Turquoise water, golden beaches and bright fiery sandstone cliffs bursting out of the sea. It could be a setting from a Narnia book, but is in fact a real-life place in Orkney, on the Isle of Hoy.
In 1970, two climbers rocked up off the boat from the British mainland and set out on a bold and audacious adventure. Ed Drummond and Oliver Hill wanted to make the first ascent of the then unclimbed St John’s Head; at the time the UK’s biggest unknown in climbing.
They spent seven days on the wall, battling fear, uncertainty and poor weather. They eventually succeeded, cementing their names firmly in the history books as the first ascensionists of St John’s Head, a climb they named The Long Hope. Longhope is actually a village on the Isle of Hoy, but I like to think that it also meant that the climb was truly a long hope to achieve, for uncertainty and doubt must surely have been a regular feeling during that historic ascent.
Fast-forward to June 2011 and Dave Macleod succeeded in becoming the first climber to free-climb the route. This was a momentous achievement, especially considering after 400m of climbing, the final 65m pitch is technically the hardest.