Since lockdown eased on 13 May, the vast majority of climbers around the country have been doing a fantastic job of spreading out and finding less popular crags to visit. But there are a number of hot spots where Covid-19 related access issues have arisen. These areas are worth treating very sensitively or, ideally, avoiding for the time being to prevent access problems in the future.
The BMC access team has written this article to highlight climbing hot spot areas and help climbers make the right decisions to ensure that permissive access isn’t withdrawn, car parks remain open in future and relationships between climbers and local communities remain positive. Think of it as a short-term sacrifice for long-term benefit.
The Regional Access Database (RAD) is still our main resource for crag-based access information, but it's impractical to update every crag with Covid-19 specific advice. We recommend checking RAD and avoiding any crags where there are known access sensitivities, or those within areas highlighted as being currently problematic in this article.
As always, it's up to you to understand particular issues at your target crag, as well as broader local sensitivities. This article is not intended to be exhaustive, rather to highlight key particular issues at the current time.
READ: Government advice on accessing green spaces safely during COVID-19
CHECK: The BMC Regional Access Database
READ: Do you need to change the way you climb?
Portland: its location makes it an obvious target for climbers in London & South East and the South West normally, but especially now only day trips are allowed. However, following large numbers of climbers visiting last weekend, attitudes amongst the local community towards climbers have reportedly taken a negative turn, following poor behaviour by some of those visiting. Bear in mind:
Portland is a small island with one route on and off and visitors are very noticeable to locals. Local residents aren’t overwhelmingly positive about visitors at the best of times and especially concerned right now.
Car parking has always been problematic on the island with relatively few car parks available. It is especially difficult now with many having been blocked off to prevent use during lockdown, and remaining that way post lockdown easing.
Public toilets are closed and the alternative is very likely to cause anger from locals.
Overnighting in campervans is also viewed very dimly at the best of times by local residents, and now overnight trips are not allowed in the Covid-19 legislation any non-local vehicles parked overnight will stand out.
The Isle contains the highest concentration of sport climbing in a small area compared to anywhere in the country and maintaining future access is absolutely crucial. As good as the area is and despite the understandable desire of many climbers to get back, we recommend avoiding Portland in the short term, which could pay dividends in future and prevent access issues erupting which will be difficult to resolve.
Fairy Cave Quarry: the landowner has kept the quarry closed for the time being for both climbers and cavers. Please don’t be tempted to visit – this is only a temporary closure during the Covid-19 crisis and ignoring the landowners wishes now could result in a loss of access in future.
Wintour’s Leap: the recently installed combination lock gate which gave access to Woodcroft Quarry and Fly Wall has been vandalised during lockdown meaning the lock is currently unusable. Until it can be repaired, access through this gate is closed and climbers need to use one of the other approaches. In addition, local residents are concerned about climbers parking in the village, so the best option is to park on Lancaut Lane if there is space and walk in via the ruined chapel. Finally, don’t forget that there are nesting peregrine and raven on Fly Wall this year – make sure you follow the agreed seasonal climbing restrictions.
Shorn Cliff: this crag on the English side of the valley is normally accessed from Tintern Abbey which is located in Wales and so currently not legally accessible. The limited alternative Forestry England parking on the English side is currently barricaded off and no parking is allowed at the entrance to the track by the cottages. The only alternative is the car park a mile further north (OS grid ref ST559993) but it is a small car park and fills quickly.
Wynd Cliff & Wynd Cliff Quarry: are both in Wales where the law doesn’t currently allow travel for exercise or recreation. Locals can access these crags on foot, but travel by car is not currently permitted.
Eridge Rocks: is currently very popular so great care needs to be taken with parking to ensure traffic is not obstructed. In addition, please remember that use of chalk is very sensitive at this crag – please keep it to the bare minimum as large white chalked up holds are not appreciated by the landowner (Sussex Wildlife Trust). Be very careful to avoid the restricted areas of the crag too – full details available on the RAD.
Stone Farm Rocks: another very popular venue currently which is owned by the BMC but where parking can be a problem. Please use the two car parks highlighted on RAD and avoid the very limited parking in the layby closest to the crag which has space for a couple of vehicles at most. Squeezing extra cars into this area is likely to obstruct other traffic and cause problems for local residents.
Harrison’s Rocks: another BMC owned crag, but again recent issues have been parking related. The Forestry England (FE) run Birchden Wood car park has very kindly been made free of charge for the time being by FE, but is only open 8am-8pm with the gate locked outside of those hours, meaning any cars who haven’t left on time will be locked in until the following morning. Please bear these times in mind and ensure you leave the crag with plenty of time to exit before the gate is locked. Most importantly, be polite to FE staff and volunteers who are under a great deal of pressure at the moment and have still opened the car park for public use. Don’t be tempted to park on the verge on nearby roads as this will cause problems with local residents. Bear in mind also that whilst the car park is open, the toilet block and campsite are not.
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Harpur Hill: the quarry has seen large numbers of non-climbing vistors recently, typically to visit the toxic blue lagoon. This has been causing issues in the local area due to crowding and poor paring in the residential areas below the quarry. Although these issues aren't caused by climbers, please avoid the crag for the time being so that negative attention isn't drawn to climbers from local residents, which could impact on future access.
Rowtor Rocks: residents have compained of large numbers of visitors again at this bouldering venue which flares in popularity from time to time. It's unclear if those causing problems are climbers as many non-climbing visitors also frequent the rocks, with some engaing in antisocial behaviour. For now, it is worth considering other venues to let the situation at the crag calm down, and if you do decide to go pay close attention to the advice on RAD.
Harmers Wood: parking is very limited and recently climbers have been parking on the road, concerning local residents who have been very supportive of climbing access and who own and manage the woodland. If the parking spaces are full go elsewhere. One option is to park at Helsby quarry and walk over to Harmers stopping at Long Buttress and the Upper Tier on the way.
Witches Quarry: has permissive but sensitive access so if you can, avoid visiting for now. If you do visit, be extremely careful to follow the access agreement detailed on RAD and keep a very low profile. If people are there already, go to another crag.
Craig y Longridge: this BMC owned crag backs onto a number of residential gardens so be very respectful of local residents if visiting. The site is by nature long and thin so pay close attention to social distancing if visiting when other climbers are present.
In addition to these two crags, it’s worth highlighting a number of others which have historical access issues and are best avoided currently:
With one of the highest infection rates for Covid-19 in the UK, local people and organisations in the Lakes District are understandably apprehensive about a sudden influx of visitors following the easing of lockdown restrictions in England since 13th May. Here's the latest advice.
Gatehouses: boulderers visiting this crag on access land have been forcibly asked to leave by a local gamekeeper soon after lockdown eased. Whilst there is a legal right of access to the crag, it is certainly worth giving it a miss in the next few weeks whilst the local community adjust to the reopening of the countryside and visitors.
Access to many of Northumberland’s prime crags is complicated and reliant on permissive access for the crag itself or the approach. This permissive access could be lost if issues arise from the Covid-19 crisis and a return to the countryside, so these crags are best avoided for the time being to ensure future access is secure:
Kyloe out the Woods
CHECK: The BMC Regional Access Database
READ: Do you need to change the way you climb?
DOWNLOAD: the BMC RAD app
Get all the info on crags with the RAD (Regional Access Database) app from the BMC! Available now for Android and iOS, it's free and comes with a host of new features like navigation and parking, weather and tidal updates, and of course information on restrictions or notes on access advice. Get it here now!
RAD is community led and your comments help keep it up to date so don’t be afraid to add any relevant information after a crag visit which might be useful for other visitors – anything from conditions on the crag, favourite routes or reports of rockfall/other recent changes to the crag are all useful for other climbers visiting.