Head Hunting

(by Gerry Moss, October 2008)
A climbing trip to the Old Head of Kinsale.

I have made many day-trips to crags over the years, but last Saturday, accompanied by Liam, I travelled probably the furthest distance yet for a day’s climbing. It was to the Old Head of Kinsale, forty-five minutes beyond the city of Cork. A fairly long round trip, it’s true, but we had a couple of trump cards up our sleeves. The first one was the free travel card, one of the few advantages of being of a certain age, which allowed us to travel to Cork in the lap of luxury, thanks to Iarnród Éireann’s fast inter-city trains. Our second trump card was that Genevieve was among those attending the MCI gathering in Macroom, and this, coupled with the fact that Cork Mountaineering Club had procured permission from the local golf club for climbers to access the crag, clinched the matter (that permission should be needed to visit an area long frequented by climbers, walkers and anglers is a sore point, and an ongoing issue, yet to be resolved).

We arrived in Ceannt Station just before 10 am to be greeted by Genevieve, charioteer to the gods, and were whisked off to the gates of the golf club where we were to meet up with the MCI mini-bus carrying the rest of the climbers from Macroom. I’m always a bit wary of being taken in tow by local experts; they tend to take you to their favourite problematical climbs, delight in watching you struggle up the local sandbag routes, all the while declaring that it’s ‘a piece of piss’. But the disembarkation proved to be a bit of an anti-climax. As we waited with bated breath, just two climbers emerged, both of them from Kerry, no less. Never mind. The lack of quantity was more than compensated for by the quality of the two ladies in question – Margaret and Majella – two cheerful, independent types. A touch of Kerry gold, for sure.

Though the grey dawn had long since broken, there was still a grey mist on the sea’s face, and we couldn’t even see the base of the crag from the lighthouse compound. The two southerners soon located the way down and we were pleased to discover that, despite the mist, the rock was dry, the wind no more than a gentle zephyr, and the main slab rising from a commodious platform, well above the reach of the waves.

Perhaps all the activists were at the comp in DCU, doing some jug-pulling. Or perhaps it was the combination of slab and sandstone that deterred the snatch-and-grab brigade. For, in truth, there is precious little on the main slab to snatch at, and even less to grab.

This hoary old slab has aged gracefully, displaying nothing more than the slightest of wrinkles, despite its ancient origins. Holds to be stroked rather than choked – a brushing of the fingers, the lightest of pressure with the toes, sufficed to provide upward progress. A delightful scenario, in which everyone flourished, everyone made progress.

Wouln’t you know it, we overstayed our welcome, crammed in one climb too many, and found ourselves heading back along the road towards the car at a trot. Time was pressing and our rendezvous with the return train looking highly unlikely, but it was here that another side to Genevieve was disclosed. We bombed down narrow country roads at breakneck speeds, careened around blind corners at an alarming rate, soared over hump-backed bridges, nipped in and out of traffic lanes and treated traffic lights with disdain, to arrive at the station with minutes to spare.

Weak-kneed and ashen-faced, we tottered towards the ticket-master, while Genevieve executed what sounded suspiciously like a handbrake turn as, with much laughter and gaiety, the ladies sped off towards the fleshpots of Macroom.

Ah, what it is to be young.