Bouldering at Fair Head

By Ricky Bell and Ali Wilson. This is the first detailed guide to the bouldering in Fairhead. The bouldering in Ireland guide will be updated in due course, the Fairhead guide can be downloaded from www.fairheadclimbers.com/pages/bouldering/bouldering.htm.


Ricky Bell on Finity and Beyond, photo by Geoff Somerville

Fair Head is where it’s at as far as climbing in Ireland goes. It’s an inspiring place to climb and a beautiful place to just hang out. The crag stretches 3 miles along the north coast of Co. Antrim and stands over 100m straight up and down at its highest points. The rock is dolerite and often in huge columnar formations. It’s an awesome place where you can find every desirable style of climbing, from steep cracks to steep walls and steep arêtes to maybe even sometimes steep grooves. Fair Head is a crag that has long been strong in its ethics and forever will be. All firsts ascents have been done ground up in good style. It’s a place where top roping just doesn’t happen. Fair Head is traditional climbing at its best. So Fair Head has a bit of a old school image around it and that’s the way it’ll always be, hence anyone who even contemplated taking a bouldering mat down to the bottom of the crag to piss about amongst the boulders was just insane or even worse arrogant to the monumentality of Fair Head its. But any of you who climb regularly at Fair Head will know what I’m on about when I describe the following situation:- “I’m sitting on an uncomfortable ‘belay ledge’ in the freezing cold, in a pair of pink shoes that hurt, with about thirty metres of rope tangled in my crotch watching my mate sketch his way up some route that is way scarier than either of us will let on to anyone else. Also my mate doesn’t seem to realize that his unnecessarily slow climbing doesn’t make him look anything like the smooth French sports climber he wants to be.” It’s in this situation that I always end up looking down at those huge boulders scattered all across the bottom of the crag and say to myself, “Right that’s it, the next time we’re bringing a pad… “ And so the next time we did…..and the time after that we brought a lot more…..the landings are scary!

So far bouldering at Fair Head is split to the two opposite ends of the crag.

Photos by Ricky Bell, Paul Swail, Ricky Bell, Andy Marshal, Ricky Bell.

Rathlin Wall

The first area is right below Rathlin Wall (same walk as if you were climbing at the Ballycastle descent gully). There are a few large boulders, one in particular which has a few problems on it and which has scope for much harder problems on its steeper side, is called The Whale. It’s one of the biggest boulders at the Head and is clearly visible from the top of the crag. The other main boulder of significance in this area is The Shelter Stone which sits below the route Titanic. It has on it one of the most impressive and high ball problems at Fair Head – ‘Infinity and Beyond’, which starts with a couple of campus moves to a good hold ov er the roof and then up the steep arête. The bouldering at this end of the crag is not yet developed unfortunately due to the bad landings!

Number Name Grade Description FA
1 Mad Arête P Not necessarily a project just needs cleaned and sent. -
2 Infinity and Beyond 7a High ball arête of the Shelter Stone is gained by a slopy hold at full reach of the ground. R. Bell
3 Umberdoodle ? Sit Start, on the short wall below the shelter stone. -
4 The Undercling 5a Pop up to use the undercling and easily to the top. -
5 Project P Very small Crimps. -
6 Under Strain 7a Sit start and crimpy. A standing start is 5a. A. Boyd/E. Barbour
7 Rubick’s Cube 4+ Climb The Wall. -
8 Pyrite 4+ The Arete. -
9 Fat Slapper 6a Small slab A. Boyd
10 Chipper 6c Sit start the obvious flat ledge and lunge left for sloppy holds the straight up. R. Bell
11 Jumbo 6a The necky arete. -
12 Jet 5b Short problem on the left side of dirty wall A. Boyd
13 Style that's free 4 Start at the undercut flake. -
14 Mottled Wall 4 A mini route on good edges. -

Murlough Bay


Murlough Bay, photo by Paul Swail

The other area and the better of the two areas by far is situated near the coast at the Murlough Bay end of the crag roughly below the route December. This area is better developed and has more potential for more problems. It generally has ‘better landings’ too. It is approached from a small car park with a stone wall, slightly before the Murlough Bay car park. A 10 minute walk down a grassy lane towards the bottom of the main crag leaves you standing beneath a massive overhanging boulder called The Hanging Block (visible in the photo below). On it you’ll find the two problems which are a good introduction to the bouldering at this end of the crag, Sam Gordan’s ‘Crazy Arête’ and the now classic ‘Brought to you by the letter M’ from John McConville.

Number Name Grade Description FA
1 Ali’s Arête 4+ Climb the right hand arête of the slab. A. Wilson
2 Ricky’s Slab 3+ The middle of the slab starting on the big ledge. R .Bell
3 Crazy Arête 6a Sit Start the right hand arête. Keep to the arête S. Gordan
4 Brought to you by the letter M 5c Sit Start. Straight up the middle of the steep wall. J. McConville
5 Moon Man Direct 6c Sit Start the left arête then traverse right to join ‘Brought to you by the letter M’ P. Swail
6 Chubs Peterson 7a Sit Start the steep wall on a left facing layback and top out with care. A. Wilson
7 When Molsey Met Melkor 6c+ High problem with a surprisingly good landing. Initial jugs lead to a long reach. R .Bell
8 Hook and Reach 6c A one move prob. Start on the good crimp left of the loose jug. Reach top. C .Brandtner
9 Hug the Arête 5b Sit Start the right hand arête. C .Brandtner
10 Stem Jam 5+ Sit Start. Climb the big ledges and top out awkwardly. C .Brandtner
11 Stop feeding it 7a+ Sit Start the arête low down in a corner and crimp hard to join ‘Eat it’. R .Bell
12 Eat it 6c One of the best problem of at Fairhead so far. Starts with the good hold. R. Bell
13 Eat it Left 7a Start with both hands on the crimp on the left. Join ‘Eat it’. R .Bell
14 Missing in action 6a+ Two jugs at half height. Finish left R .Bell
15 2 Move Arête 5+ Sit Start the low arête on the right. A. Wilson
16 Carbide 7b Perfect line up the steep wall. Top out onto slab using small crimp. R .Bell

There is huge boulder down and left from The Grey Mans Path with a line up the steep face called Monster Ball (by Ricky Bell). It’s about 7m high and more of a scary solo than a boulder problem. Eddie Barbour did the 2nd ascent and confirmed the Font 6b grade. There is also scope for a lot more problems in this area and slightly further along. We’re aware that some of the problems in this area have been left out. This is simply because we don’t know where they are. All the above problems have been climbed several times and we think the grades are about right. Rob Hunter, Dave Hunter and Ian Hannah have a few problems below The Grey Mans Path close to the shore and it would be great to get some info about them. The same goes for anyone one else who has done a problem at Fair Head. The bouldering potential along the bottom of the crag is massive and these two areas have only scratched the surface. There are many more problems to be sent in both areas and some awesome looking boulders down by the sea at we haven’t even scoped out yet. We’re aware that we are not the first people to ever have climbed on the boulders below Fair Head and therefore the first ascents of the problems may be disputed. However most of the problems that have been done have had some major cleaning done prior to the first ascents and this leads us to believe we’re mostly correct. We’d like to know if anyone’s got any problems with this issue and we’ll happily correct our mistakes.

Thank you - John McConville, Paul Swail, Aaron Boyd, Sam Gordan, Craig Hiller, Keith Willet, Andy Marshal, Geoff Somerville, Eddie Barbour, Christian Brandtner, Dave Millar and whoever else took on a nasty landing at Fair Head.