Where to Climb
Bristol has an enviable choice of rock-climbing opportunities on a variety of cliffs, outcrops, and quarries within the wider Bristol area.
Avon Gorge is a key historic British climbing site and the West Country’s premier cliff. It is where adventurous limestone climbing first began in Britain with Graham Balcombe’s celebrated ascent of Piton Route in 1936. There are now almost 1000 climbs in the gorge, most on the Bristol side, from beginners’ climbs to extreme climbs for athletes. The climbing is of a distinct technical character unlike anything anywhere else, where good balance and careful footwork is of the essence. Avon Gorge is renowned as: ‘probably the world’s most important city crag’ because – uniquely – it lies within the boundary of a major city and serves a large immediate population. Here Bristol climbers enjoy the privilege of being able to embark on testing climbs up to 80 metres high within minutes of leaving work or home, some of which are overlooked by the fantastic Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Other Cliffs within Bristol
Tucked into the suburbia of north Bristol are the leafy valleys of the River Trym and River Frome. The former, which runs through Blaise Castle Estate, provides hard climbs on limestone outcrops. The River Frome crags comprise Coal Measures sandstone and offer some delightful climbing along the riverbank in Snuff Mills and Eastville Park and in the Frenchay to Winterbourne area.
Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in Britain and popular with climbers in the Bristol area. Home to one of Britain’s most classic climbs – Coronation Street – it is famous for its spectacularly steep and powerful climbing and its accessible bolted sport routes. Ownership of the cliffs is divided between Longleat Estate and the National Trust and a conditional climbing access agreement is in place (for more information go to www.cheddargorge.co.uk or www.thebmc.co.uk ).
Minor Outcrops, quarries, and sea cliffs
Elsewhere the area is peppered with limestone quarries and outcrops where climbing is permitted and well established e.g. Old Black Rocks (Portishead); Goblin Combe; Uphill Quarry; Split Rock Quarry (Wells); and Fairy Cave Quarry on The Mendips. In addition the sea cliffs between Portishead and Brean Down provide plenty of scope for bouldering and short climbs between the tides.
Rock Climbing Guidebooks
All the climbing sites and many of the 3000 climbs in the area are described in a guidebook written by climbing activist Martin Crocker and published by The Climbers’ Club. A guidebook dedicated solely to Avon Gorge is expected to be published in 2015 (see www.climbers-club.co.uk for further information).
How to Get Started
(a) Indoor Climbing Facilities
While Bristol’s relatively dry and mild climate favours outdoor climbing, many people take their first steps on indoor climbing walls. Indoor walls are also useful for training and pushing performance levels, especially during winter-time. The principal indoor facilities in Bristol are: Undercover Rock; The Climbing Academy; and Redpoint Bristol.
(b) Climbing Clubs
Bristol has a choice of climbing clubs that welcome new members including beginners. Joining a climbing club is an effective, sociable, and traditional way for newcomers to get to learn the ropes. Bristol-based clubs include: Red Rope Walking and Climbing Club (www.redrope.org.uk), Avon Mountaineering Club (www.avon-mc.org.uk), and the university mountaineering/climbing clubs for students (Bristol University, University of West of England). For a full list of BMC-affiliated clubs visit: www.thebmc.co.uk .
(c) Mentoring, Coaching, & Instruction
Being guided by experienced climbers with a sound knowledge of safety and the specific climbing environment is a proven way to learn to climb and to progress. Opportunities range from informally hitching up with someone known and reliable who is prepared to assist freely, or undertaking a climbing course, or employing a qualified instructor or mountain guide. Guidance on the options together with details of outdoor activity providers and their associations is available on www.thebmc.co.uk and from Mountain Training: www.mountain-training.org .
ClimbBristol is a local community-styled project that seeks to improve conditions for climbing in the Avon Gorge. Approved and supported by the British Mountaineering Council (BMC), the representative body for mountaineering in England and Wales, the project commenced September 2012. It is being managed by the ClimbBristol Steering Group. A Project Officer has been contracted by the BMC to spearhead its work. Funding from the BMC’s Access & Conservation Trust is complemented by a significant effort by expert and experienced volunteers.
ClimbBristol aims to promote the value of climbing in the Avon Gorge with landowners, local authorites, conservation organisations and others. It seeks to progress in partnership to ensure climbers’ interests are considered and implemented in any plans for the gorge, and to help safeguard climbing in the gorge for future generations. ClimbBristol believes that climbing can deliver valuable cross-benefits for Bristol eg to conservation, rock safety, visitor-experience, and cultural identity. In collaboration with the statutory authorities volunteer climbers have carried out significant improvements on or under the cliffs e.g. invasive scrub removal, removal of loose rocks from climbs and the replacement of technical climbing fixtures; and assistance is given to the British Ornithological Trust with the peregrine ringing programme. ClimbBristol is campaigning for road safety improvements and the rejuvenation of the base of Great Quarry (closed Main Area car park).
For more information follow ClimbBristol on Facebook or go to www.climbbristol.com
On a Final Note
Climbing, as with any sporting activity, inherently involves taking risks. However part of the joy of climbing is the freedom to manage risk yourself. Self-reliance is a key characteristic of climbing and the position is summarized in the BMC’s Participation Statement: ‘The BMC recognises that climbing, hill walking, and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.’