The Cheddar Gorge is one of Somerset’s most spectacular tourist destinations with its towering precipitous walls and cathedral-like ambience attracting half a million visitors in 100,000 cars per year. It is also a fantastic and adventurous place to climb and the BMC’s partnership work is vital to ensure that tourism and climbing safely co-exist.
Q. Why does conflict arise?
A. The road is directly beneath some of the buttresses and sections of thinly bedded rock. Some of the routes do have the occasional loose hold and the owners are therefore concerned with public safety issues.
Q. Which means?
A. The owners (Cheddar Caves and Gorge) currently insist on a seasonal access restriction to most of the cliffs during the summer months – when the highest numbers of tourists are encountered. As a result climbing is currently only allowed from 1st October until 15th March. The cliffs on the north side of the gorge are owned by the National Trust. They are on open access land as designated by CRoW, and restrictions for public safety have been reviewed and agreed between the BMC and the National Trust. Access routes and restrictions in the gorge are quite complex - please see individual crag entries in the BMC Regional Access Database for definitive details.
Q. What is the Cheddar Gorge Climbing Project?
A. This was a BMC funded project to rejuvenate a large number of climbs and improve public safety. The marathon effort was undertaken by Martin Crocker who, in partnership with Cheddar Caves and Gorge, removed a significant amount of loose rock and ivy, and replaced much of the aging fixed equipment.
Q. Any chance of summer access?
A. This was the main thrust of the Cheddar Project. With Martin’s work and the huge on-going land management and conservation program instigated by Cheddar Caves and Gorge (including loose rock scaling and rock/gully catch fences) it’s now the BMC’s belief that a permanent “most-of-the-year” extension to the climbing regime is achievable without compromising public safety.
Q. Tell me more
A. Well, the project has built upon a historical foundation of responsible climbing and understanding between climbers and the landowners by specifically enhancing the quality of the finest - and most popular - climbs above the rock-catch fencing. As such we feel that even with the projected increase in popularity, summer climbing would have less safety implications than the current winter-only regime. A greater diversity of routes would be climbed more frequently and any unstable rock reported to Martin – this could then be dealt with when the gorge is quiet.
Q. So what’s next?
A. Local climbers demonstrated their support for a summer access regime when over a hundred turned up for a presentation to the landowners during a BMC SW area committee in 2005. It is the BMC’s understanding that the supporting reports have been subject to legal scrutiny by the landowners, and it is hoped they will make a decision soon.
Q. Anything else?
A. Yep. Despite some areas having sport routes all the cliffs should be treated as trad venues. Loose rock is a possibility so consider wearing a helmet and be careful where you sit beneath the routes.
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