Avon is a crag of great contrast; on the one hand it is roadside and accessible, sunny and quick-drying, but on the other it is wild, adventurous, and considering the fact you’re never far away from the hustle and bustle of the road, can be a remarkably lonely place when you’re on lead.
This same contrast reflects in people’s experiences and opinions of the place. Visiting superstar Alex Honnold was attributed saying it was “the grossest crag he had ever seen”, and yet I, and I’m sure many locals would argue that if you scratch beneath the surface there lies a sort of inner beauty, albeit of a somewhat unconventional nature. The routes may frequently seem lineless, but the attraction comes from the quality of the movement, which is truly exceptional. In short, don’t judge Avon it by it’s cover because there’s way more than meets the eye!
If there’s one word to summarise this new guide it is ‘thorough’. Martin Crocker spares no detail when it comes to the crag’s history, first ascent details, route descriptions, maps, flora, fauna, geology, character, and so much more. The result is that this is a lot more than just a book of route names and colour topos, it is a guide to the area as a whole. It’s a book that you can go back to again and again, as there’s always something new to find (perfect for those wet days down in the South West). I have been extremely critical of some definitive guides of late (Lancashire Rock, Peak Limestone North) for their lack of history, but this guide is basically flawless, with an extensive history of not just the crag, but the area, as well as a detailed first ascent list with further images, anecdotes, cartoons, magazine snippets, and more. The only possible thing I would have liked to have seen in addition to what we've got (and I feel a bit guilty suggesting this because of just how much there is!) would have been for the first ascentionists to have been listed underneath the routes within the guide too, thus saving a bit of time/effort flicking back and forth through the guide.
As is the way throughout most of my guidebook reviews of late, there has to be a paragraph dedicated to justifying the use of the A5 format. Thankfully this conversation has already been had on an earlier thread on the UKC forums (click here to see it), but as a quick summary the use of the larger format is easy to explain because a) it’s roadside, thus you don’t have to carry it far and b) due to the aforementioned lineless (which amusingly auto-corrects to ‘lifeless’) nature of the rock it means that you can really gain that extra, valuable level of detail which - I would hope - would allow you to find and climb the routes hassle free.
Following on from the above, it has to be said that the author and editor have done a great job of producing stunningly crisp and clear topos. The ones of the Main Wall are particularly fine examples of this simply because it really does make a complex wall appear obvious. It is also worth mentioning that many (in fact most) of the topos are full page, so really make the most of the guide’s additional size, without compromising and doing double page spreads that inevitably lead to lines being lost to the crease.
Alongside the topos the route descriptions are highly detailed, demonstrating the author's many years of experience climbing in the gorge. For some this might constitute too much detail, but for me it was - alongside the topos - just right (i.e. if you want a generalisation of where the route goes look at the topo, if you need further detail read the description).
On the flipside of the clear/crisp topos, the action shots within the guide are a very mixed bag. On the one hand you have the fantastic two page spreads that introduce each of the areas (a nice touch, I thought), in particular the shot of Ollie Benzie on Edgemaster at Sea Walls - it looks incredible. The historic shots are also really good, with many great portraits and action shots from years gone by. However, it was the modern day action shots where things were very mixed: some not just good - amazing in fact - but others are terrible, so much so that they’re not even in focus. Whilst Martin Crocker’s eye for detail paid dividends throughout all the sections I have mentioned above, the major shortfall in the guide is that most of the photos in it are his too and there's only so many good photos any one person can take. If more images from other photograhpers had been included, the guide could have been better-looking.
Whilst the cover shot seems to have divided opinion, I like it. There is obviously a clear contrast between this and the previous edition’s bright, colourful, and highly saturated image of Lucy Creamer on Arms Race, with the bridge and river in the background, which fulfils every Avon stereotype. The reason I like the cover this time round is because it represents that ‘other side’ of Avon I alluded to above, the darker and more psychological side. If all covers contained a bridge and water we’d soon get bored, complaining they were all the same, and this cover does a good job of subverting our perception of the gorge.
In reference to the previous edition vs. the current edition, it will be noted by the more observant readers that this is a guide to Avon Gorge as opposed to just Avon. The reason for this is because of the inclusion of the Leigh Woods crags on the west side of the gorge. It is the first time these crags have been documented. That'll be of more interest to locals than visitors, but routes such as Evil Edna, Push Away the Sky, Disrespectful Youth, and the Donkey Slide definitely caught my eye. What has been omitted are the crags outside the Gorge, such as the Trym Valley Crags and Portishead; however, I have recently been informed that these will be available in a separate, privately produced edition currently in development.
In recent years the ClimbBristol project has begun to replace pegs on many routes in the Gorge, using the Peg Database on their website as the central reference point for the work. As a result of this there is no information in the guidebook on which pegs have been replaced, and when - it is all on the website. Whilst this has drawn criticism from some quarters, I am all for it. Pegs come and go and a website is a far better resource for keeping the facts up to date than a book; were a peg to fall out, the database could be updated but the book could not. As such, having the informaiton in the book could lead to false expectations - not to mention a potentially dangerous scenario - when setting off up a route. I often check the UKC logbooks before doing routes, particularly if I know they’re going to be bold, so when I’m next in the Gorge I’ll undoubtedly use this resource in the same way. To make things easier here are the links:
Never has there been a more thorough and colourful guide to Avon Gorge, evenly representing everything from the New Quarry sport climbs to the Main Wall multi-pitch outings. Brimming with history and detail, it is also a guide you can read through again and again. Whilst the action shots may be mixed in quality, that’s not to say they’re all bad - there’s a lot of good (in fact I’d say great) stuff too.
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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