Stewart Cable gives us the lowdown on recent developments around this quiet corner of Scotland…
Something of an unknown even in the vague and murky world of Scottish bouldering, Dumfries & Galloway often goes through little spurts of popularity before fading back into obscurity for a few years. There are a few local climbers that just about keep the lichen at bay but the chances of bumping into someone else on the rock tend to be pretty slim.
With a variety of rock types, decent weather and great problems it’s not immediately clear why that is. Dumfries itself is less than 90 mins from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Carlisle although of course it’s a big place, and the further West you go the more uncharted it gets!
This update is to throw a little bit of light on some of the classic venues and introduce some of the newer additions to the region.
Trying to put this together I quickly realised I don’t have many photos of the areas, (a drawback of climbing solo!) so most pics are screengrabs and don’t do complete justice to the venues.
The two best venues remain the Thirlstane (20 mins from Dumfries) and Garheugh (80 mins from Dumfries) as demonstrated by visiting climbers Marsha Balaeva (@ Thirlstane – left) and Dan Turner (@ Garheugh – right). Both are excellent kid friendly venues with extensive problems from super easy to 8th grade. Garheugh is completely above the tide line. Thirlstane‘s harder problems are kissed by the tide and best avoided 90 mins either side of high tide.
Problems for these areas are well documented in guidebooks and UKC but you can’t really go wrong even if you just turn up and climb what looks good to be honest. If anyone is stuck on where a problem goes just give me (Stewart Cable) a shout on social media!
At Garheugh Dan Turner climbed Dan Varian’s classic Big Mac and agreed with my suggestion that it could do with an upgrade to 7C+. Just down the road at Monreith Dan V’s other classic 7C+, Wacke Races, has repulsed a number of strong climbers. Time for another upgrade perhaps? The Gaskins ripple effect in action…
At the Thirlstane I turned my attention to the unclimbed (or unrecorded) roof to the right of Craig’s Wall and added The Cable Guy 7B+ (pictured), an excellent problem climbing from the pods under Insect Kin up and left to finish along the roof and top out as for Craig’s Wall.
10 minutes along the coast from Thirlstane is the popular beach campsite Sandyhills (topo here). Skirting the campsite and walking around the base of the cliffs to the west will get to the best bouldering. This venue gets a bit more weather and tide impact and is best in spring or summer. The problems are a bit mixed but there are a few classics. Alex Riley added the rising crack climb of Breadcrumbs (F6C+) starting from the plinth a few years ago. I added a direct start from the edge of the roof shortly after. After a huge storm removed the sand leaving a lagoon for a few years I was unable to try the big project going from undercuts underneath the roof but by summer 2021 the sand had returned and I was able to get up The Witch Low Start at around F8A (Bottom Left pic). This finishes up at the same point as Breadcrumbs, escaping right from high jugs. I also surprised myself by managing the direct start to Breadcrumbs without the plinth which goes at around F7C.
Further west again is an interesting outcrop called Gutcher’s Isle. An old hermit (Gutcher) lived here for many years existing on charity from the nearby farm and pickings from the sea. A very pleasant 45 minute walk east from the village of Rockcliffe reaches this little sandy cove separated from the sea by a narrow gully. Some fun scrambling and the excellent arete Gutcher’s Shadow F6C make for a fun day out.
The Wee Gairy Boulders
Around the start of 2021 Craig Lindsay and I ventured onto the hillside below the slopes of the Wee Gairy just off the Queen’s road to climb some granite boulders I’d recced on a previous rainy visit. These are on the opposite side of the forest road from the famed Rankin Boulder and although the walk is not far at all, the approach is very rough. Definitely best in winter this boulder circuit gives 15-20 problems from F3 to F7B+ with scope for more.
With my youngest at nursery for 3 hours on my day off once a week, I started looking for projects closer to home. Pete Jackson pointed me towards the small craggy hill of Auchengray which had recently been felled revealing some granite blocks under the remaining native woodlands 10 minutes from Dumfries. A handful of problems but probably a crag for locals.
The town of Dalbeattie 20 mins west of Dumfries is almost entirely constructed of local granite and the nearby woods are full of granite blocks and countless mini-quarries from locals who reportedly took to DIY quarrying to earn extra money selling granite blocks. I added a couple of good dynamic problems to the northern quarries, although the rock has a tendency to be a bit crumbly. Further south near the mountain bike tracks are more natural formations including a row of slabs with scope for maybe 10-15 good 6th grade problems. Cleaned but not yet climbed.
OK, don’t go cancelling your Font trip for a visit to Northern D & G… but.. with the desperation driven by lockdown there has been some half-decent new venues developed that offer a decent challenge and a few good problems.
Castle William is actually on the very edge of East Ayrshire set in the unexpectedly rugged Glen Afton. Pete Jackson was first to log problems with the ascent of the brilliant pocket slab (bottom left). High but very easy, loads of fun can be had eliminating more and more pockets until it all starts to get a bit sketchy! Legend has it that Wallace hid in this glen while on the run from English troops. The locals taunted the troops with shouts of ‘Stayamera’ meaning ‘stay and keep looking, you’ll never find him’. I added the excellent Stayamera Variations F7A+ (top left) on the big square boulder and a few other problems around the hilltop.
Back down Nithsdale you come to the Drumlanrig River Stone in Drumlanrig estate (top right). This huge roof hangs directly over the river Nith and can only be climbed when the river is very low. Fortunately, as the only rock within 5 miles of my house, one such dry spell coincided with lockdown and kept me slightly sane. A couple of good straight ups with the full traverse River People F7C the pick of the bunch.
Finally, out west a few miles you get to the wonderful town of Moniaive. Head north into the beautiful Glen Cairn until you reach the Goldsworthy sculpture. From here there is one excellent F7A highball up a very steep but short hillside or the easier to access roadside boulder (bottom right) which has some very pleasant crimpy climbing from F3 to F7C.
Further West – Wild lands, wild sea cliffs and wilder inhabitants
Even for those living in Dumfries it’s a fair trek out to the west of the region. Sea Cliffs, coves and caves can be found all the way round to South Ayrshire. Granite boulders dot the hillsides far from any road. There’s definitely more out there waiting to be found, just watch out for relatives of Sawney Bean…
….The middle picture shows the capture of Sawney Bean by the magistrates in 1590 by David Cuzik Matysiak. Bean, his wife and 46 incestuous children and grandchildren hid out in a deep cave for 25 years in SW Scotland laying ambushes at night to capture unfortunate victims and take them back to their cave where they were butchered and eaten. Eventually the king sent a party of 400 men to search the region. Bean and family were discovered in the cave and taken to Edinburgh. Declared sub-human and unfit for trial Bean and the men had hands and genitals cut off and were left to bleed to death. The women were burned alive. It’s said some of the younger grandchildren escaped and continued to hide out in other caves along the coast… take care out there..