Climbing in Dunkeld
Craig a Barns
As you drive north up the A9 from Perth, you will know when you reach the Highland Boundary Fault when you are confronted with the craggy hillside that is Craig a Barns. Overlooking sunny Dunkeld from the north-west, Craig a Barns hosts many quality mica schist traditional rock climbs and a fine collection of sport routes. While there are many outcrops throughout the woods the main areas of Polney Crag and Cave Crags are the most popular.
Polney crag is spread across four distinct outcrops and buttresses. Hosting more of the easier to mid-grade climbs on the hill with easy access from the road, a sunny aspect and stunning views from the top - easily make this one of the most popular climbing venues in Perthshire.
To get there follow the old A9 road north through Dunkeld and beyond, passing a sawmill on the right-hand side then a small loch (Polney Loch), shortly afterwards there is a grass verge where parking is possible. This is directly below the main crag, following the road further provides more grass verge for more parking below Myopic’s Buttress and Ivy Buttress.
It is a 40-minute walk from the train station in Birnam, a bit less from the bus stop in Dunkeld (the road has no pavement or verge for much of the way – beware of the traffic!) A safer and more pleasant (but longer) route is perhaps to take the footpath behind the Cathedral that follows the River Tay to Dunkeld House, from there follow the road through the grounds and up the hill, coming out by Polney Loch.
Closest to the road and parking (30m) is Myopic’s Buttress. Populated with some testing sport routes covering the grade range from 7a to 7c+. The Chopping Block 7b**, The Vibes 7c** and Granola Head 7c* being the most popular of the bolted lines. Myopic’s Corner HVS 5a* (E2 5c direct finish) at the left-hand side gets a mention as the only trad route on this outcrop.
Moving along the nice wee path to the right from Myopic’s Buttress you will come to Ivy Buttress. Taking its name from ivy that used to grow here, the climbing consists of a smooth wall hosting some bouldery type moves on the left, a dramatic arête and number of deep recessed corners to the right. All traditional climbing (and a bold 12m solo…) grades range from a VD* in the form of Consolation Corner through to the harder E-numbers. Notable routes include Psoriasis E3 6a** on the left wall, Hot Tips E5 6c** - from the lowest point of the crag up through the attractive hanging groove on the arête and Ivy Crack going at a Mild VS 4b* (polished but still fun…)
Sited above Ivy Buttress, Upper Buttress allows you to continue climbing up. It is possible to walk/scramble to the base by ascending the decent gulley left of Ivy Buttress and traversing back right - but where is the fun in that? Only Six climbs up here, Hogg’s Hindquarters VD** and Left-Hand Crack E2** possessing the most stars…
The main cliff at Polney Crag is the big eye-catching rocky goodness visible from the A9. From Ivy Buttress continuing right and up the zig-zagging path brings you to the left most section of the crag. Guidebooks and topos usually split the crag at the central and obvious Hairy Gulley (Moderate) into left-hand and right-hand sections.
The first area you come to from the left is a large roof and bulge capped slab, the route to do here is Kestrel Crack (Severe**) - the obvious line following the large crack up the slab then past the large flake to a slabby corner finish. Decent is best via a long-ish walk off to the left.
Moving right the crag steepens, then as it becomes slabbier again, you arrive at some of the best routes at Polney. The Wriggle VS 5a*** The Rut VS 5a*** and Wriggle VS 5a** all share the same quality start. Just to the right of these, the fantastic Holly Tree Groove VD** - a pleasant ramp line starting below a holly tree.
Just before Hairy Gully in the middle is Cuticle Crack S 4a** a great route with a steep (and slightly polished) start with a slabby finish. The best way down is an abseil down Hairy Gully but walk with care – the path is narrow and slippery when damp.
From Hairy Gully, some slab routes give way to grooves sheltering quality routes such as Springboard VS 4c** Live Wire E5 6a* and The Chute VS 5a*. Past the jumble of boulders at the centre of the right section, The End VS*** Barefoot Beginning E2** and Terminal Buttress HS** routes are split into two tiers, the lower tier slab-like, the top undercut with some roof sections. The crag becomes slabby again towards the ending (almost) with the pleasant Spirochaete VS 4b* Decent is possibly by carefully walking left to Hairy Gully in the middle or picking your way right to the trees and a descent path among the pine trees.