This article is designed to help the new outdoor rock climber find the best place to go rock climbing around Bristol. Bristol is a great place to be based if you’re a rock climber, with crags in the city itself and with great motorway links to other UK climbing spots and an international airport on its doorstep. You can see why it’s one of the best cities to live in for rock climbing.
Bristol has Avon Gorge in the heart of the city and it’s known as the best city crag in the world – if that doesn’t get your juices flowing I don’t know what will. However, Avon Gorge does take some time to settle into the climbing style – with its delicate and balancy moves. So don’t go jumping onto an E2 at Main Wall just yet! I know many hard visiting climbers that have admitted to being terrified at Avon Gorge. I want this article to whip around the local crags to give you a few options if you’re starting out rock climbing around Bristol. I hope that I share some of my experiences and knowledge in the process. I’ve not really focused on any of the sport climbing areas and will leave that for another article, so this is more aimed at those who want to do some trad.
I’ve inserted links to the crags and routes mentioned so feel free to click the highlighted text to find out where the crag is and find out some more information.
When you start off rock climbing around Bristol most people are drawn to Goblin Comb as a place to start and learn their trade. Goblin Comb hosts a large selection of different buttresses with mainly tree anchors at the top and a car park bay that is great for practising the placing of gear and rigging of top and bottom ropes and abseils. As the crag has many trees to anchor at the top, the setting up of a belay is easy and saves time faffing if you’ve just completed one of your first leads. It also allows for a quick abseil descent. Due to this, the crag is similar to Symonds Yat in the Wye Valley which has a similar style with tree belays and quick abseil descents. I know Symonds Yat is in the Wye Valley but it’s a great place to go to practise leading on routes with good gear in a fun adventurous setting. So put that on your list of crags to go and visit early on.
Top tip – don’t coil your ropes around your neck. There are huge ants in and around the floor and they will climb up your rope and bite your neck which really hurts – you have been warned. I’ve also been bitten by an adder topping out of one of the climbs there once before, but I don’t think you should worry about that…..
Portishead quarry is another classic place to go rock climbing around Bristol once you’ve got a few leads under your belt. The top of the crag is very hard to access, meaning that you have to lead the routes first to fix a top or bottom rope (a bottom rope is when you belay from the ground as opposed to a top rope which is when you belay from the top – people get confused by this all the time). There is a main slab which has a selection of routes from Severe to E2. There is a classic Hard Severe – Pharos and a handful of fun Hard Very Severes. The HVSs in my opinion are easy for the grade and despite the polish they always make for good slab climbing fun and can be enjoyed in the sunshine again and again.
The rest of the walls in Portishead quarry require more care and a different taste. Highway One given F6c is the crag classic and it’s hard – definitely not F6c. If you dare to try it, finding hand holds that will take you past the first and second bolt will be a big challenge. The small pancake flake edges needed to climb the route constantly fall off and so the route is always changing – currently it’s hard and getting harder from each ascent it’s had. There are a few other sport routes at the quarry that are much more relevant to the novice climber so feel free to jump on those – just don’t jump on Highway One and expect to do it first time like I did when I started. I lowered off the from the first bolt defeated.
Top tip – make sure you are happy to lead one of the routes on the slab and by doing this you can get to the top of the other routes on the slab and setup top ropes making a great day of playing around. The top of the slab routes all have bolts for anchors.
Snuff Mills and Winterbourne Down
I always enjoyed rock climbing and exploring around the areas of Snuff Mills and Winterbourne Down when I started out and I am just about to head back there to do some of the newly bolted routes by local hero’s Guy Percival and Mark Davies.
Snuff Mills and Winterbourne Down both lie on the river Frome which runs into and under the heart of Bristol. The rock is sandstone of varying quality but very different to most of the limestone crags locally so it makes for a nice change. The exploring and adventurous nature of the climbing here is what first appealed to me. Taking a brush, an abseil rope and going in search of what you could find was great fun. Cleaning a few holds, setting up a few bottom ropes and practising some of the routes before leading them was what it was all about. There are also some great boulder problems here of all difficulty levels.
So it seems that these places are not high on everyone’s crag wish list to visit but I am sure now that there are a few bolted routes at Snuff Mills that it will become popular just like the New Quarry in Avon Gorge has. If you do like a spot of adventure though, go and head down to Riverside Edge and see what you can find.
Top Tip – take an extra rope for rigging, a brush, gardening gloves and some secateurs just in case brambles get in your way.
Trym Valey Gorge
Trym Valley gorge has always reminded me of the set from Jurassic Park and because of this – it’s cool. The climbing is mainly hard stuff but if you can find it the Goram’s Chair has a few easier things and some harder things, all of which can be lead and top or bottom roped as desired. Trym Valley gorge has a certain charm about it being located in the city centre whilst also having a river flowing through the bottom of the valley, lots of big trees, a castle and numerous cliffs to find and explore. This crag then is for when you’re in need of an adventurous day exploring or spending an evening at Goram’s Chair.
Top Tip – Take an extra rope to use for rigging as some of the rigging points can be quite far back and be careful of loose rocks that could tumble down the hill onto passers by walking on the paths below!!
Ah Avon Gorge. A short walk or cycle from the city centre. Door step rock climbing and plenty of it. There are many routes to play on at Avon Gorge but not that many of them suit the beginner starting out.
Sea Walls has some easier multi-pitch climbs and a bottom rope area that has bolts at the top of it for rigging. When I started out bottom roping the routes around the group area were great fun. You could do a V Diff and right next to it would be an E6 to have a go at, making it the perfect place to mess about at during an evening.
The other cliffs of Avon Gorge provide many harder test pieces which aren’t suitable for novices until you know what you’re doing. Many of the routes even at the E1 grade can have large run outs on smeary footholds that can feel terrifying if your not used to it.
Top Tip for Sea Walls – take a 50 metre abseil rope which will allow you to abseil in and set-up bottom ropes off the bolts above the beginner area.
If you’re a middle grade climber and are happy at VS level then why not have a go at – The VS Challenge
Main wall in Avon Gorge is a huge sweep of rock, with many hard routes that want to be avoided if your starting out. An area to visit once you’re happy with multi-pitch climbing is the morning slab which has a good selection of routes that lead to a large tree covered ledge known as ‘Lunch Time Ledge’ and then a wall above that is know as ‘Evening Wall’ that leads to the top of the gorge. Most of the routes here are suitable and lead to comfortable stances with tree belays which all make for fun climbing if not a little polished now.
If you’ve climbed on Morning Slab then you may well have seen this guy above you swinging around underneath the roof but how did he get there?
A very underestimated route in my opinion is Easy Route graded Mod – this is a fantastic rock climb in every way. A super easy multi-pitch route with large belay ledges and tree anchors throughout making it a great first multi-pitch route or a perfect route to guide a novice or a small group up – I’ve guided a group of 9 people up this route before on 3 ropes and it was a right laugh.
Top Tip for Morning Slab – The easiest way off is to walk right (looking in) and when the cliff edge path bends round to the left and you can see the suspension bridge. Take one of the small dirt paths leading down to a large fir tree. This is the best view in Bristol in my opinion. As the path is quite rough it’s best to take a set of trainers to walk down in comfort, the path continues on down and leads to the road – sorted.
Brean Down – The Fort Crags
No one really knows how good the rock climbing is down at the Fort Crags at Brean Down and I am going to tell you – it’s good – really good. Most people get caught out by the glint of a bolt when walking over to Brean Down and therefore miss the Fort Crags but that’s not a bad thing, it means the rock has less people on it for when you go there.
Rock climbing around Bristol is varied and it’s great to have this crag on your doorstep. It’s a great place to go to learn how to climb on sea cliffs. The rock is rough and solid, the gear is good, the anchors at the top are bomber and there are plenty of lower grade routes to get your teeth stuck into. The only problem is the tide does come in fast and it does swallow some of the routes so do check the tide times and be aware of how long you have before you need your arm bands.
There are plenty of routes here from V Diff upwards so you will have plenty to go at. Honestly, go. You will be surprised at what you will find. That goes to the rest of the Bristol climbing scene as well. Go and have a look – there are brilliant routes up to E2.
Top Tip – Take an abseil rope and check the tides before going. Also don’t walk in from the beach like I did on my first visit – it takes bloody ages and it’s super slippery. Always walk in from the top by going up the steps and along the top and descending to the crag.
There is so much rock climbing around Bristol that it will suit all style and tastes. I haven’t mentioned all the crags as it is nice to go to find some for yourself and make up your own opinion but if you’ve just started out then hopefully there will be some top tips here of places to go. You’ve got to get out and go exploring and see what you can find. Go and do ‘In Through the Out Door‘ in Avon Gorge and it doesn’t matter what grade you climb this route is a laugh. Explore around and get to know your local area – there is so much on offer.
If you need any help or advice on routes or need a course to allow you to do more rock climbing around Bristol, multi-pitch, single pitch, trad or sport, then get in touch.
Contact Us Here. [Dave Talbot]