Avon has a glittering array of high-quality routes from the middle grades upwards. Often overlooked amongst these gems is one much favoured by the locals – Unknown Wall – to be found at – Unknown Wall. It’s most easily seen when approaching Sea Walls by car from the M5 – at one moment it towers mysteriously above the trees, and the next it is gone before your eye can quite trace its appealing lines through the overhangs.
Zoom in to the top of Sea Walls from Google Earth and just behind the ice-cream van you can see a worn groove in the vegetation. That’s the top of the route, so hop over the sturdy fence, construct a multi-sling abseil point and off you go – the belay can just about be reached on 50m ropes. Bear in mind that Avon’s limestone planes are tilted at about 10 degrees and so your abseil must go left, left, and at first this is OK as the groove helps you but do sling a friend now and again to keep your line – a few years ago a friend lost their it on the diagonal abseil and ended up in the half-height hanging bramble forest more than a little scratched. Belay just below the small hawthorn in an obvious recess.
Many happy club nights have been spent on this route; traditionally it was the last evening climb we did before the end of the season and we have had ten on the route climbing simultaneously. One great thing about it is that it stays dry in the rain until the very last move, but which time getting a little damp doesn’t matter. In my book its best climbed as two pitches. The first goes easily initially and then you become committed to the well defined groove.
At the top of the initial groove comes the first memorable moment as you grapple with the unexpected bulge. A minority view here is to go left on a finger-toe traverse and then back up right on unprotected moves to the belay – this is also the way for the HVS variant. I think it is more exciting to get to grips with the pesky in-your-face bulge then step up and right onto the protruding arête – stylishly please. The belay ledge is at the foot of a slabby groove and usually sports 3 pegs. Room for 6 at a pinch.
Once February night we came to practise for Alpine climbing. Curiously some people had gathered around a broken pallet very close to our belay. They said, ‘We’re Zoroastrians about to celebrate our New Year.’ We said ‘Would you mind moving your bonfire away from our ropes.’ No problem there. So twenty minutes later I was down on the face trying to figure the bulge out when the first fireworks went off. I swear I was nearly hit by an off-course rocket; the noise was incredible – it felt like being in the trenches.
The second pitch takes you rightwards up the slabby corner towards a large roof. Be kind to your second – don’t climb to the roof and put a runner in there. Memorable part 2 starts now as you traverse nervously leftwards under the roof with good holds but little gear. Eventually one long stretchy move, come back into balance, breathe again and clip a peg. Now you have to break through the weakness in the overhang.
It was here that a friend tried an exciting approach to the overhang and all was well until his lifetime collection of keys fell out of his pocket and disappeared forever into the vegetation below. His dog was in his car at the top of the crag. His wife was at work. Memorable for the wrong reasons then.
There is a hidden hold that helps you cross the overhang but I’m not telling you where it is. A wide bridging move over awesome depths completes the moves; at this point head for the icecream van. I’m sure you deserve it by now!