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Cheddar Gorge: Sport Climbing

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Cheddar Gorge: Sport Climbing

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Cheddar Gorge is one of England’s most iconic and spectacular landscapes. Created by Ice Age melt-waters over millions of years, Britain’s biggest gorge is three miles long with cliffs rising up 138m. This world famous beauty spot, with its weathered crags and pinnacles, is not only a popular climbing destination, but also a National Nature Reserve and the location of many prehistoric sites. The Gorge’s popularity stems from its diverse range of pitches: safe trad, scary trad, powerful sport, pleasant sport, simple single pitch cragging, 5 pitch epics, and even a spot of bouldering for the keen. However, these days most are attracted to the easy access single pitch sport routes that frame the meandering road.

Before I get carried away, I’m the first to admit that an initial visit to Cheddar may be something of an anti-climax. Whilst impressive, the big walls don’t actually seem to offer so many proud, aesthetic lines. That said, a stereotypical route at cheddar is in many ways comparable to Britain’s Got Talent star, Susan Boyle; whilst not visually striking if you stick with it the quality soon shines through. So with a little perseverance, the unique styles ultimately offer some interesting and often brilliant climbing. So what types of climbing can you expect to encounter? Well, there are seemingly blank walls containing sinker slots, horizontal striations riddled with hidden positive edges, plenty of protruding features providing varied footholds, satisfying jug haul roofs, short bouldery nightmares and the occasional longer overhanging stamina fest. On the whole, routes can be quite cruxy, suiting those with strong fingers and good power endurance. Those are some of the styles but what about angles and grades? Again, you can find just about everything. Unusually, the grades start as low as f4’s, with f6’s being by far the most abundant grade and the routes carry through to the f8’s. Bristol’s strong dark horse, Chris Savage, established the hardest routes on offer, culminating in two 8cs.

With over 15 sectors in the gorge use the table below to choose the ideal sport crag for you.

Crag Grade Range Comments
Remnant (north side) 7a+ to 8c The best crag for harder routes with the highest concentration of 8’s in the gorge. Afternoon shade, dry in light rain. 8 minute walk in.
Lions Rock (north side) 7b+ to 8a+ Some of the best lines on the north side. Host to several classics in the high 7s and low 8s. Open and exposed. 5minute walk in.
The Wave and Tsunami (north side) 6a to 8a Wide grade range with many popular 6s and 7s. Short and bouldery with routes from 8 to 12m high. 2min walk in.
Stepped wall, Overshoot Wall & Arch Rock (north side) 4 to 7a Popular roadside crag with many routes in the low grades. Can get busy, polished some good routes but choose wisely.
Pride Evans Locker (north side) 6c to 8a Steep climbing, only a few routes but most of them are classic. Best for those climbing in the mid 7s. Good place when it’s hot. 3min walk in.
Sunset Wall (south side) 7a to 8a Multi Pitch classics in a great position. Birds of paradise 7a+ and Paradise Lost 7b/+ are arguably the best routes on the gorge. A must for those capable of trying. 3min walk in.
Spacehunter (south side) 7b+ to 8a Single pitch climbing high above the road. Intimidating and exposed climbing on the best rock in the gorge. Unfortunately the steep wall means it only suitable for the hardcore with 7b+ being the warm ups. 30minute walk in.
Ginsberg Wall (south side) 7a to 7c+ Roadside cragging, a handful of good quality routes in the 7s. A good place to project something.

To get you started my recommendations would be: The Numb Ones (6b+) Tied in Knots (6c) Raw Deal (7a), It’s a kind of Magic (7a+/b), House is Burning Down (7b+), Return of the Gunfighter (7c), Draggin’ Along (7c+), Day Called Zero (8a), Shadow Walker (8a+) and Galatica (8b).

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Conditions and Access

Cheddar is ideal for varying weather conditions, offering crags at all aspects. You can seek sun, shade or shelter making it a year round crag. Most routes at steep sectors such as Lion Rock, Remnant and Pride Evans Cave can stay dry during light rain; nevertheless, it is not a wet weather venue. After rain it’s always worth taking a drive up the gorge as some sectors can dry pretty quickly and only seep after very heavy and/or prolonged rain. The webcams around junction 20 of the M5 can be a useful tool if in doubt (click here). Nearby, Brean Down is a reliable back up for Cheddar if you arrive to find your projects sodden.

Access is a hot topic when climbing in Cheddar, with several strict, yet simple rules in place: more details are here and here. Put simply, to prevent further access issues and keep climbing open in the Cheddar Gorge you:

  • Are required to have third party liability insurance in case they cause injury or damage property. This often comes with being a BMC member or part of a climbing club.
  • Must abide by the restriction on the south side and check the BMC access database
  • Should only park in the long-stay visitor car parks.

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Equipment

For the sport routes standard British sport gear really: ten quickdraws and a 50m rope will be sufficient to see you up all the routes. Rope bags are useful as it can be a bit mucky/dusty at the base of crags. The routes are generously bolted so clip-sticks are not a necessity, but those wishing to push their grade may want to pack a clip-stick (available here). Martin Crocker’s comprehensive guide book is the most up to date and can be purchased from the great guys at Dick’s Climbing for £15. This is full of clear easy to use photo topos for both the sport and traditional routes. A stiffer pair of rock boots and a good dose of finger strength, will also be sure to come in handy when utilising the many small edges and pockets. Finally, take some change – required for the parking (£5).

Directions

From London, the North, South West and Wales, you join the M5 – exit at junction 22. Take A38 north for roughly 7 miles following brown tourist signs for Cheddar. Cheddar Gorge lies north east of cheddar village astride the B3135. If using a SAT-NAV, key in BS27 3QF. Various parking options are available along the gorge depending on which sector you intend on visiting.