In Limbo in Bristol – Dave Mahon

Brian Mead had his heart set on doing the classic Debauchery at High Tor but the weather dictated where to go – Bristol. I have always been put off by tales of road noise and poor protection but Brian raved about a buttress of natural limestone so I thought I would give it a go.

Getting Brian up early to avoid the mid-week traffic, it took a surprisingly short 2½ hours on the M25/M4. Adjacent to the Avon, I pulled abruptly off the A4 to park the car almost under the Clifton Suspension Bridge in a tiny space in front of a rusty locked gate. That’s urban crags for you, I suppose. We were heading for a classic face under the bridge that is atypically un-quarried. The approach to Suspension Bridge Buttress was oddly exciting – scaling up wire fences and walls designed to keep people out! To make things worse the council had cut a useful in-situ rope but it didn’t put us off.

The rock is fantastic. I had never used so many bomber threads before – very confidence inspiring. I led Suspension Bridge Arête (30m HVS 5a) which was a lovely warm up and much recommended. We then got stuck into the E1s. Brian led Baby Duck (30m E1 5b) which was straight forward and with good gear but a little steep and very pumpy. Although Brian wasn’t far off his technical limit he did it with style so I was inspired to lead Limbo (E1 5b(33m),4b FA Oliver Hill 1966!) This was a watershed moment in my climbing career – my first extreme! After an easy traverse it got very steep very quickly up to a peg (probably not the one Oliver originally placed). Intricate face climbing ensued with little gear but I was tired after faffing about earlier on. Well above gear I was getting tired and calculated I couldn’t make it to easy ground. I then down climbed the 5b moves with a sense of urgency before coming off – another first!. Luckily the peg held. After the excitement (and a few rests!), I eventually made it. Not a clean ascent but I got to the top! Brian then had a crack at Earl of Perth (E1 5b FA Ed Drummond) but struggled with the crux and backed off. We wound down with the classic Hell Gates (HVS 5a, 5a, 4b). I led steeply straight up to a cave (better then going right) where I brought up Brian and signed the book. After the stiffer second pitch (exciting start – well done Brian!) I led a lovely 4b traverse to the convenient bomber abseil.

This crag is well worth visiting with easy abseils from the top of each climb and an interested audience from the bridge! The road is a little noisy but the climbing is so absorbing you only notice it when you are eating your sandwiches. Have a go!