Pleasures of Pabbay – Mick Fowler

Last week reminded me how much fun this rock climbing business can be. It must be 20 years since I last had a full week away rock climbing. I can’t believe it has been so long! I certainly wont be waiting 20 years before the next one.


Rock Climbing in Pabbay


The small island of Pabbay in the Outer Hebrides is the cause of my renewed enthusiasm. Accessible from Oban via a near-on 5 hour ferry crossing to Barra followed by an hour long private charter in local man Donald’s boat ‘Boy James’ the island had a population in the mid 20s until 1912 when the final residents left. With no trees, minimal fertile soil and a wild climate it must have been an amazingly harsh place to live.


Pabbay Beach


Steve Burns got a group of four of us together but we were not alone as news of the fantastic quality of the sea cliff climbing here and on nearby Mingulay has spread far and wide. The vast majority of visitors nowadays are climbers and we shared the place with around 20 others.


The Frst Pitch for Rock Climbing in Pabbay


With steep, spectacular, climbing on solid rock and generally good protection it is hard to beat as a trad climbing venue. A lucky weather week saw us being able to climb every day and work our way through the long tick list of ‘must do’ routes that Steve had prepared for us. Having allowed my rock climbing standard to drop dismally over the years it was great to feel the body gradually begin to move a bit more supply as we worked up through the grades to finish a magical week alternately leading (Steve taking the hardest pitch!) up Paradise Regained (E4) with a basking shark mooching around down below.


Climbing in Pabbay


It really is a rather special place and to quote a small Swiss team we met there: ‘Fantastic! We don’t have anything like this in Switzerland!’ Quite a compliment I thought. Mind you I suppose it would be quite tricky to find great sea cliff climbing above basking sharks in Switzerland.


Walking in Pabbay