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The distinctive red limestone on the northern face of Split Rock
The distinctive red limestone on the northern face of Split Rock

The Rock

Getting your head around the geological timescale is baffling but having a grasp of when, as well as how, the rocks we climb on were formed adds a fascinating historical dimension. Though today’s landscape was shaped by ice, rivers and sea within the last two million years (i.e. the very recent past), the rock themselves are far, far older.

Limestone in the caves of Wookey Hole
Limestone in the caves of Wookey Hole

Split Rock Quarry is made of Carboniferous Limestone. This is the same rock that forms the larger part of the Mendip Hills, producing other notable features such as Wookey Hole (just next door), Cheddar Gorge, Burrington Combe and the Avon Gorge. The Mendips have a rich industrial mining history and there are many old sites across the area that are now nature reserves, as well as large active sites still operating. Areas of Carboniferous Limestone can also be found elsewhere in the UK, including much of the south Wales coast and Pembrokeshire (a top destination for climbers).


Limestone is a member of the calcium carbonate family that also includes chalk, dolomite and marble. It’s a sedimentary rock formed from the remains of billions of tiny shells and skeletons of microscopic animals. Limestone is composed mostly of the minerals calcite and aragonite and was formed in Britain between 363 and 325 million years ago. To give some context, the earths continents were still part of one large landmass (Pangea) and the dinosaurs were still a few tens of millions of years away! During this time many of the planets coal-beds were also forming, leading to this era being called the "Carboniferous" period (Latin for "coal-bearing") and hence the term "Carboniferous Limestone" today.


Limestone can vary massively in its appearance around the world, but is commonly white to grey in colour. Limestone that is unusually rich in organic matter can be almost black in colour, while traces of iron or manganese can give limestone an off-white to yellow to red colour. These traces are likely what has produced the stunning deep red rock on the northern wall at Split Rock.


Despite varying in its appearance, limestone is a favourite type of rock for many climbers. Neat and effective footwork helps enormously on limestone, with the handholds and footholds often being small but very reliable. These small crimpy-features can lead to a lot of pressure on the hands and fingers which makes some routes very punishing. But fear not! We have a selection of beginner routes at Split Rock that can get you a taste of outdoor climbing without pushing too hard.

Beginner friendly outdoor climbing!

History of Split Rock

The main quarrying area at Split Rock (known as Underwood Quarry) was opened during the First World War by the Wells Stone Company, who leased the land from Lord Brougham and Vaux.


In 1919 the 12 acre site and plant was sub-leased by the Somerset County Council to support their road building and maintenance activities, paying a royalty to Wells Stone for the rock extracted. Over the next century the quarry was a busy site as the council expanded its presence in the area, opening a railway siding to the Cheddar Valley railway and producing over 300,000 tons of limestone. By the 1950s a precast concrete plant was opened on the site to provide work for when conditions were too wet to work on the quarry face. By the 1970s the quarry was producing a quarter of a million tons per year.


The main quarry face

The site was also the home to the councils Central Repair Depot, which was responsible for the repair of the councils fleet of vehicles. Initially this was steam rollers and steam wagons, but by 1950 the fleet included 371 highways vehicles, 249 fire brigade vehicles, 75 school meals vans and 70 ambulances. After the quarry closed, Thales UK operated a radar signature measurement range for the evaluation of radar signatures of large targets. The range was described as 200 metres wide and 50 metres deep and offered very low external electrical noise interference levels.


Limestone has numerous uses: as a building material, an essential component of concrete (Portland cement), as aggregate for the base of roads, as white pigment or filler in products such as toothpaste or paints, as a chemical feedstock for the production of lime, as a soil conditioner, and as a popular decorative addition to rock gardens. Many local buildings and buildings in the wider area utilised limestone in their construction.


Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underwood_Quarry


https://u3asites.org.uk/wells/page/77331


https://www2.bgs.ac.uk/mendips/rocks/lowerC_rocks.htm


https://www2.bgs.ac.uk/mendips/aggregates/history/limeburning.html


http://www.libbypeterclimbing.co.uk/rocktypepdfs/limestone.pdf

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  • Matt

As I'm writing this I'm looking out at a cold and rainy October day, summer is definitely becoming a distant memory. So what have we been up to?


It has certainly been hectic and a rollercoaster of a year. Back in April, the ever-changing COVID regulations threatened to impact all aspects of our business. However, it has been possible to run (almost) as normal and we have had many customers out over summer who've really enjoyed getting outdoors.

 

Our main focus has been on our climbing sessions, which we've run at Split Rock Quarry. We've had a whole range of customers up the wall, aged from under 10 to over 60! Safe to say our policy of "Smiles Guaranteed" is still in place and doing well. We've already started adding available dates for next year so come take a look if you want to get involved.


We've also launched our second experience this summer, our Get Lost Navigation sessions. Our first session was a huge success and we're very excited to get more people involved with this. If you enjoy escape-room type experiences or want to brush up on your outdoor skills in a fun way then check out our available dates!


Finally, we finished off the season with a totally unexpected opportunity, working with a film crew to produce a TV segment! We had the chance to meet the inspiring Carmela and got her down our 40ft abseil for the Who Cares Wins awards on Channel 4. With a little help from her celebrity idol Lilly Aspell she absolutely smashed it! This was a pleasure to be a part of and kept us smiling for long afterwards.


Safe to say it has been a busy and exciting season for us, we are now busy making plans for next year to be even better. Hope to see you then!



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  • Chris

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

Welcome Welcome Welcome...


 

Firstly, hello and welcome to our company.


I hope you have enjoyed your time at home over these past months but I assume like me you are all itching to get out and get mingling with family, friends or meeting new people.

We all know that hugs aren't quite allowed yet but when they are..... my word will my friends be getting the longest hugs of their lives.


I want to welcome you to our new business and bring forward an idea of something new and exciting. I've been working in the outdoor industry for many years now and a good percentage of that has been with young people, however, I have seen a great increase of adults taking up the outdoor activities (I'm sure this is down to envy that kids get all the fun). So we have based our idea around getting you big kids involved.


Let's talk about climbing for a second. This sport has been ever-growing and developing into something just incredible. When I first started climbing there was merely a handful of climbing centres dotted around the UK, now we are looking at just over 400 Walls in the UK alone. Climbing is also due to appear in the Olympics for the first time this year!

As you can tell one of our main activities we will be providing is Climbing and Abseiling. But,

not only will we be providing you with an activity that's definitely going to rock your socks. But we are also offering you, the participant, to have your own personal Photoshoot on a rock face.


Literally hanging out with a Photographer.



 

That's not all we do.


We are going to be launching a brand new product later this year to encourage the navigation naysayers into getting their brains in gear, as a team, to get themselves out of a sticky situation.

Our aim... get you lost.

"Woah... Drastic.." I hear you say

We feel the days of teaching navigation the old fashioned way are outdated.

Getting you lost to start with is a fun way of discovering the skills you have already. Clients will meet at an undisclosed meeting point with an instructor who will provide them with clues and hints. From this point, it's up to them to get themselves into a position where they know where they are.

The instructor will be assessing their skills along the way and spot the weaknesses amongst individuals. Guiding them on how to progress and give them the skills to fill the gaps.


Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed this welcome article and please have a browse of our site and available dates for your own Adventure. We look forward to seeing you outside soon!



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