Somerset's "HOT SPOrT"
As we head into winter it’s going to start turning impossible to get out routing without dodging seepage lines, getting the torturous hot aches and wearing half your wardrobe to stay warm whilst belaying. Yet, what if I were to tell you of a crag that offers a pleasant day out all through the winter; with sun from dawn until dusk, shelter from the prevailing winds and quick to dry after rain. And all of this comes just ten minutes off the M5! Right: John Corber on the Brean Down classic, 'Pearl Harbour' (7a). © Paul Robertson.
Brean Down is one of the key landmarks of the Somerset coastline - jutting out into the Bristol Channel. It offers two cafes near the beach, a small visitor centre and a superb little limestone cliff all with the added bonus of being just off the M5. Currently it mainly sees the attention of locals seeking a bit of sport climbing action or the occasional one-stop sampler from passing climbers. However, its sport climbs are worthy of greater attention and with Brean’s increasing popularity it should be making it on to the tick list for weekend visitors from further afield, for some first-rate early or late season routing. There are around 30 sports routes on a clean, compact and user friendly cliff face. Most lines vary from 12 to 18 meters long making it a good place to transfer some indoor fitness outside. Brean has a surprisingly good range of routes despite it being a relatively small crag, with the difficulties starting at f6a all the way up to f8b. The main concentration of better routes are between 6c and 8a. Personally, I feel that the grades at Brean tend to be a tad on the easy side compared to other crags in the UK; but hey, this makes it a great place to break through to the next grade or is a nice place to boost your confidence before going on a trip. Being on a compact and accessible cliff, Brean is a great destination for mixed ability groups, getting some mileage in or working on a personal best. Generally the climbing tends to be just off vertical on jugs, crimps, flow stone features and the occasional pocket. Routes tend to be quite cruxy suiting those with strong fingers and good power endurance. More recently locals have been getting creative with some longer link ups, most of which have been recorded on UKclimbing.com.
To get you started my recommendations would be: Brean Dream (6a+), Coral Sea (6c), Pearl Harbour (7a), The roof of Inequity (7a+), Chulilla (7b+), Storm Warning (7c+), Black Snake Moan (8a) and Brean Topping (8b).
Conditions and Access
The sheltered, south-facing aspect means the wall is a real sun trap (if there is any sun around then Brean is likely to get it), so in the warmer months you may wish to avoid sunny days or time your redpoint attempts to follow the shade which arrives around 5.30 onwards. In the depths of winter however, it is the ideal place to head with a chance of climbing… sometimes in a tee-shirt! Most routes can stay dry during light rain; nevertheless, it is not a wet weather venue. After rain it dries pretty quick and only seeps really badly after very heavy and prolonged rain. This also means Brean can be a good back up for Cheddar if you arrive to find your projects sodden. Right: 'Tide Rising' (7b+). © Paul Robertson. The beach approach to Brean is tidal and you will be cut off for two hours either side of high tide. However, you can take a steep path found approximately 50m to the left of the crag (facing the crag with the sea behind you) if you need to escape. It’s a bit of a slog but means your session need not be cut short. The tide also effects climbing on the lower wall (which contains the climbing in the sixes) however the upper wall can be climbed on irrespective of tide height. A word of warning; the tide comes in extremely fast, which is very impressive to watch yet can be troublesome (i.e. don’t leave your kit on the beach or below the bottom wall if the tide is coming in!). Check here for tide times
. Finally, there are no access issues or restrictions on the main crag. However, The National Trust who owns Brean Down asks that climbers avoid the sand claff and the rocks adjacent to it, where archaeological finds have been discovered recently. Although this isn’t near the main sport climbing sector.
Standard British sport gear really: 10 quickdraws and a 60m rope will be sufficient to see you up all the routes. The routes are generously bolted so clip-sticks are not a necessity, but those wishing to push their grade may want to pack a clip-stick (available here
). The crag is well covered in the Rockfax West Country Climbs guidebook. As with nearby crags in South Wales and Cheddar a stiff(ish) pair of rock boots and a good dose of finger strength will come in handy when utilising the many small edges and pockets. I recommend you take more water than you usually would, as it can get surprisingly hot on sunny days. Finally, a top tip for avoiding greasy hands after applying sun cream is to pack an extra sandwich bag (or nicking a plastic gloves from a petrol station) to put over your hands before applying the sun cream.
As previously mentioned, Brean is conveniently situated just off the M5. From Junction 22 on the M5, take the road west a short way to a small roundabout and follow signs for Berrow and Brean. Follow the signs for 10 minutes through various small towns and numerous caravan sites to the end of the road and a National Trust car park. Title image: Claudia Hesleden redpointing 'Coral Sea' (6c). © Matt Cox.