Climb Hebrides aims to grab ‘untapped’ potential

A new activity provider is aiming to bring climbing and mountaineering experiences to islanders and visitors so they can explore the natural environments, cliffs and hills of the Western Isles.

By Eric MacKinnon
Friday, 4th March 2022, 8:43 am
Isi Oakley is the only suitably qualified guide in the Western Isles.
Isi Oakley is the only suitably qualified guide in the Western Isles.

Climb Hebrides was established by Isi Oakley, the only qualified mountaineering and climbing instructor in the Western Isles, and offers rock climbing all-year round, from beginners to experienced climbers looking to refresh their skills and explore new areas.

She said: “Climb Hebrides can take people out rock climbing on the amazing sea cliffs. I can take complete beginners, who haven't climbed at all before, those who have climbed a bit indoors, and those who have some outdoor experience but need to build their confidence and skills. I can also cater for more experienced climbers who are feeling a bit rusty, or are new to the islands.

“I also offer hill walking and scrambling, wild camping, and winter walking when we get the conditions for it. It's open all year round, but rock climbing is usually best between May and September.”

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Isi has been an outdoor instructor for 20 years, working in residential centres and at the Ice Factory in Kinlochleven. Since moving to Lewis more than a decade ago, she has worked for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar as well as providing freelance work for mainland activity providers, as well as Hidden Hebrides and the Scaladale Centre in Harris.

She feels that while Scaladale and the Comhairle offer 'taster' sessions in climbing using the wall at the sports centre and small outdoor climbs, there is a gap in the market.

“To take people out on the sea cliffs and mountains, however, requires a higher level qualification (the Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor Award) and small ratios that aren't always feasible for bigger activity providers.

“So there isn't anyone else doing this just now - although there are plenty of places on the mainland you can do similar things. My hope is that there is a market for it here too.”

The rural and rugged coastlines of the Hebrides offer some brilliant, and mostly untapped, climbing sections which Isi is keen to open up to both locals and visitors.

“The islands are an amazing but sometimes challenging place to climb and the sea cliffs along the west coast of Lewis offer some of the best rock in the country, in my opinion,” she said.

“They are pretty intimidating though – it can be hard to know where to start as you need to understand tides, sea state, the technicalities of rock climbing and, of course, weather. And to be able to find a route from above when you can't always see it very well.

“That's where I come in. I've spent the last 10 years exploring and building my knowledge of all of these things, and teaching people to climb in these truly special places.

“We've got great hills too. They aren't as big as on the mainland, but you can get to places that feel really remote and wild in a very short distance because of the lack of people. These areas aren't limited to Lewis and Harris; there’s great hill walking in Uist and sea cliff climbing on Barra, as well as the cliffs on Mingulay and Pabbay that have been popular with climbers for years.”