slope to the base of the Fiacaill Ridge. The ridge was in wonderful condition, but there were a number of slow guided parties which we managed to get past. Traversing from the top, towards Cairngorm, we met a bloke on a snow board getting towed by a pair of huskies, who told us that he had met another Irish guy with a bad leg on the way up the mountain. Damien?
It was, because there he was on top, having pulled a Lazarus, and we all walked down together, well pleased with the day’s activities.
Back at the Hostel the Corbetteers were licking their egos having floundered in deep snow, and been forced to turn back, whilst the new arrivals, George, PJ and Anthony, were looking at the forecast for Saturday with rising dismay. The hostel was suddenly jammed full of another group (also the CCC according to the identifiers on the mountain of food that was stowed in the fridges).
Yet another walk into and out of Coire Ardair on Craig Meggy (how many times have I done that without ever climbing a route?) followed on Saturday, along with the abovementioned CCC. Jimmy went home. Meal out in Fort William.
Sunday saw The CCC take off for home (with George’s whisky) whilst George, Ant, Finbarr and I headed up the ski lift on Aonach Mor, en route to ‘Golden Oldie’ on the west face, and PJ, Margaret and Damien went in pursuit of another brace of Corbs above Lough Arkaig.
The longest 2 km I have ever walked, up the Ailt Daim, found us wet and confused as to where the base of the ‘Oldie’ might be as we gazed up into the snow and mist. “Should be around here somewhere” said George, who had been before, and so we started up. “Is this it?” said Finbarr as we climbed. “Might be” said George. “Is this it?” said Finbarr, higher up, “Possibly”. said George. “Is this it?” said Finbarr, even higher. “No” said George. But we went up anyway. Silver Oldie perhaps, with at best a bronze medal for navigation, for finding our way down with 5 minutes to spare before the last Gondola. Back at the hostel, herself was well pleased with 2 more Corbetts, Damien had turned back after Meall nah Eilde 838m and went to get the car, and PJ in a coma after trail breaking all day. Anthony not well either, with a dose of the coronas, he thought
George was incandescent on discovering that the CCC had relocated his malt to Glasgow, making do with wine, as we ‘ate in’ that night.
The Feeneys took off for Cairngorm to ski, and the rest had a rest. This was a nice walk up Glen Nevis to the Steall Bridge followed by an afternoon in the pub. Due to rising concern over the fast moving Covid 19 situation, and a poor forecast, we all came home the next day (Tuesday, St Patrick’s day).
The faint hearted heeded the weather warning, the brave, (or foolish), didn’t let the impending storm put the wind up them, and proceeded with the plan, (more out of morbid curiosity than courage I imagine). Marty was there to meet us, clinging to his van, as was Martin Bonar (who had walked over Muckish from the gap) and Terry and his incredible electric car. We were, Marjan and Alan, PJ and Anthony of the hangovers, and me and the line manager.
The plan, was to abseil into the great cave on Muckish, and then go for a pint. The wind should be from the SW so the north face should be sheltered. When we parked, inability to open any of the doors on one side of the car, and alarming rocking of same, indicated that the wind was not as anticipated, but undeterred, we climbed out of the other side, and crabbed our way towards the mountain. The wind, which occasionally dropped to hurricane force 17 (+ hail), relented somewhat as we got to the base of the miner’s track. We met a bloke with a dog coming down. Martin pointed out that the wind wasn’t too bad earlier in the morning, but we had timed out arrival impeccably at the height of the storm.
To climb out onto the western flank of the mountain, scramble to the edge of a cliff, and abseil seemed suicidal (especially as Alan had never abbed before) so we decided to go up the miners track and see how it went.
A splinter group of Martin and Marty (the mad Martins) was seen to veer off and head for the cave. We pretended not to notice. It was ok up the track, which turned to snow higher up. Another splinter group, they of the hangovers, choose to go up a snowy gully, and met us at the sand pit. A quick scally up the lower reaches of Crowe’s Gully was all we were allowed, as herself had plans for the coffee shop in Glenveigh.
Down we went, but I could see the mad Martins at the top of the cave, and still had ambitions of a photograph. Madder Martin had disappeared, but could I get there in time to take a photo of the lesser mad Martin on the ab? I raced across meeting Terry (who had changed his mind about staying in the car) en route. When I got to the base of the cave and gazed aloft, there was madder Martin dangling euphorically below the roof, and in no hurry to rejoin humanity, (possibly because there was a big knot below him). To be fair the knot was almost at ground level, but nevertheless hard to unpick, and almost as hard as getting Marty out of his pre-war harness. Lesser mad Martin untied the rope and walked down, and we all went our separate ways, some to Glenveigh where we met up with the North West, and some elsewhere.
Malin Head Visitor Management consultation 10/12/2019 Feedback
1. Bamba’s Tower. This could swallow a lot of funding. There is already a viewpoint which is more than adequate. It could be a future project, but at this time the money could be better spent, and appropriate repairs would suffice.
2. Trails. Land Ownership is fundamental, as you cannot do anything until you have the agreement of the landowner, and this can be withdrawn at any time due to an incident, dispute, or change of ownership. Visitors come to Malin Head particularly from inland Europe, for the clifftop walk experience, and currently some of the best bits of the Malin coastline are closed, Skildren Bay to the Devils Bridge, Breasty Bay, Knockmany Bens, and the coastal walk from the Wee House to Glengad (one of the half dozen best such walks in Ireland, and one which used to be recommended in the Blue Planet guide). Use the funding to purchase the land (by CPO if necessary). A 10m wide strip of the clifftop would suffice, and this should not prove much of a loss to the landowner (in fact they would be less likely to lose animals off the cliff, if properly fenced).
3. Path Building. Consult Mountaineering Ireland, who have access to experts in this field. They will provide advice on an environmentally sympathetic path which will not get washed away during the first flood. Learn from the Slieve League experience, where the path had to be redone at great expense. Spending large amounts of money on H&S infrastructure will not enhance the wilderness experience, and not every path has to be wheelchair accessible, or be wide enough for an excavator and tractor to get past each other.
4. Car Parking. The ideal place for the main carpark would be just off the Malin Head loop, which is walking distance from the crown for most people. Traffic access to the Crown could be on a quota basis (counters and a barrier) so that on quiet winters days visitors can drive up, (but not on a busy day, when they will be stopped at the main car park).
5. Dunaldragh. This is a great idea, that is the bridge to the island, Ireland’s most northerly point. It would be a great attraction, but visitors should be contained in one protected area, for safety reasons and the protection of nesting seabirds.
I am a walker, climber and past president of Mountaineering Ireland (the national representative body for Mountaineers, hillwalkers, ramblers and leisure walkers) resident in Culdaff, and I use the Malin Head area both for walking the headlands, and rock climbing on the cliffs. This year the Donegal Climbfest was run at Malin head, which brought about 150 visitors to the area for the Mayday bank holiday. The potential of an iconic place like Malin as an outdoor recreation hub is immense, walkers, climbers, kayakers, fishermen, Basking shark spotting, coasteering etc but the main problem is that of access. A couple of years ago, I researched a coastal ‘way’ from the ferry at Buncrana around the North Inishowen coast (linking existing paths) to the ferry at Greencastle (the Inishowen Wildway). The idea was a link with the North Antrim Coastal path, but I was obliged to leave out Malin Head completely, due to the number of intractable access problems. Great opportunities for the local community are there, if they can convince some crucial landowners to buy into a more accommodating attitude to visitors, and that there is something in it for them.
Bunagee, Culdaff, Co Donegal
A great weekend, with wonderful January weather. On Friday we met up with Dennis, Damien, Gertrude, Brian and Martin at the bottom of Croaghmoyle 430m Just south of Nephin. Brian had worked out a good route over this hill, which none of us had ever been on before. About 3 hours.
Saturday, we left the hostel in Letterfrack, and joined by Neil and Fergus, we drove around to the south side of Maumtrasna. We walked up the beautiful Sruh Na Long Valley, scrambled onto the snowy summit, and then back down the ridge. About 5 hours. Blue skies all day, and meal out in the Bard’s Den.
Sunday. Fergus wanted to do Ben Choona, while some of them wanted a shorter day (something to do with a fitba match) so they went to Diamond Hill. Our party of Gertrude Margaret, Fergus and I, boosted by two French girls from the hostel (eat your heart out Dennis), started up the hill from Lough Fee, hotly pursued by Westport Hillwalking Club. They didn’t catch us, but on the top of Garraun we met folk from Castlebar that we knew from MI, and we both descended the east ridge, and back along the lake to the cars. Coffee in Kylemore Abbey. Everybody else went home, but M and I stayed another night in the hostel, as I had part of the Irish Polar crossing to do.
Monday, biked from L.Inagh to Lenane, and on to Westport on the Western Way, then to Newport on the Greenway. Heavy going in a few places, but otherwise superb. I would hate to walk it. Margaret picked me up in Newport and then home.
It was Jack’s idea from last year in Cogne, the ice would be easier, more variety of angle, and more Scottish Gully-like, so the same 4 signed up for Argentiere le Bessee 2019.
The first day was simply superb, a narrow two pitch 3 called ‘Easy Rider’, followed by the left branch of a Y gully called ‘Holiday on ice’, also 3, but about 7 pitches, albeit not all of them climbing.
The following morning it was snowing heavily, but stopped about 11. We felt the routes would be a bit banked up, but decided to go up and have a look at ‘Holiday on ice’, right branch (only the first pitch is shared). It was a bit harder due to having to clear the fresh snow as we climbed, but still good.
The classic 4 ‘Les Formes de Chaos’ was on for the next day, and half of France had turned up to climb it, and two Corsicans just back from Scotland. No, not climbing there, but watching the rugby. “The Scots, they taka outa Jonnee Sexton beeg time.” We queued for about an hour, and in the event, I didn’t even get off the ground as Jack was hit on the hand on the first pitch by a big lump of ice, and had to be lowered down. Broken finger. No question of further climbing for him. George and Finbarr were at the top of the 60m first pitch at this stage so we retired to the coffee bar and sat with the skiers to watch them. Due to the congestion, and a tricky boss third pitch, it took them all day to climb it.
The next day we decided to have a rest day and go snow shoeing. Not much of a rest really, but nice to look at something other than ice,
Our Gite/Auberge at Celiac was great and the food even better, but we moved down to Argentiere, the target for Thursday being a grade 5 called Hiroshima in the Fournel Valley. Following a very discernible path down to the river, it disappeared completely on the other side, and approach to the base of the route involved uphill swimming in waist to chest deep snow. I decided there must be a better way, and left George and Finbarr to it. Re-crossing the river and following the track up the valley, no other options presented themselves, so I went back down and was battling my way upwards in George’s collapsing steps, when himself and Finbarr appeared with Jack back on the other side. The route was in dangerous condition, so they had exited on the very path that I had been seeking. Plan B was a man-made ice wall just outside Argentiere (water pipes at the top) which provided us with 3 enjoyable routes of about 50m.
The next morning we were starting airport-ward, and seeking a route in the La Grave area which, being higher, should be in safer condition that Hiroshima. George (from Ballymena you understand) was too tight to buy a guide book, so all were left to my recollections of climbing there with Bill back in the last century. “Le Pylon, that’s it over there”. But it wasn’t, which became clear after the first pitch. La Croupe de la Poufiasse 4+ 220m *** the classic of the area, was duly climbed by mistake, twa easy pitches by Finbarr and myself, then George leading the crux, followed by a busted Finbarr, with myself thumbing a lift back down with them. And so, to Grenoble, and home.
Well, I would love to go back to this great area, but have concerns at the numbers of people now ice climbing in these popular destinations. Grade 3s are a lot safer, as the pitches are shorter and the steep steps tend to be separated by flatter areas which catch the falling ice. You can also wait until the party above clear the step, but pressure of numbers from behind, means that you tend to start below them with the danger of a piece of ice the size and weight of a Le Creuset frying pan smacking you on the head. If you climb below someone on a rock route there is a chance of something coming off, but on an ice climb it is almost inevitable, and the more sustained the route and the more climbers above, the greater the risk. No one’s fault really.
Bill Magowan. 1951-2018
Bill was my friend.
I received an introduction back, I think, in 1998, and arranged to go for a week rock climbing in Scotland with this guy I had only just met, who was a presbyterian from north Antrim and who didn’t take a drink. I recall remarking to my late wife Irene that it might be a long week.
In the event, we got on like a house on fire. Like most good friendships, a common interest can bond two individuals of very differing character. Trips to Scotland (again) Cornwall, Lundy Island, Norway, and the French and Swiss Alps followed. There was banter, some of it characteristically abrasive, but never a cross word, and much hilarity.
A climbing partner is a powerful bond, each relying on the other for the judgement and support to survive, in what can be a challenging and hostile environment. The shared physical and spiritual experiences of our adventures has left me with many memories.
Climbing Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis in perfect winter conditions, with Bill leading the Eastern traverse, and me arriving at the belay to be roundly abused for leaving one of his wires in a crack half way across. As it was corroded and rusty, I thought it had been ‘In situ’. I recall saying to him, “Bill you don’t have any old wires”. His reply was typically pithy, “ Well, I don’t have now”.
Getting seriously off route on the Aiguille Dibona, me out on a small exposed ledge and Bill reading me out the guide book instructions, (translated from google) which made no sense, then having to down climb before we found the correct line.
Bill tied to a steel cable on the Mont Aiguille in an electric thunderstorm urging me on, as I tried to slither up a chimney (without touching the cable) leading to the top, that had suddenly become a waterfall.
Never entirely comfortable in a group, Bill was at his best with a friend, two at most, he didn’t need any more, and if you were that friend, he was loyal and giving with whatever he had. A character who put the stamp of his own personality on everything he did, be it his stove pipe hat, or bumble bee climbing outfit. He loved gadgets of all sorts, which came and went, courtesy of Gumtree or Ebay.
I had always assumed that his devout abstinence from alcohol was a lifestyle choice, and even when he told me that he had an addiction in the past, I didn’t really take it seriously.
Sadly, the demon resurfaced, and fed upon the ensuing troubles, creating a downward spiral that Bill fought as best he could, but addiction is a terrible illness, worse because we, who are not affected, do not, or prefer not to, understand.
I don’t think I have ever met a more intelligent human being, a veritable walking encyclopedia, and to get on the wrong side of this intellect, or his razor sharp wit, was not something to be sought. In short, he didn’t tolerate fools gladly, and anyone to promote ideas without some scientific foundation tended to be very sorry they had raised the subject. Religion, having no scientific foundation, obviously did not escape.F
Following his cancer treatment, he never got back to the level of fitness he needed to get back out climbing, but found much reward in part time work as an extra in the movies. Over a pensioners’ lunch in Limavady, he would regale me with stories of The Queen of Dragons, Ned Stark and co.
Bill, I will miss you, am truly glad to have known you, and feel privileged to have called myself your friend.