I lived in London because I was born there. I started climbing in 1992 and after few years I realised that I never belonged in London. So a plan was hatched to escape as climbing became move and more important to me and as I was spending more and more time away from London. I found myself wondering where I should be living so I could climb without the long drive from London in order to get to the crag. Two areas seem to find there way on to my short list, Sheffield and Bristol. The need to work was also on my list of considerations. Also the range of climbing available in and around Bristol seemed broader to me and that I was still better placed to get up north from Bristol. Then that was that. I moved in 2004. I now live in Portishead and can be at the Avon Gorge within 30 minutes from leaving work so it has been a real boon for a lad from London. Yes, of course some locals turn their nose up at the gorge. I think this is their loss so here is a list of my five favourite climbs in the Avon Gorge.
Graded at VD it’s a classic bold multi pitch a good introduction to climbing on sea walls, first climbed solo by me on a sunny evening after work just after moving to Portishead. It was to be the first of many a happy time spent climbing of this route. Its diagonal line across the sea walls gives a good mix of problems, positions and stances that demand a good steady approach and sound rope work. The reward for this is that you can in my view proudly put your tick against a classic route.
Giant’s Cave Buttress
This route I climbed on my first reccy to Bristol, with a view to moving here. The first pitches are not much more than a scramble to the corner just to the right of the arète under the camera obscurer on Clifton down. The moves from corner leftwards on the face taught me the meaning of the term exposure. The top pitch has all you could ask for from a VS lead and is a good place to introduce your second to the grade. It will test commitment and sense of humour and at the top you can enjoy an ice cream from the shop and talk to the tourists about how great the climbing is in the gorge!
Starting just to the left of Morpheus is Gronk, a much more serious outing than Morpheus, in spite of sharing the last stance of Morpheus. Hidden holds and harder to find placements makes for steadier climbing up to shared stance with Morpheus then strike out left under the short roof on sound rock and gear to the last stance to watch the fun repeated by your second who can then make the last moves to the top to finish at the top of Clifton Downs and the chance again to share the great views of the gorge with the tourists.
About a mile up river there is what most locals say is the most impressive and reliable piece of rock in Avon and where some bloke called Brunel chose to build a bridge across the gorge recklessâ€ if you ask me.
There in the centre of the buttress you will see a small cave. This is your first objective. Magnificent and varied is how it is described in the guide. I can’t find any better words. Sustained and exposed with just enough gear to keep the fear at bay, you will also need a pen because in the cave is a book in which you can write you thoughts and feeling at that time before you once again take your life in your hands and leave the cave looking for the peg runners which I have never learn to trust And as always take time to place your own gear on the to the shared stance with Howhard to finish leftwards across the break to the abseil point. If in the team there is an aspirant leader this is a good pitch to feed them. I first did this climb as a second with my friend Mike and as I left the last stance to experience the exposure of the traverse I looked back to see Mike enjoying the view Oi Mike look concerned was my response as I placed my first piece of gear, we both laughed – happy days !
In 2006 the summer was for the most part dry. This meant I was able to climb any time I could find a belayer training at the wall or solo on some of the easy routes. All of which lead to me becoming as fit as a butcher’s dog, the move was paying off and my climbing was on the up! After 15 years as a climber I was to have my best year yet. The new Avon guide had just re-graded Howhard from HVS to E1. It was on my wish-list. The weather was set fare, then one Saturday afternoon I did Hell Gates as warm up then stood at the start of Howhard. It’s easy at these times to feel intimidated. I started slowly being sure of every move and gear placement, one move at a time no rush here just good steady progress pulling on pockets and taking time to place my feet. The moves flowed in to each other to a rib of rock moves and gear just kept coming to easy ground. No drama, just good climbing on good rock to the stance. Then an easier if airy traverse to finish. This I still feel is my best lead to date not for the grade which may still be in question , just for the joy of being present on the rock on a sunny day, knowing my limit and the sense of freedom can be found without the need for fear.
I have lived in this area for almost 4 years now and have recently joined the revived Avon Mountaineering club which in my view is the best club in the area with a good mix of age and experience. Life has never been so good, so if you’re thinking of doing as I did then look us up. Safe climbing.