Around the Bloc: Reiff in the Woods
- Wednesday 2nd October 2019
Climber's regular feature on the best bouldering venues
by Mike Hutton
Stunningly situated on the remote Coigach peninsula in north west Scotland is some of the finest sandstone bouldering in the country. With over 70 problems ranging from V0 to V8 in a delightful location overlooking Loch Bad a’Ghaill (the name of this loch translates as 'loch of the place of the stranger'), Reiff in the Woods is the perfect destination for the mid-grade boulderer seeking quality rock in an unspoilt wilderness.
Venturing north of Ullapool is like entering a new world. The stark lunar landscape is totally unique to this area and certainly worth the journey alone to witness. The unmistakably wacky shaped peak of Stac Pollaidh looms in the distance and if you’re lucky may be perfectly reflected in one of the vibrant blue lochs encountered there. Its name means 'peak of peat moss' and its 500-year old Torridonian sandstone is home to some fine traditional rock routes. Trying not to get distracted by the breathtaking scenery is the hard part whilst finding the crag is the easy bit. It’s soon reached on your left as you encounter the head of Loch Bad a’Ghaill and most of the boulders are a stone's throw from the parking in the woods beneath. Legend has it that they werewashed up many years ago by a gigantic tide from the loch below. Ian Taylor is responsible for developing the area and he can be found, along with a copy of his handy guide, at the climbing shop in Ullapool.
Claire Aspinall climbing the stunning Scooped Wall Traverse (V3) and an equally stunning location. Photo: Mike Hutton
Conveniently located these are the first boulders you will encounter as you slump from your car seat and consist of three enormous square-shaped lumps of rock. The overall position is quite sheltered which can be an advantage on windy days but their northerly aspect can mean some of the problems take a while to dry out. The Hanging Crack (V3), Hedgetrimmer Crack (V0) and See Saw (V0+) are great problems for the trad crack climbers out there and offer a welcome respite from the many excellent crimpy wall problems. Haven (V5) and Sparrow Legs Wall (V5) both represent tough fingery challenges up the main wall of the first boulder and are no giveaway. It’s mainly the walls though that contain the best sequences with The Cubes Edge (V2) being the only decent arête.
The Scooped Wall
The west-facing section of this remarkable piece of red sandstone is quick to dry and captures the fantastic end-of-day light making bouldering even in the depths of winter a distinct possibility. The views of the glistening loch below and peaks of Ben More Coigach in the distance make this a truly magical bouldering experience. The rock is utterly pristine and lends itself to many quite steep problems on very agreeable flake-like holds that on many occasions are quite hard to let go of. A good example being The Spike (V1), which involves gaining a flake in the half height break and slapping up on a series of slopers. The tall will find this easy so they might like to try the (V5) sitting start. The Stornaway Fairy (V2) is another excellent problem just to the right and again utilizes one of these cunning rugosities. If all you do is just one problem on this sector then you would be pushed to beat The Scooped Wall Traverse (V3) which just about takes in all the best climbing on the block. It’s an absolute classic and brilliant for an end-of-day pump out or merely as a warm up for the more accomplished.
The Cave Boulder
This enormous monolith of sandstone lies to the front of The Cubes and is most definitely not for the faint hearted (I can verify this) so a couple of pads wouldn’t go amiss. Cave Crack (V2) is all about gaining the striking finger crack on the undercut wall to the right of the cave. Numerous options exist for the finish including moving into an extremely exposed position up the arête. Either way, the moves are superb and the rock quality is flawless. TP and QC (V6) crosses the roof itself and is possibly one of the finest problems in the north west of Scotland. Local climber, Lawrence Hughes, managed to solve this ankle-grinding problem only by the multiple use of heels, toes and, bizarrely, an odd pair of rock shoes. The easier climbing up the airy arête is no pushover either and leads you a rather worrying distance above the somewhat redundant pad.
The Patio Boulder
Utter class is what oozes from this boulder. It may only have three problems to date but these are real bouldering experiences in a supreme location. Lurking on the opposite side of the head of Loch Bad a’ Ghaill is where the gems lie and they are well worth the extra 10-minute approach. The obvious warm up is the appealing Breathalyser (V1). However, traversing the rightward rising hand rail on the west wall requires a calm approach as falling off would not be recommended; you won’t forgot this spicy number in a hurry. Of equal quality is Teewhuppo (V4), which starts as for Breathalyser, instead heads directly up the wall on various crimps. The landing has to be seen to be believed making this quite a serious proposition. Lastly, but not least, is Red Handed (V6), which ranks easily as one of the best arêtes on the crag. The moves on some of the finest razor edges around really don’t get much better. The landing could though!
The Roadside Buttress
If you’ve managed to survive this far on your first visit then it’s likely your skin has had just about as much as it can take for one day. Driving westerly in the direction of the pub at Altandhu is highly recommended at this stage, but can you resist pulling onto some of the test pieces at this little buttress by the road. It’s a lovely piece of rock, but don’t be fooled by how innocent some of the problems look. They will suck you in and suck you dry. The Crack (V7) follows the obvious leftward slanting crack line on immaculate rock and is pretty savage at the grade. Possibly a more realistic proposition would be the less brutal A Man in Ascent (V4.) Although starting in the same position this avoids the crack entirely and instead utilizes the more amenable layaways. Another great problem to get you thinking is the appropriately named Pebble Mill (V6), which climbs the rounded holds, and small pebbles left of The Crack.
Mike Hutton boulders out The Strornaway Fairy (V2). Photo: Mike Hutton
The combination of quality coarse red sandstone encountered at Reiff in the Woods together with its idyllic setting has created a top class venue that would be tough to beat. That’s not to say some of the other nearby places aren’t worth a visit too. In fact, there are some great circuits to be had on the Rhue peninsula to the south with several crags scattered along the hillside. Combine this with the boulders near the stunning Ardmair Bay and it's more likely your skin will give up before you run out of problems.
FACT FILE: Reiff in the Woods
The crag is covered briefly in the excellent Boulder Britain guide by Niall Grimes. Ullapool Bouldering by Ian Taylor contains all the routes and can be purchased from North West Outdoors in Ullapool. The shop has an amazing café and inspiring photographic gallery above. The ideal place to chill out and re-generate some skin on rainy days. An alternative is The Stone Country Guide to Bouldering in Scotland by John Watson. www.scottishclimbs.com website has a brief overview and contains all the latest new problems.
Drive north of Ullapool on the A835 for 11 miles then turn left onto the minor road signed Achiltibuie. When the unmistakable peak of Stac Pollaidh comes into view on the right drive a further two miles and park up by some trees on your left. All the sectors are within 15 minutes of the road.
Where to Stay
Ullapool has a wonderful campsite on the shores of Loch Broom and is within walking distance of various pubs and restaurants. Just south of the Reiff sea cliff climbing is Port a Bhaigh campsite opposite the coveniently located Altandhu Pub with magnificent views of the Summer Isles.