Avonderful Cycling Tour
Written by Jono Hawkins on 19 Aug 2016
A year and 2 weeks ago, I attempted a ‘Southern Sandstone Cycle Tour’ which you can read about here. It must be something in the air during mid-August every year that compels me to do some kind of cycling and climbing challenge… so here it is!
Dave and I had agreed upon the weekend of the 13th-14th in advance as the right time for a ‘microadventure’, but it wasn’t until Thursday evening that a rough plan began to form. Knowing that we wanted to do something that involved cycling and climbing, our options were either to cycle up to the Wye Valley or to use Martin Crocker’s Avon guidebook as the basis for a tour of the Avon crags.
With the Wye Valley seeming much further away than most of Somerset, and questioning whether cycling the 45 mile round trip with climbing gear would be worth it, we decided to go for Crocker’s Cycle tour. We met on Friday evening to sort kit for the next day; this mainly consisted of jettisoning lots of our respective racks until we had something almost ‘alpine’ and discussing how on earth you dress for a day of cycling and climbing - meeting the requirements for each somewhere in the middle. The next morning, bright and early at 7:30am, I met Dave outside his flat. We made our way out of Bristol through Ashton Court where the Balloon Fiesta was in full swing. It seemed odd that this many people were not just awake but in what was essentially a large fairground so early in the morning. As we pedalled our way through Long Ashton, with a minor detour via a housing estate, it wasn’t too long before we were at the first crag of the day – Bourton Combe.
If you haven’t heard of Bourton Combe, there’s a good reason for it. With only a handful of routes, none taller than 10m and mostly boulder problems, the crag spans for just 20 metres and it is understandably not a popular venue. However, it was in Martin Crocker’s guidebook and therefore our first stop. We were surprised to find out that when we arrived we weren’t alone and walked up to the crag with a dusty grey dog trying desperately to get to the bacon sandwiches in Dave’s rucksack. At the top of the path was another climber who was training on the boulder problems, interspersed with runs. The easiest line on the crag was a sport route at F6b+ (not F5a as the guidebook and UKC had suggested) due to the vegetation that had begun to manifest itself in the crags. I made my way slowly but steadily up ‘Flax Factor’ and lowered off. Wanting to crack on with the rest of the day, and knowing there were still 4 crags and 40 miles to go, we made our way back to our bikes and cycled down the main road to Goblin Combe in Cleeve.
As a crag that most UBESters on the climbing scene have been to, we weren’t unfamiliar with the layout and wasted no time in heading up to Gondolin (VS 4b) for Dave’s lead. In almost no time at all, Dave was at the top and I was on belay. Gondolin probably deserves more than the one star that it gets and involves some quite strenuous climbing… It was at this point it began to dawn to on us that cycling with all the stuff we needed to climb (about an extra 10kg between us) was going to leave us exhausted at the end of that day!
Pushing on from Goblin was one of the more tricky navigational sections of the cycling but thanks to Google Maps and a stem-mounted phone case we picked our way through country lanes and Nailsea towards Clevedon. We had decided to avoid the climbing at Clevedon (Layde Bay) after reading the comments left on UKC – grades seemed to be arbitrarily given to boulder problems that were possible to protect but for little reason. However, with the sun shining after a morning of overcast skies and drizzle, the sea wall at Clevedon made a good lunch spot and I think we were both glad for the boost of energy.
Still having only climbed at two of the day’s five crags, it felt like progress was slow and it was going to be a long day. The route between Clevedon and Portishead Quarry was straightforward and we actually cycled past the quarry’s understated rusting iron entrance. Dragging our bikes up a small footpath we were met with the full glare of the sun as we stepped into the quarry, with the main climbing crag obvious at the far end. It was my lead and I chose to tackle one of the easier lines on the face (Pharos, HS 4b), conscious that time was pressing on. Dave and I raced up this and after abseiling back down we made our way onto the Sustrans route that would take us across the River Avon and back into Bristol.
Following a much needed water stop at a corner shop in Avonmouth, our next crag was the Trym Valley Gorge. Situated in the grounds of Blaise Castle, the small gorge was beautiful in the afternoon sunlight and the shade what the canopy of trees at its base provided was welcome. There are several different crags within the Gorge to choose from, but finding the right one proved difficult and we spent a lot of our efforts on this before actually getting climb. Credit here has to go to Dave for the ballsy lead he made up the questionable line of Elephant’s Eye (VS 4c). With no decent position to belay from the top or bottom this wasn’t the penultimate climb of the day that we were expecting. Fuelling up on the bottom with the remainder of chocolate that I had left, we were ready for one final push up to the Avon Gorge for our last climb of the day. Fortunately, Trym Valley finishes just below Combe Dingle and from here it was trivial to find our way to the top of Sea Walls. We locked up our bikes and walked down to the bottom of The Arête. With the sun slowly making its way behind Leigh Woods, we opted to move together up easy ground to complete our challenge. Having climbed the Arête we swapped leads and Dave led us to top out via Bob’s Climb.
We had completed our challenge in just over 12 hours and felt chuffed. It was great to have spent the day outdoors in (mostly) beautiful weather all across Avon, exploring crags that we might not go to otherwise (and probably won’t again!). Cycling between the areas and using Martin’s guidebook at each made the effort that is poured into the creation of climbing guidebooks really shine through and the sheer number of first ascents that have been clocked up by Mr Crocker alone was something to be in awe of. There is something satisfying about having completed a journey completely under your own manpower, especially when combining climbing with this too, and while it’s not something for every weekend it will certainly make me think twice the next time I opt to drive or catch the bus down to Goblin Combe for a day!