John : Climbing Instructor and Guidebook Author

Portobello beach by Stranraer

Introduction   Portobello is a wee climbing area NW of Stranraer, on the coast of the North Channel. Although the climbing quality is a bit mixed and at times the rock can be a bit rubbish it's a very nice area in general. It makes a pleasant venue for a day trip or a bit of cragging combined with a barbecue. There is a short approach down a farm track, lots of lush grass and at low tide there is a nice beach to relax on.

Access   Many of the routes are seriously affected by the tide, indeed some of them are only half as long at high coming at low tide is recommended. However one or two areas, such as Primrose Inlet and Cracked Block Bay have good climbing above the tide line. To get here follow the A77 or A75 to Stranraer then the A718, B7043 and finally the B738 to Cairnbrook farm. A private track, signposted "Crags", leads down to a small ruined house, with limited parking. The main beach is just 5 minutes walk beyond this. Portobello Bay Cliff is just beside this beach, most of the other areas described here are about 300m south of this beach, and it may be quicker to reach these by cutting diagonally over the field to a gate from the parking area at the ruined house.

Guidebook   For a definitive list of all the climbs and boulder problems at Portobello see the SMC published Lowland Outcrops guidebook. Included on this page are details of most of the routes I have done here.

Dangers  This is a greywacke sea cliff with several areas of dubious rock and the protection is not always reliable. Many of the routes are tidal and require low tide and/or calm seas to be climbable. This is a very open stretch of coast so much of the crag will be hazardous in big seas and is open to rapid weather changes.

From north to south the main climbing areas are:-

Primrose Inlet

Slab Bay
and Axle Bay (two small areas not visited by me, so not detailed here)

Portobello Bay Cliff

Shark Fin Bay

The U-Boat Pen

Cracked Block Bay

Climbers on Happy man at Portobello, August 2015.

Climbers on Happy Man, Sea Buttress


Primrose Inlet

A nice, small, south facing area, somewhat overlooked by the guidebook. Primrose inlet is not affected by seabirds and not affected much by the tide either. Primrose Inlet lies about 300m north of the main cliff. From the parking area, follow the wall out towards the sea north of the beach, cross over, walk around the top  of the first inlet (Slab Bay) then immediately head down towards the sea to this narrow inlet. It is easily missed if you are walking northwards and is also not as far north as marked in the guidebook. Descents are straightforward.


Portobello Bay Cliff

These two main buttresses lie just to the right (north) of the main beach as you approach it and are easily viewed from the grassy ridge running out to sea between the cliff and the main beach (viewing is recommended for initial orientation). There are three broken and partly vegetated sub-buttresses nearer the land known as the Limpet Buttresses. These are about 15m high, with a couple of routes on the right accessible at high tide and all the rest accessible on foot at low tide. To the left of Limpet Buttress there is a narrow sea filled slot, then left again there is a cleaner looking, slabby, crag known as Sea Buttress. This is 12m high and permanently stuck in the sea, so the routes on it all require abseil approaches.

This area is generally free of seabirds all year.

Limpet Buttress, Traverse of the Cods

Beyond the narrow slot is the 10-15m high Sea Buttress, which has some good climbing. There are committing abseil approaches to small ledges or even hanging belays. Most of the climbs can be done at high tide, but big waves would be a problem. The best and most straightforward route here is Happy Man. The top of this route is easily located by looking for the left hand end (looking out) of the big grassy ledge just 1-1m below the top of the buttress.

Portobello Rock Climbing

Memorial to James Drynan at the foot of Crawfords Crackers on Limpet Buttress.

Shark Fin Bay

About 300m south of the beach this bay is readily distinguished by the Sharks Fin Pinnacle in the sea. The climbing here is a bit scrappy and this area is badly affected by seabirds in the spring. You'll get dive-bombed in the nesting season and guano covered hands the rest of the summer...nice. Descent from most routes is by abseil or by climbing some nasty vegetated rocks (about Diff.) from the top of the promontory to the summit, where the 25m high Silence of the Clams finishes.

The U-boat Pen

The U-boat pen lies immediately south of Shark Fin Bay. This area is also badly affected by seabirds. Although there are normally no nests on the routes themselves, you'll get dive-bombed in the nesting season trying to get near to these climbs. Very low tide, or scuba gear is essential for many of these routes, especially those on the left (see the topo..!). Descend round the back. These routes are about 10-12m high. the top half of Feeling the Pinch is particularly good climbing.

Cracked Block Bay

Cracked Block Bay is immediately south of the U-boat Pen. It is easily distinguished by the striking Cracked Block of Thunderbolt, which is unmistakable when you do find it..!  Quickest access to this area is to cut diagonally over the corner of a field from the ruined house parking area to a gate on the horizon, then turn leftish to reach the Cracked Block area. Descent to the routes is straightforward. In general there are no seabirds in this area.

The striking line taken by Thunderbolt, HVS 5a, Portobello, Galloway

The striking line taken by Thunderbolt, HVS 5a.

Cracked Block Area, Portobello sea cliffs

Descent from this main cliff is by abseil or downclimbing easier (Diff) rock flakes which lie behind NRG, more or less opposite Thunderbolt.

Just south of the main wall in Cracked Block bay is a small 10m wall. This area is not affected by the sea or seabirds and you can walk easily off the back of these routes. The routes are a bit dirty.

Betty Blue and Parallel Lines areas

Further south there is one small area with only a couple of short routes.