Orkney’s 449ft landmark has been scaled by many an adventurer following famous mountaineer Chris Bonington’s pioneering climb in 1966. The previous youngest-ever climber was Ollie Buckle from Bristol, who was 10 when he scaled the rock in 2016.
Now that record is in the hands of Dunnet youngster Edward, who attends Crossroads Primary School and has competed at a number of rock-climbing events.
Edward, who was assisted by adult co-climbers Ben West and Cailean Harker, said he always fancied the challenge of taking on Hoy but also to raise money for the Climbers Against Cancer charity – a cause close to his heart given that his mother, Bekki Christian, has terminal cancer. So far, the Just Giving webpage set up by Edward has raised more than £25,000.
He said: “My mum did a Macmillan Mighty Hike and raised lots of money for charity and I decided that I wanted to raise money too. I wish there was a cure for cancer, some medicine to make people better, so I wanted to raise money for a charity.“I wanted to climb the Old Man of Hoy because whenever we came on holiday to Caithness, before we lived here, we would go across to Orkney and we always talked about it. It just looked like it would be a really cool thing to do and we knew that some young people had done it before – an 11-year-old and a 10-year-old – and I thought I wanted to be the youngest person to do it.
“I did lots of practice climbing. There isn’t a climbing wall in Caithness so my dad [Nathan Mills] and Ben built me one in the garage to practise on. Then I would go to Inverness to practise on their wall.
“I needed to practise on real rocks, though, as well and practise climbing next to the sea, so Simon Nadin, who lives in Brora and used to be a world champion climber, took me out practising.
“We went to Sarclet, near Wick, where there are some routes that are the same type of difficulty as the Old Man of Hoy, although they aren’t as tall.
“We also went to Cummingston in Moray climbing with Climb Scotland and the Moray Coast Youth Climbing club. To help support me, the Moray Coast club did a fundraising day too – they all did 10 climbs that added up to 137 metres, the same as the Old Man of Hoy.
“Also my mum brought me a special waistcoat to wear on the day which had pockets for bottles of juice and for sweets to keep me going. I had wine gums, which were okay, but next time I am going to have Haribos.
“My mum and dad just helped me when I told them I wanted to climb Hoy. They set it up with Ben and Cailean to come and do it with me. They just said do my best and don’t worry if I don’t get to the top.
“But I wanted to get to the top. I wanted to do it for my mum as she is poorly and she was excited about me doing it so I thought about her a lot.”There was one slight obstacle that threatened to impinge on Edward’s climb. This time of year is when various birds such as fulmars nest on rocks such as Hoy and can be aggressively protective of their young chicks.
Edward added: “The one thing I was worried about was bird sick. Dave Macleod [Scottish climber who also climbed Hoy] told me about the fulmars being sick on you if you get too close to them and that it is black and stinky, and I really didn’t want that to happen.
“I did see some big gulls and they made a spitting noise at me as I went past them – that was a bit scary. On one of the belay ledges there were three puffins on the ledge. They were really cute. They didn’t fly away or anything, they just sat there next to me.”Proud mum Bekki was delighted with her son’s achievement but admitted there was added poignancy to the event.
She said: “For me, seeing Edward accomplish something so phenomenal was amazing. We have realised that Edward has a passion and a talent for climbing for a while now, and watching him do competitions or experience different types of rock climbing is always bittersweet.
“I love it, I love watching him, I love watching climbing in general, and I am a big outdoors fan.
“But at the back of my mind is always, will this be the last time? It makes me so sad that I can’t go on this journey with him.
“I think Edward is going to have a life filled with adventures and I hope that I have done everything I can as a mother in the short time I have had with him to set him up to work hard, persevere and enjoy the moments.”