The Top 10 Sea Stacks in Britain – Mick Fowler

Britain is blessed with some of the finest sea stacks in the world. Choosing just ten has been difficult. A true sea stack has to be surrounded by water at all states of the tide so that precludes famous contenders like the Old Man of Hoy. All of the stacks I have chosen have to be approached by swimming or by boat. That means that climbing them is an adventure and not purely a rock climb. I list them in no particular order.


The Best Sea Stack Climbs in Britain


The Spindle, Papa Stour, Shetland

mick fowler the spindle climb
Now this is a fantastic stack at the more serious end of the scale. Approach by a long boat trip from Shetland Mainland through invariably rough seas. The landing is challenging and the climbing equally so. Climbed in 1992 and given an XS rating. Not known to have been repeated.

Yesnaby Castle, Orkney Mainland


Approached by a short swim and first climbed by the legendary Joe Brown in 1970 the rock is generally good and the easiest line E1. The stack and the cliffs hereabouts offer other fine climbs and the whole area is friendly and more frequented that the other Scottish stacks I have chosen.

The Wine Bottle, also known as The Tusk, Swanage


Photo by Henry Lawford

Photo by Henry Lawford


A great 40 metre stack approached by boat from Swanage or an abseil followed by a short swim. The seas here are frequently calm, the sun shines and the atmosphere is relaxed. First climbed in 1987 at E1 and now quite popular.

Old Harry, Swanage

old harry
A famous Dorset landmark and a technically difficult climb. The stack can just about be accessed by wading at dead low tide but swimming or boat are the more usual ways of approaching. Thought to be unclimbable for many years it was first climbed with some aid in 1986 and then free in 1987 at XS 5C. Descent is by simultaneous abseil. A small stack at only 25 metres but a great adventure.

Old Man of Stoer, Lochinver

Old Man of Stoer
A Tom Patey classic VS first climbed in 1966 and much easier than appearances suggest. The stack now sports several harder routes but the original line is by far the most popular. A tyrolean rope is often left in place enabling a dry approach. Without that a short swim is necessary to cross a deep channel.

The Needle, Hoy

mick fowler the needle
Sea stack climbing at its best. Strip off at the top of the cliff, abseil into the sea, swim to the stack and climb it. Afterwards jumar up the abseil rope or swim off to the south. Climbed in 1990 at XS 5C and possibly unrepeated.

Am Buachaille, Sandwood Bay


Photo by Ronan

Photo by Ronan


Another Tom Patey classic VS dating from the 1960s. Much photographed from the idyllic Sandwood Bay, very popular and the scene of numerous epics. At low tide a short swim across a narrow weedy channel gives access but once the tide comes in the return trip is much more challenging. Bivouacs have been had on the summit and teams have been swept a long way down the coast. Take care!

The Maiden, Whiten Head

mick fowler the maiden
A marvellous 40 metre stack where Tom Patey was tragically killed abseiling off after the first ascent in 1970. Remote and rarely visited the stack now sports several routes of which the easiest is HVS. The approach is a long walk and 40 metre swim from Whiten Head or a long boat trip across Loch Eriboll from the vicinity of Rispond.

The Maiden, Whiten Head


Photo by Andrew

Photo by Andrew


Standing proud beneath the highest sea cliffs in mainland Britain this one is tricky to access and with objective dangers posed by the air force regularly practising live missile firing in the area. Approach by a long boat trip from Durness or somehow get your boat to the little slipway near Cape Wrath and access from there. Both summits give fine HVS climbing on solid rock and were first climbed in 1989.

North Gaulton Castle, Orkney Mainland

Immortalised when it was featured in a 1994 TV advertisement with a car on the summit. The first ascentionists in 1970 approached by an amazing tyrolean traverse but a 50 metre swim gives more straightforward access. Relatively popular now the climbing is about HVS with some challenging moves to get started. How the stack survives winter storms is beyond me.