Brean Down is a small seaside crag down the coast from Western-super-Mare. Here, Mark Glaister takes a look at this little-known seaside sport climbing venue and finds that there is a surprising number of quality clip-ups on offer. Sun, sea, silt and plenty of 7c's!
Although Brean Down started its climbing life as an esoteric traditional climbing venue, its main draw today is for locals seeking a bit of sport climbing action or as an occasional one-stop sampler for passing climbers. It has never been considered a popular venue and, come summer or winter, the off-the-beaten-track climbs at Brean Down only usually see a trickle of ascents often viewed by a gaggle of bemused 'holidaymakers' who come in search of sea and sand but find only miles of barren silt. However its sport climbs are worthy of greater attention and it may now find a place on the tick list for weekend visits from afar for some excellent early or late season outdoor action without the need to cross the Channel.
Brean Down has a charm of its own and the long line of low limestone crags, rising above a barley-tidal beach, get the sun from dawn until dusk. The rock is very quick to dry and only seeps really badly after very heavy rain with the steeper lines being climbable in light rain. The sheltered, south-facing aspect means that it can be hot here with no real shade to be had so give it a miss on warm sunny days except in the depths of winter. The routes are best for those climbing between 6b+ and 7c with plenty to keep most happy for a day or two within that grade range and all the routes described on the topo below are well-geared with solid lower-offs. From a distance, the rock looks a bit on the unreliable side but it is actually okay on closer inspection and climbs really well with good pockets and edges in sufficient supply.
The area of attraction for the sport climber is Boulder Cove which, although access is tidal, it is really only unreachable for a very short period (about an hour). Whilst wandering along the flats to Boulder Cove it is worth checking out the lines on the Ocean Wall, Cyclops Cave and Great Corner areas. The trad lines on these buttresses are some of the best at Brean Down but, take a lot of care, as even the easier lines such as Great Corner, E1 are fairly serious. At the higher end of the trad scale routes rely on a real hotchpotch of old fixed gear – pegs, old bolts, drilled pegs and threads - and all have been exposed to sun and sea for well over a decade so approach with caution.
Things at Boulder Cove are far more welcoming for the first-time visitor. On the left is the tallest half of the crag which is also less steep than the walls further right. However, crag angles can be deceptive and this wall is steeper than you think with the best lines of Chepito, 7a and Pearl Harbour, 6c+ being very pumpy. The easiest-looking line of Coral Sea, 6c proves to be stiffer than its neighgbours to the left but even those leave their not-inconsiderable mark.
Starting higher up the slope on the wall, right of two obvious trad lines, the hybrid 7b based around the lines of Kamikaze and Clashing Socks (older lines) is worthwhile. On the raised sandy ledge itself are the best of the sport selection at Brean Down. The hardest line is Brean Topping, 8a+ taking the brown wall behind the table-like block at the left end of the ledge. Chulilla, 7b+ is soft at the grade but is excellent and made it into a list of the better sports routes in the UK at the grade. The bouldery Prisoner of Conscience, 7b is now fully geared up and its direct finish Gilt Edge pushes the already-tough 7b up to 7c. The similar Bullworker, 7c is also powerful in its upper section. The last two reliable lines are two of the best El Chocco, 7c has a wickedly-awkward and udgy finish after some pumpy and technical stuff below, whilst The Roof of Inequity at a soft 7b has equally-excellent climbing. Other older routes in this area are basically sport routes climbed on a mixture of fixed kit where the harder climbing kicks in and will probably be fully bolted eventually.
How to get to Brean Down
Brean Down is the small spit of land just across the estuary from the large seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset. From Junction 22 on the M5, take the road west a short way to a small roundabout and follow signs for Berrow and Brean. Follow the signs for 15 minutes through various small towns and villages to the end of the road and a car park. The crag is very obvious from here.
Although tidal, the base of Boulder Cove is only inaccessible for around an hour.
It is possibly to climb here year-round although it can get very hot in the summer and there is no real shelter. It is woth a visit in light rain and only seeps badly after heavy or prolonged rainfall.
Food and Accommodation
There are lots of Caravan parks and campsites nearby. Shops are plentiful in Brean and Berrow.
The definitive guide covering Brean Down is Avon and Cheddar by the CC.
Southwest Climbs by Pat Littlejohn covers some of the traditional routes at Brean Down.