Old Man of Hoy

The Old Man of Hoy is a 137 metre (450 ft) sea stack of red sandstone perched on a plinth of igneous basalt, close to Rackwick Bay on the west coast of the island of Hoy, in the Orkney Islands, Scotland. It is a distinctive landmark seen from the Thurso to Stromness ferry, MV Hamnavoe, and is a famous rock climb. It is close to another famous site, The Dwarfie Stane.


The Old Man is probably fewer than 400 years old and may not get much older as there are indications that it will soon collapse. On maps drawn between 1600 and 1750 the area appears as a headland with no sea stack. William Daniell, a landscape painter, sketched [1] the sea stack with two legs from which it derived its name (dates vary 1814-1819). A print of this drawing is still available in local museums. Sometime in the early 19th century, a storm washed away one of the legs leaving it much as it is today although erosion continues and a large portion is likely to break away soon.

The Old Man appears in the "Trailer sketch" of the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "Archaeology Today" in which the voiceover Eric Idle states that singer Lulu climbs the Old Man. It also appears in the opening scene of the video to the Eurythmics' 1984 hit song "Here Comes the Rain Again". Some people[citation needed] say it will last for 200 more years.

Climbing recordsThe stack was first climbed in 1966 by Chris Bonington, Rusty Baillie and Tom Patey over a period of three days, 13 years after Mount Everest was tackled. On 8-9 July, 1967 an ascent was featured in a live BBC outside broadcast, which had around 23 million viewers over the three-night period of the broadcast. This featured three pairs of climbers: Bonington and Patey repeated their original route, whilst two new lines were climbed - by Joe Brown and Ian McNaught-Davis; and by Pete Crew and Dougal Haston.

On 8 September 2006 the stack was climbed by Sir Ranulph Fiennes (aged 62) in preparation for his proposed climb of the Eiger in the following year. He was accompanied by Sandy Ogilvie and Stephen Venables.

The stack now has a number of climbing routes, but the vast majority of ascents, of which there are 20 - 50 in an average year, are by the original and easiest route at the British grade of E1 (5b) - one route being an E6. A small RAF log book in a Tupperware container is buried in a cairn on the summit and serves as an ascensionists' record.

Evidence from the original 1960s ascents is still present on the stack, in the form of a collection of wooden wedges hammered into the vertical corner crack of the second pitch. The belays consist of natural threads and wedged ironmongery, including (in 1994) a snow 'deadman' anchor forced into a crack. Some parties chose to divide the second (5b) pitch into two, bringing the second around to the base of the overhanging crack to belay from a hanging stance to keep the remainder of the pitch 'straight'. Care must be taken on the descent abseil at this point as it is relatively easy to jam the ropes on retrieval, and a stash of abandoned ropes cut from the stack bears testimony to this fact.

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