Cheddar climbing: at risk from thoughtless climbers?

Posted by Rob Dyer on 14/05/2014
Cheddar Gorge climbing: under threat. Photo: www.cheddargorge.co.uk

Bad news from Cheddar Gorge: a number of climbers have recently been caught climbing in areas outside of the access agreement, or climbing without third-party liability insurance. Thanks to the actions of a few, Cheddar’s future as a climbing destination could be in doubt.

“The lead climber claimed she didn't realise it was a bank holiday and that she'd forgotten her guidebook (so she didn’t know about the access arrangements) but was later seen carrying it.” This forgetful-sounding climber caused one of six access violations already recorded by Cheddar Caves & Gorge (CC&G) staff during 2014.

Cheddar is unique in the fact that many of the crags are directly above a busy road which forms part of a major tourist attraction in the area. Unlike many crags, where a dropped piece of gear or rock is fairly unlikely to have any impact on a member of the public, in Cheddar it has far greater potential to injure a visitor or damage a car.

For this reason, there is an access agreement which has been running for many years: splitting the year into three seasons according to the numbers of visitors to the gorge.  During the busiest periods, all crags on the south side are closed, during the moderately busy periods only the restored routes (which have been cleared of loose rock as far as possible) on the south side are open, and during quiet periods all routes are open.

Climbers using the crags on CC&G land also need to have evidence of £10million of third-party liability cover, in case they damage property or cause injury to a member of the public. This comes as standard with BMC/MCofS membership (or other insurance can be arranged) and evidence must be carried.

This year, there have once again been number of recent incidences of climbers using areas outside of the access agreement or climbing without appropriate third-party liability insurance. This has resulted in Cheddar Caves & Gorge (CC&G) staff having to ask them to leave and sometimes being met with fairly aggressive attitudes.

Martin Crocker (who carries out a number of days of climbing wardening in the gorge each year as part of the BMC’s agreement with CC&G) checks insurance of any climbers he meets. The number of uninsured climbers is now 1 in 5 – a figure which is starting to be noticed by CC&G.

Whether these incidences were the result of a genuine mistake, or more of an intentional ‘let’s chance it’ attitude, they are all being noted by CC&G. Each incidence (particularly those that result in climbers being antagonistic) is eroding the good relationship that climbers enjoy with the landowner.

Here are some of the recent reports of infringements received from CC&G staff and Cheddar climbing warden Martin Crocker:

23/03/14: Two climbers found climbing on the south side of the Gorge without appropriate insurance.

17/04/14: Two climbers found abseiling down Pinnacle Bay (winter only), via a chossy ivy-covered line and dislodging blocks.

18/04/14: Three climbers on Reservoir Walls were intercepted before they started climbing.  They had a guidebook, and apologised sincerely for not checking. A group of climbers were also approached after parking in the private staff car park and were very unapologetic, refusing to move their cars.

03/05/14: Two climbers reported climbing on Pinnacle Bay walls (winter only).

05/05/14: CC&G staff asked three climbers to move from Ginsberg Wall. The lead climber claimed she didn't realise it was a bank holiday and that she'd forgotten her guidebook, but was later seen carrying it. Unsurprisingly, CC&G staff weren’t very impressed.

06/05/14: CC&G staff intercepted a team of three about to start up Coronation Street during the restricted season. One of the team was argumentative and they were carrying guidebooks (which contain all the info) so should have known better.

How do I find out about the access arrangements?

Full details are available on the freely downloadable Cheddar Access Calendar or in the new photo guide to the gorge, available in a number of shops in Cheddar village as well as elsewhere.

View Cheddar information in our RAD database: (south side and north side)

Download the RAD app

The current access agreement is a reasonable compromise, allowing climbers access to the south side crags when it is safe to do so. The National Trust land which takes in many, but not all crags on the north side of the gorge is designated as Open Access under the CRoW Act which means climbers are able to access these crags year round.

The remaining crags however are on land privately owned by CC&G, which is not designated as Open Access with no legal right for climbers to be there. CC&G kindly allow permissive access in line with the access agreement, but if the situation continues of climbers ignoring this agreement by using south side crags at times when they shouldn’t be, not carrying suitable third-party liability insurance and/or being rude and aggressive to CC&G staff, that permission may be withdrawn.

What about the parking?

Parking is another hot topic in the gorge and climbers are frequently approaching Lion Rock direct from the private car park opposite Cheddar Caves's offices. A few climbers are also amongst the visitors who are parking and leaving their vehicles in the new short stay (45 minutes maximum) Costa customer car park.

With Cheddar Caves' staff working opposite, it is impossible for climbers who choose to short cut the hard-won arrangements in this way to go unnoticed and it is really annoying the CC&G and Costa staff. Climbers should only park in the normal, long-stay visitor parking areas. Trying to avoid paying for parking in these is having a further negative impact on our relationship with CC&G.

Help us keep Cheddar open

It’s up to us as climbers to get our house in order. As with all these situations, it’s only a small minority who are letting the majority down, but they are being noticed and making a bad name for the climbing community as a whole. The BMC can negotiate access, but if climbers continue ignore the simple agreements made, access could be lost to the south side of Cheddar permanently.

The solution is simple, before heading to Cheddar:

  • Make sure you’re insured
  • Check the access calendar to make sure where you want to go is open for climbing
  • Only park in the long-stay visitor car parks
  • Be friendly to any CC&G staff you talk to
  • If you see climbers in an area out of season, let them know

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