25 July 2012

Scotland, all the way through - Machir Bay, Islay, 24.07.2012

We're not in Yorkshire any more...

A five hour drive; a two hour ferry trip; and a two hour, 9 mile unicycle ride brought me to the Scottish isle of Islay, home of fellow Harrogate based climber Karrie, and still home to her very hospitable parents.

After a couple of days of casual milling around the island, with the trip home on the tomorrow-shaped horizon, we took an evening trip to the beach, with the promise of rocks at the far end. A fine sandy walk-in warmed us up nicely - well, the climbers among us at least, myself and Karrie - and we set about discovering what was on offer.

I first visited Islay just over two years ago. That had followed directly on from a climbing trip out of Bryn's cottages in Northumberland, and was before Karrie took up climbing, so no climb featured on that trip. The prospect was discussed however, and I remember Dean noting that the rock on Islay was somewhat sharp. He was not, as it turned out, wrong.  Some combination of elements led to a hard, cold rock, seemingly reinforced by minerals in the water, yet also laced with cracks - a geologist's perspective would be welcomed. This dissonance led to the sharpness Dean had mentioned - ensuring to avoid any edges that might snap off, there were good holds to be had, but invariably they would have a fair bit of bite to them. No bouldering mats had been brought, but the beach made for a decent landing, and sandy shoes weren't particularly troublesome, as this really wasn't a spot for doing much smearing - there was almost always something for your shoes to get their teeth into. Or rather some rocky teeth to get stuck into your shoes. This is where the title of this post comes from - no steady, calming top-outs here, rather cracked, sharp and erratic shards protruded, like the other kind of rock that one night find at the seaside.

These rocks may have been smashed and shaped by the toffee hammer of the sea, but they still read Scotland all the way through. And whilst they didn't taste of mint or liquorice (not that I actually checked) they did have plenty of flavour. One of the first climbs I did helped me get a feel for the place, as I channelled the spirit of Louis 'The Bleeder' Bortoli with a cut to my little finger. New found respect for Louis and his bleeding ways, though my cut didn't prove too much of a handicap. Our timing perhaps wasn't the best, as the sea rose to fill many of the channels between the rocks, meaning much was off limits to us. Karrie turned this to our advantage though, leading a traverse over the onrushing waves. The closest climb to the kind we are used to was found relatively far back on the beach, along the path of a sandy stream, a solid block with fewer teeth, though still with something of a need to let your hand serve as grappling hook in its top-gaining move. Karrie took a couple of attempts, but once she mastered it she enjoyed a moment where she was able to show her Dad something of the pastime she has taken up. Having done the same with my Dad a couple of years ago, I know how good it can be to give others an understanding of what we do.

Short of nearly being trapped by the sea, as I leapt onto the wrong piece of rock to avoid its advance, that was the session. I'm sure there would be great scope for a more leisurely daytime session at Machir, taking in the full extent of the rocks at a time when the tide was more merciful, and it's certainly a spot that will get a look in for any future visits to Islay.

View photos from this trip here.
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