A Dream of White Horses – a classic photo of climb on Gogarth in North Wales and memories of two great pals.

Jock and Al on “Dream of White Horses” both loving the exposure and the climbing above the sea. The climb is 4 pitches longand it is a major UK classic taking a rising traverse leftwards across Wen Slab to a sensational finale where the zawn drops away below your feet. The climbing itself is not hard but the grade is well justified due to the exposure and the consequences of either the leader or the second falling off the final pitch into empty space. Carrying prussics is highly recommended. Traditionally climbed in four pitches but the first is often bypassed in the common event of big seas.

Some days are special and  a few days ago I was amazed when I was offered a classic photo of two pals on an incredible rock climb on Gogarth a sea cliffs in North Wales! I loved this photo as it has a special place in my life I last saw it just before my pal Jock Pirrie passed away from a long battle from Cancer. It was in his house and his pride and joy above the fire in the front room. Jock was very ill and it was the last time I saw him these were hard days as he was cared by his loving wife Lorraine. Cancer is as we all know awful and to see “Jock ” and his and Lorraine’s bravery throughout was humbling even though it  was a tragic time. Jock was one of these few guys you meet a true character. He was a real climber, surfer, extreme athlete  way before all these sports were popular. He was a typical proud Jock, football fan ,golfer you name it he did it but even more important he was that man, who always cheered you up, with his welcome cry “how’s it going wee man?” I knew him from my Mountain Rescue days in North Wales and climbed with him often when he moved back up to Scotland.  We had many adventures with the “bad boys club” that went away once a month climbing the great routes in Scotland. Jock,  Al and others also did the famous bridge jumping of the Menia Bridge in Wales and various others like Kylesku bridge up North and they gave me  a few Police problems to sort out.

It was that at photo in his house that always stuck in my mind as it also had another great pal Al MacLeod who was killed on the North Face of the Matterhorn in July 1989 on the belay with Jock. It is hard to believe that Jock was taken so young of cancer 10 years ago and his wife Lorraine offered this classic picture to me few days ago and it now has pride of place in my wee house.  She knew how much it meant and  I picked it up yesterday from Lorraine we caught up and the memory’s came flooding back so easily. As I travelled home I thought what a pair they were Al and Jock real characters and how I miss them. They were both special people every minute was spent doing something and living life to the full every day, they were also such great pals that only a bond in the mountains can make.

Hard Rock by Ken Wilson a wonderful read.


The photo of Jock and Al was taken on an incredible climb in Anglesey on Gogarth in North Wales sea cliffs . It is one of the greatest climbing cliffs in the U.K. This climb starts on top of the big cliff is a wild descent right at the edge of the sea and it is a tricky place to get to. The climb is the magnificent “Dream of White Horses” what a name, what a situation. The photo is off both of them on the belay enjoying the exposure of a hanging belay above the sea.  They are both so full of life and sums up the camaraderie and friendship of the cliffs and big mountains full of confidence and in their prime. I wonder who took the photo and who was with them that day? Can anyone help?

Dream of white Horses is an iconic climb and the classic photo by Leo Dickinson’s of the first ascent in Hard Rock an the write up is powerful writing.

Hard Rock First published in 1974, this is an anthology about British rock-climbing. 60 of the most famous climbs in the country are covered, including such classics as Cenotaph Corner, Central Buttress of Scafell and The Old Man of Hoy. Each route is described in essay form by a climber who relates his own experiences during an ascent, in the context of a discussion about the intricacies of the climb and its history. Large crag and action photos (many of which now have a period flavour) embellish each chapter. The climbs themselves, though long since overtaken in terms of difficulty, are almost all regarded as timeless classics and have a “must do” status for all serious climbers. In this new impression, notes are added about all the changes in grades and other improvements that have taken place in recent years, thus bringing the book up to date for the Nineties.

The photo shows the waves crashing on the cliff and the two small figures climbing battling their way up on the first ascent. This photo was always one I always loved and is an iconic photo and a thing of beauty and natures power. To go down to Gogarth on a wild day is interesting and I often went down to watch the seas in a storm when at Valley for 3 years.


Dream of White Horses the Route.

The photo is now up in my front room and tonight I will have a dram for Jock and  Al two of my best pals and now gone. We have so many great memories and when I did that classic climb with my mate Jock  Cameron I was down in North Wales as the Deputy Team Leader of the RAF Valley Mountain Rescue Team. Gogarth was the local cliff but too hard for me but in the end I did climb Dream with my mate Jock Cameron in the late 70’s and was pretty scared at the time it was such a place to be but it had to be done it was expected. Gogarth was a place right on our doorstep and we had a few epics with the troops pushing the boundaries and the odd epic late at night before the RAF became so Health and Safety aware. So many of our best troops cut there teeth on these cliffs and improved the teams climbing ability dramatically There were some big falls and late ascents and sneeky epics at times all in the learning for young tigers cutting their teeth. I had come from 8 years in Scotland and had only done a few climbs in summer Tower Ridge, Observatory Ridge on Ben Nevis, A few on Creagh Dubh many at Polldubh, Cummingston, Savage Slit on Cairngorms, The Skye ridge, the Cioch and other classics on Skye and Glencoe. I had climbed 6 routes on Fionaven in the North West and Beinn Eighe in Torridon but was mainly a walker.  This was after a bad fall at Huntly’s Cave that put me off for a while so Wales and RAF Valley was just what I needed.  The troops at Valley sorted me out and I got to enjoy the climbing in the mecca that is Wales.

We trained at times on these cliffs at Gogarth lowering stretchers and crag snatches as it was a place we thought we may have an epic rescue one day. I did the Team Leaders Course getting lowered off Red Wall by the potential team leaders all on a single rope? We worked with the Coastguards and life boat these were wild days and it remains in my memory as some place with the foaming seas the booming lighthouse and climbing at times by the light from the lighthouse.  Many pals like Pete Kay climbed it often with the troops it became a right of passage for the Climbers. It became a classic  adventure within the team and after I left one of the team climbed it in plastic boots. Young Mark Hartree or 2BA lead most of Dream in his Riachle plastic boots in November 1987 .”

He had to get a head torch at the end tie of the ropes and run to his bag get his torch to shine on the other two who seconded him. The last pitch was in the dark  guided by the flashing of the lighthouse and his head torch from the belay” With him was our Jock  Pirrie and Ian MacGuire cocky young star!

“Dream” in plastic boots crazy Jock loved that as would big Al. These were wild days, they were at the invincible stage.

There are so many great memories thanks boys you are so missed.

“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,

may your God hold you in the palm of his hand. ”

1984 Jock Pirrie on Ben Nevis Centurion

Thank you Lorraine the photo of my two mates is special and one I will look after, thinking of you.


2000 Jock Pirrie on Pabbay out there as always.

Dedicated to the memory of two great pals Jock and Al.

Today is my golf morning with the Hopeman Seniors and this is where Jock played sadly I never played with him but he is well remembered for his work with the youngsters I will have a few thoughts today old mate.



About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Friends, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Dream of White Horses – a classic photo of climb on Gogarth in North Wales and memories of two great pals.

  1. Peter Kay says:

    Happy days Hev’s, Dream, the best sea cliff route ever.

    Liked by 1 person

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