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Rock Climbing, Abseiling & Canyoning

Climbing In Edinburgh | Back On The Rock

When you've got a climbing itch to scratch, there's nothing like a diamond on the doorstep

It had been too long, far too long. Winter followed by two and a half months of lockdown means it had been seven months since I was out on real rock. I’m far from being a seasoned climber, but perhaps my relative greenness is precisely why I’m champing at the bit to get out as much as I can.

On the 29th of May, the rules on outdoor activities were relaxed here in Scotland giving us a glimmer of hope that we might be able to take advantage of the amazing weather that had been making lockdown more bearable. The chance to scratch my all-consuming climbing itch was being offered up.

Living in Edinburgh posed it’s own obstacles as the Scottish Government’s rough guide of five miles travel meant I was effectively stuck inside the ring-road. I’d been spending much of lockdown scouring UK climbing websites, and various guidebooks, for a post lockdown tick list of venues to visit with my new found freedom. However, it was looking like I’d need a rethink to get my fix.

“I’d need a rethink to get my fix”

Lockdown has forced many of us to adapt, and come up with new solutions to everything from fitness routines to educating our children. I needed to harness that spirit. The retaining wall of our garden, for example, suddenly took on a new appearance. It wasn’t very high but there was definitely scope for some traverses. I soon found a section that had enough gaps in the mortar for some fairly crimpy holds, and set up some eliminates.

While it was a far cry from new routing on big walls I still really enjoyed the process of piecing together the moves and doing some bouldering that didn’t involve luminous blobs. As fun as it was though, the climbable section was only about three meters across. If I pulled out any more of the cement, I was worried the whole thing might collapse on me.

Photo: Alastair Nasmyth

My mind turned to Arthur’s Seat.

Anyone who has been to Edinburgh won’t have failed to notice the mini mountain sitting right in the middle of the city, with quite a few faces of rock dotted around. There has been a long history of climbing there, as well as a long history of access issues.

Now didn’t seem to be the time to test the water as far as permission goes but while wistfully reading the guidebook my attention was grabbed by a crag map. There was the city of Edinburgh and, away from Arthur’s Seat, there was another crag listed as being inside the city.

In the southern reaches of Scotland’s capital was a small quarry crag nestled in a public park. Even after double checking online, and finding it was a well-documented spot, I still felt like I was discovering some sort of long lost treasure map simply by knowing of its existence. 

“I still felt like I was discovering some sort of long lost treasure map”

My research suggested to me that it had been used less in more recent times; something which did, I must admit, make me wonder if it had turned into the local needle exchange.

An advanced reconnaissance party was needed, so the next night I met up with a buddy of mine and we cycled up in the rain to go and check it out.

The spot was actually in two parts, one a low bouldering wall that was right next to the path and the main quarry that was further back. Both looked pretty clean. The fact they were nestled in the side of a hill, with plenty of trees and bushes around, made them feel like they were in a wilder setting than you would expect from a city park.

The bouldering wall had evidently seen a bit of action, with most of the holds on it marked by a halo of chalk. A quick check on the internet showed that there were over 20 routes on it, with the lowest starting Font 5 it would be a steep learning curve. I soon found myself searching online for bouldering mats.

Photo: Alastair Nasmyth

The main quarry was small and oval shaped with much of the narrow back wall covered in vegetation and debris. The two longer side walls were decidedly less green. There was also a eye-pleasing and dramatic stocky pinnacle facing the main bowl, to the right of the entrance. The wall on the right that held most of the routes was covered in graffiti; a clear reminder of the spot’s urban location.

A quick scramble above this face revealed some pretty solid bolts that could be used to set up a bottom rope – allowing us to follow the SMC‘s advice on what types of climbing were appropriate for Scotland’s lockdown status. All this within biking distance felt like a big win.

We returned three days later for a climb, only to discover that we weren’t the only people in Edinburgh with access to the internet. The bouldering wall was busy, and there was another group on the main wall. This gave us the perfect excuse to start at the easier end on routes more suited to our lack of practice.

“It also left me wondering if there might be more little gems hidden under my nose”

Again, it’s worth emphasising my relatively amateur status here but honestly we were buzzing just to be back on rock despite the low grades and lack of difficulty. As we worked our way through the unimaginatively named routes (‘route 1’ and ‘route 1.5’ is scrapping the barrel quite frankly), I felt like I’d returned to complete beginner level as I relearnt what my rock shoes would actually stick to.

The first two routes we tried were fairly straightforward and notably sparse for gear, had we been trad climbing. The third route was a lot more pleasing, with a flake that meandered up the wall and allowed for a bit of variation to either side. There were another three routes further to the left that were occupied, that we didn’t have time to get onto but which were an increase in length and difficulty.

We left with a spring in our steps, knowing that we had more to come back to. And while there was no doubt we were still dealing with our phase one limitations, we’d still had a release from hanging off door frames and rigging anchors around household furniture. It also left me wondering if there might be more little gems hidden under my nose, and feeling excited by the idea of discovering them.

What was the name of this crag, I hear you ask. Well, I’ll just have to leave you to use your own lockdown-inspired detective skills to work that one out I’m afraid.

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