‘Avon Gorge supplies the ultimate urban adventure climbing experience, all within Bristol’s city boundary. Here, dramatic limestone cliffs rise to 70 metres above the River Avon only four kilometres west of Bristol’s city centre. Long time a crucible for adventure and innovation on the rock, Avon Gorge is one of Britain’s most historic climbing sites, posturing at times at the cutting edge of limestone climbing development.’
The seven traditional crags rise from the A4 Portway, which follows the east bank of the river. In the centre is the magnificent Main Wall, prompting the comment from a young Chris Bonington in the 1950s: ‘…one of the greatest unclimbed walls in the country. More impressive than any of the Three Cliffs [of Llanberis], it was almost comparable to Clogwyn Du’r Arddu.’ Now described as ‘the Soul of Avon, with a big choice of often serious multi-pitch Extremes’.
On its left (as you face the cliffs) is the New Quarry, Avon’s principal sport crag. Left again are the Sea Walls, which provide some popular multi-pitch Severes-to-VSs ‘cheek by jowl with grit-like headpoints’. And the first crag to be encountered (on approach from the north) is the Unknown Area, with its four facets offering a variety of mainly upper-grade classics and strong lines and, of course, the famous Ramp Challenge.
To the right (south) of Main Wall is the broken, slabby Main Area where most of the early development took place. Less popular is the complex Amphitheatre Buttress. And finally, those who prefer steep, unquarried, less-polished limestone with positive holds and generally more reassuring protection will find on the Suspension Bridge Buttress plenty of opportunity for pushing their grades through the E-barrier.
Finally, that is, for the east-side crags, for across the river another extensive series of slabs and quarries is visible in Leigh Woods. These were last described in 1965 and have since been largely ignored on the general but flawed assumption that they were of little interest and subject to stringent access restrictions. Now, all the development, old and new, and a mixture of trad, sport, and bouldering is brought together, and the access arrangements are clarified.
Although its fashionability has waxed and waned over the years, the gorge’s history has never proved less than an exciting and highly significant benchmark for West Country climbing. At the centre of this development for most of the 65-year period has been Martin Crocker, author of this new tome, and indeed of its two immediate predecessors, bringing to bear not only his unrivalled knowledge of the climbs themselves but also, in the Historical and First Ascents sections, of the deeds and characters who made them.
Despite the urban situation and climber impact, the wildlife of the gorge thrives, and a colourful section in the book’s Introduction shows how this situation can be sustained alongside the activities of climbers. The cliffs have, however, been colonized by less welcome species and a major project (entitled ClimbBristol) to clear the invaders and at the same time to review, renew, and rationalize the often-ancient fixed gear has taken place over the last five years.
The detailed route descriptions are supplemented by a comprehensive set of photodiagrams, crag panoramas, maps, and inspiring action photos.
A new, lavishly illustrated, definitive guidebook to the Avon Gorge. It reflects the unique situation of a major crag in the centre of a university city and does full justice to its historical significance as well as taking full account of the major restoration work carried out by the ClimbBristol team over recent years. It also includes the crags on the west side of the gorge for the first time for half a century.
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