Muchalls Shore

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Chris Fryer on Smile Around the Face V2 S1 ( The Grim Hole Area)

From a guide Written by Stuart Stronach

With input from Chris Fryer, Rowie Beaton, Matthew Bernstein and Amanda Lyons



A popular spot for walkers and pebble-throwers, Muchalls Shore has long been ignored by climbers. However, the long bay to the south of the village has now been developed into one of the coast's better bouldering spots (particularly for those who find Craigmarroin too hard!). It provides a contrasting mix of crimps, slopers, traverses, one-move wonders and highballs, all in a Lost World-esque setting of sea stacks and caves and with generally better landings than are common elsewhere on the coast.

Bouldering mats and spotters are not a necessity, but make the experience more pleasant, as the majority of problems have sit starts. Due to the nature of the rock, the best climbing is on the water washed lower stuff, which deteriorates higher up. Therefore several problems do not top out and some of the higher rock should be treated with caution.

The bouldering is spread out around a beautiful large bay, full of sea stacks, arches and caves, and is an enjoyable place to picnic and chill out between attempts on problems. Several of the problems are tidal, and prone to the usual conditions associated with shoreline bouldering (damp, tides and seaweed), but a few enjoyable hours can be spent here regardless of what the sea is doing.

The only real drawbacks to this venue are the tidal nature of many of the problems, and the lack of any really hard problems, although there is some scope.

Directions & Approach

Rowie Beaton on Thank You, Mr Limpet V1

Travelling southwards on the A90 dual carriageway from Aberdeen, take the first turning into Muchalls (approx 1km south of the Newtonhill flyover). Drive into the village and take a 90 degree right turn at the phone box/post box/village noticeboard. Drive down the hill until the road stops at the old hotel car park, beside some recently built new houses. Park here, preferably on the left hand side, away from the houses. There is plenty of space for the moment but take care not to block access to the continuation lane. Please do not attempt to park any further down the road as this may lead to problems with residents.

If approaching from the south, take the first turning on the right for Muchalls. Follow this road to its end and turn right to reach the parking area.

Walk on down the lane and follow it left under the railway line. Head down the path towards the sea until a bay with a prominent sea stack is visible on the right. Just before the path reaches a metal seat, a small path/set of steps leads you down rightwards towards the bay, passing another seat (useful for a rest on the way back at the end of the day). At the bottom of the path, a wooden bridge and more steps leads you onto the pebble beach.

Muchalls Shore is a particularly picturesque setting and even though a reasonable amount of flotsam and jetsam gets washed up by the tide, please don't use that as an excuse not to tidy up after yourself and take all your rubbish home.


The biggest difficulty finding problems in condition is the tide, which affects several problems. Some of the most tidal problems suffer from barnacles and limpets, which manage to retain an impressive volume of water which they release when being removed. A fair bit of chalk, a stiff brush, a pen knife and some drying rags are all useful tools. Key footholds have all been cleaned and increased traffic should help them stay in that state. There is still plenty to climb on when the tide is in, with the Four Toes area being largely unaffected. Most lines in this guide dry very quickly after rain as there is little vegetation above. Midges can make their presence felt, particularly on still evenings, and some form of repellent may be appreciated.

However, on calm sunny days, the place can be a real suntrap, and on summer evenings, some walls still catch the sun till late on.

Bouldering Grades

Rowie Beaton on Winklepicker V0

Although the other established bouldering areas in NE Scotland have used Font grades, we have chosen to use V grades for Muchalls, in combination with a UK technical grade. The driver behind this has been that the main developers of the area have more experience of V-graded problems in the Yorkshire, Northumberland, Dartmoor and the United States than of Font graded problems in France. In our experience, Font grades in the UK bear little resemblance to Font grades in Font, particularly on easier problems of which there are many at Muchalls. However, for those who prefer the Font system, the following link ( provides a nominal conversion table, as well as a nice little article by Simon Panton as to why he believes V grades are better for lower grade (sub-Font 7a) problems. Some of the harder problems have had very few, if any, repeats, and as two of the main developers can best be described as "pretty lanky", grades should be treated as even more subjective than usual.

Most problems have not had sufficient repeat ascents to reach a consensus on quality. Therefore, a simple system of assigning a single star to the better problems has been used.

Sport Climbing

There are at least four areas which appear to have potential to be developed as sport climbing venues within the bay. The most significant of these, with the best quality rock, is the walls and arĂȘtes around the landward entrance to the Grim Hole (the cave that pierces the huge grass-topped knap immediately out to sea from the bottom of the approach path), with the hanging arĂȘte immediately right of the cave presenting the most striking line. The second area is the wall above the base of the descent path on its landward side, and another, steeper wall set further back in the back wall of the bay just to the south. The third is the large grey face on the back wall of the bay above the Slow Patrol Boulder, and the final area lies around the mouth of the cave at the back of South Bay.

Trad Climbing

A few lines have been led using trad gear on the Ministack. Those on the south face have good landings and so may be best treated as easy highball problems, although there are a couple of other lines elsewhere on the stack where the landings are not so kind. There is still potential for a couple of routes on the south side of the main Grim Hole stack (including one pulling over the large roof above the Campus Board wall), although the rock appears to deteriorate higher up and the descent looks to be awkward.

Deep Water Soloing

Two lines on the Ministack have been given DWS grades as well as bouldering V grades. Both tackle the steep rock on the north side of the stack, and are above a large tidal rock pool. Shallow Water Soloing might be a more appropriate term to describe the approach needed to climb these two problems and falling off really isn't advised, although you've a better chance of getting away with it on Smile Around the Face as there is a sandy base to the rock pool below its crux. There is also some potential for good DWS at the seaward entry to the Grim Hole, with a great diving board, which may be fun on a sunny summers morning. Easiest initially viewed from North (fisherman's access), but approached from South.


Most of the problems were climbed during summer 2005 by a combination of Amanda Lyons, Rowie Beaton, Chris Fryer and Stuart Stronach, with the odd addition from Andy Inglis, Ben Tye, Matthew Bernstein and Dave Bruce. No details have been kept of who did what, and most problems have been repeated.

Climbing Overview

Looking south across the Grim Hole area from the descent path
Looking north across the Grim Hole area

On first acquaintance, the Muchalls Shore presents quite a large, complex arrangement of boulders, craglets and sea stacks, and finding a particular problem without the help of this guide may not be as straightforward as might be hoped. Fortunately, the main bay is naturally sub-divided into three subsidiary bays with two linking 'neck' features, and to assist navigation, this guide has been similarly sub-divided.

The Grim Hole is the name given to the through cave that pierces the huge grass-topped stack immediately out to sea from the bottom of the approach path. This area extends southwards from this feature, past the first pebble beach and almost as far as the isolated sea stack in the middle of the bay. The nominal end of this section is where the bouldery foreshore gives way to a second section of pebble beach.

These are the four squat pinnacles that lie just above the high tide mark at the north end of the second section of bay. They contain the largest and most varied concentration of problems at Muchalls.

Beyond the Toes, the beach is relatively featureless around a small pebbly bay with larger rocks at the high tide line. There are some scattered problems on these rocks and the walls at the back of the bay.

The next major feature of the shore is a tidal gap in the rocks which leads through to a smaller subsidiary bay. It can be greasy when the other areas are dry, but there are some good sloper problems which are worth seeking out.

The final feature of Muchalls shore is this picturesque subsidiary bay, with assorted tidal boulders and a steep back wall, mostly above perfect pebble landings.

Looking south across the Middle of Nowhere towards the Neck and South Bay
Looking north across The Middle of Nowhere towards the Four Toes and the Grim Hole area

The Grim Hole Area || The Four Toes || The Middle of Nowhere || The Neck || South Bay
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