The UK’s tallest sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy, is a 137 m (449 ft) tower of red sandstone on a plinth of basalt that rises from the Atlantic on the west coast of the island of Hoy in the Orkneys. Until relatively recently the stack was an arch, but storm and sea washed away one of its legs. This left the Old Man of Hoy to rise sheer and separate, forming a dramatic temptation to climbers worldwide.
Geologists predict the stack itself will succumb to sea and weather erosion, a process hastened by the practice of climbers taking a little piece of the rock away with them. This allows rain and ice to penetrate deeper into the rock and speeds up the process of erosion.
The stack was first climbed in 1966 by Chris Bonnington, Rusty Baillie and Tom Patey. There are seven recognized routes, but it is a tough climb – even the route classed as the easiest is still extremely difficult; and the hardest has only been achieved once. Climbers usually descend by abseiling but in 2008 three climbers made the first base jump off the stack, taking seven hours to get to the top and only ten seconds to descend.
After taking one of the passenger and car ferries to Hoy, travel by car or on foot to Rackwick Bay, the closest access point. There is a 5 km (~3 mi) walk to the cliffs. Visitors can wild camp here or there is a free bothy with toilet and running water. Elsewhere on Hoy there are many lovely cliff top walks from which to view the spectacular Old Man of Hoy from a distance.
As in much of the Highlands and Western Scotland, midges are rife – bring insect repellent.