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A CCESS


P Climbers on the two-pitch Goats R Us also in Pinnacle Bay.


Q Enjoying the final pitch of Stone Cold Fever at Pinnacle Bay.


H


ard and committing were the initial experiences of those climbing in Cheddar. For a start, winter was the only time you could climb there. Cold, damp and windy, it wasn’t long before it became known as ‘The Fridge’. In rare passably dry conditions it was still


arctic, but at least the friction was supposed to be good. On top of that loose rock abounded, often onto visitor’s cars, and ivy advanced relentlessly swallowing up holds and routes. The CRoW Act was passed in 2000 which allowed climbing as a legal right in many areas of open land, regardless of the landowner’s wishes. Climbing on the North side suddenly became an all year round possibility. However, for the moment, the South side still remained out of bounds to climbers.


Six years later, as a result of negotiations with the landowner, Longleat Estate, Martin Crocker and the BMC, the South side of the gorge was opened up to climbers for most of the summer months. The result was a renaissance for climbing in the area – routes were cleaned, lower-offs installed and many new routes bolted, some trad routes were retro-bolted too, and Martin produced a definitive guidebook to the restored climbs. Suddenly Cheddar was a very appealing place to climb and one of the country’s best sport climbing destinations. Naturally, it quickly became very popular. There were some conditions from the landowners attached to their newfound affinity for climbers. Freedom to climb on their property came with complicated restrictions based around the safety of visitors to the Gorge during the busiest times of the year. It was made clear that failure to adhere to the agreement could result in climbing being forbidden. In addition, fearing expensive legal action should climbers injure visitors through rock fall or even dropping gear, they insisted that all climbers should carry


34 | CLIMB. WALK. JOIN.


civil liability insurance. Initially, all went well. Most climbers adhered to the restrictions


and as a thank you, Cheddar Caves and Gorge management hosted two climbing festivals in midsummer, even allowing for summer ascents of Coronation Street. Things started going wrong in 2012 when more climbers were ignoring the restrictions and climbing as they pleased. Worse still, a few people were rude to the Caves staff and some were actually abusive. Relations took a turn for the worse and the very real threat of a total ban on climbing on the South side of the gorge loomed.


Suddenly Cheddar was a very appealing place to climb and one of the country’s best sport climbing destination.


The loss of access would have been a disaster for the climbing community. So the BMC, Martin Crocker and the then Director of the Show Caves (Hugh Cornwell) got together to work out a solution. It centred on the BMC fielding a Warden contracted to talk to climbers during the critical times for access, making sure of their insurance compliance and asking any climbing without it, or climbing in out-of-season areas to “cross the road”. It worked well and, along with a take up of self-policing, with many climbers showing a willingness to talk to others climbing at the wrong time or place, the number of breaches fell dramatically. The pressure


PHOTO: IAN BUTTERWORTH


PHOTO: IAN BUTTERWORTH


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