Fair Head

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Fair Head
Irish: An Bhinn Mhór The Great Cliff [1]
Fair Head - geograph.org.uk - 817076.jpg
Fair Head's distinctive organ pipe dolerite columns, as taken from the Rathlin IslandBallycastle ferry
United Kingdom Northern Ireland adm location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location of Fair Head in Northern Ireland
Location County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Nearest city Ballycastle, 3 miles (5km) away
Coordinates 55°13′16″N6°09′14″W / 55.221°N 6.154°W / 55.221; -6.154 Coordinates: 55°13′16″N6°09′14″W / 55.221°N 6.154°W / 55.221; -6.154
Climbing type
HeightSingle pitch climbs of 20–30 meters. Multi pitch climbs of up to 100 meters
Pitches Single pitch and Multi pitch
  • VS to E8 6c
  • wide variety at all grades above VS; little below VS grades
Rock type Dolerite sill
Quantity of rock
  • 453 routes in the online database
  • 432 routes in the 2014 guidebook
DevelopmentMountain cliff area; no facilities
Cliff aspect North
Elevation 196 metres at maximum
OwnershipPrivate land but farmers grant access
Campingpaid camping nearby; also in Ballycastle
Classic climbs
  • The Black Thief VS 4b
  • Midnight Cruiser E1 5b
  • The Fence VS 4c
  • Girona VS 5a
  • Railroad E1 5b
  • Hell's Kitchen HVS 5a
  • Chieftain VS 4b
  • Fáth Mo Bhuartha E1 5b
Website Climbing.ie Fair Head

Fair Head or Benmore (Irish : An Bhinn Mhór; The Great Cliff) is a 5 kilometre mountain cliff, close to the sea, at the north-eastern corner of County Antrim, Northern Ireland, whose rock face is formed into distinctive vertical columns like organ pipes. Fair Head is regarded as one of the best outdoor rock-climbing locations in Ireland, and its long cliff, up to 100 metres high in places, is considered one of the biggest expanses of climbable rock in Northwest Europe. [2]


History and setting

Fair Head's distinctive rock formations may be recorded in Ptolemy's Geography (2nd century AD), being described as a point called Ῥοβόγδιον (Robogdion) (cf the Pictish Robogdii tribe) which may refer to Fair Head. The name may derive from the Proto-Celtic root *bogd, "bend". [3]

The headland of Fair Head rises 196 metres above the sea. Wild goats can be seen roaming among the rocks beneath the clifftops, where a walkway called The Grey Man's Path winds around the rugged coastline. From the road, a man-made Iron Age island or crannóg can be seen in the middle of a lake, Lough na Cranagh. The lakes are stocked with trout and can be fished during the summer months. All of the land at Fair Head is private farmland, and not owned by National Trust. Access is by the goodwill of local farm owners. Fair Head is the closest headland to Rathlin Island.

Many famous Irish artists have painted Fair Head, including Maurice Canning Wilks who painted a watercolour from a nearby beach.

Rock climbing

Climbers on the second pitch of Jolly Roger (grade E3/6a) at Fair Head. Fairhead-Jollyroger.jpg
Climbers on the second pitch of Jolly Roger (grade E3/6a) at Fair Head.
The single-pitch Fireball (grade E1/5b) at The Prow, Fair Head. Fireball3.jpg
The single-pitch Fireball (grade E1/5b) at The Prow, Fair Head.

Fair Head is regarded as one of Ireland's best outdoor rock climbing areas, along with the limestone sea-cliff of Ailladie in County Clare. [4] It does not attract a high volume of rock climbers due to its relatively remote location, and the physical strength and unfamiliar climbing techniques it requires of climbers. Its cliffs stretch over 5 km around the headland, rising to a maximum height of over 100m. They are not sea-cliffs but have been described as a mountain crag by the sea, since they tower above an extensive boulder field and their isolation and size gives climbing there a big-wall mountaineering feel.

The cliffs are composed of dolerite, giving a mixture of steep cracked walls, corners, and, in many places, sets of columns reminiscent of organ-pipes. The dolerite sits on top of a bed of chalk which is visible in places.

The cliffs abound in well-protected steep crack climbing, between one and four pitches long. Many of the cracks involve hand-jamming, so some climbers tape their hands to protect the skin from what they term "Fair Head rash". Other climbs involve off-width or full-width chimneying, which is not often encountered in other Irish crags. As with nearly all Irish crags, only traditional protection ("clean climbing") is used. The 2014 Fair Head guidebook, its 6th edition, lists over 430 routes from under grade VS 4c up to E6 6b, but more recent climbing includes routes up to E8 6c.

Climbing history

The first climbs at Fair Head were done in the mid–1960s by some Belfast–based climbers and members of the Dublin–based Spillikin Club. Most of these climbs followed loose and dirty chimneys and are rarely repeated nowadays, but the seed had been planted, and before the end of the sixties development of the crag had started in earnest. However, it was not long before the increasing political violence in the North started making its presence felt; the Fair Head area was generally unaffected, but the development of the crag slowed to a trickle during the early 1970s. However the attractions of Fair Head eventually proved irresistible and development picked up again in the late seventies, led by the husband-and-wife team of Calvin Torrans and Clare Sheridan and a number of other Dublin climbers. This small band devoted themselves to developing Fair Head, founded the Dal Riada Climbing Club (named after the ancient kingdom which included this area), and acquired a climbing hut nearby to accommodate themselves and other visiting climbers. There is still unclimbed rock at Fair Head; opportunities, mainly in the higher grades, are waiting for those who have the talent and dedication.

Climbing layout

Layout of Fair Head climbs Fair Head Rock Climbs.jpg
Layout of Fair Head climbs
Complete Scream (E8 6c) cliff area 20166715112 54af5d78.jpg
Complete Scream (E8 6c) cliff area

The cliffs are divided into several main sectors. From east to west, these are: [5]

Base camps are usually established near the tops of the descent routes; the walk-ins this far are pleasant and quite short, through the open grazing fields above the crag. However, access to some of the climbs themselves can be quite rough and time-consuming.

Visiting the crag

The Dal Riada Climbing Club formerly had the use of a series of buildings which they operated as climbing huts which they used to accommodate themselves and other visiting climbers, but this ended in 2007 when the last one was repossessed by its owners, the National Trust. [8] The most popular options now are either camping at a nearby campsite operated by a local farmer, or staying at a hostel in Ballycastle town, where there are bars and restaurants. [9]

Climbing bibliography

See also

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  1. "Place Names NI: Fair Head or Benmore, Country Antrim". PlaceNamesNI.org.
  2. Rob Greenwood (June 2015). "DESTINATION ARTICLE: Fair Head - Northern Ireland". UK Climbing. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  3. "Names essay" (PDF). www.romaneranames.uk. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  4. "Fair Head, Antrim". Hike & Climb.
  5. "Fair Head: Layout". Irish Climbing.
  6. "Alex Honnold Solos The Complete Scream (E8 6b)". Climbing.com. 7 June 2016.
  7. "Alex Honnold Solos Hard Ireland Route The Complete Scream in Fair Head". Gripped. 9 June 2016.
  8. "HugeDomains.com - FairHeadClimbers.COM is for sale (Fair Head Climbers)". www.hugedomains.com. Retrieved 13 December 2018.Cite uses generic title (help)
  9. "Visiting". fairheadclimbers.com. Retrieved 15 November 2010.