Thursday, 13 August 2015

Destination: Rock climbing at Harrison’s Rocks

Harrison's Rocks
I’m strapped into a harness clinging onto the side of a rock face like a barnacle stuck to the hull of a boat. One piece of rope, my trusty belayer and my adrenaline-fuelled muscles are all that are keeping me from falling to certain death. (Ok maybe just a broken leg or two – I’m only a couple of metres off the ground after all, but I might as well be hanging off the top of the Eiffel Tower).

With quivering muscles, my body contorted in ways a Russian gymnast would be proud of and my feet precariously close to slipping, I attempt to reach for a higher hand grip, avoiding the sight beneath me. I make it, just, and with superhuman effort I unglamorously launch myself onto the ledge and heave myself up. Still vainly clinging to the rock, I suck breath into my lungs, internally rejoicing at practically completing a grade 2b climb.

A 2b climb is about as easy as it gets in the world of outdoor rock climbing. It’s probably not even worthy of boasting about. But, hey, when you’re new to the sport every baby step counts.

Wearing my new Sherpa baselayer from Snow + Rock
We are at Harrison’s Rocks, a cluster of cretaceous-era sandstone crags in East Sussex nestled in woodland. Like sentries that face the setting sun, this pockmarked rock face, resembling a row of pancake stacks, is a popular spot for rock climbers. There are about 380 short climbs here that range in difficulty. I watch enviously as a toned Spanish girl in Lycra effortlessly hangs several metres off the ground of a grade 5 or 6 climb, and then, with the ease of a ballet dancer, fluidly glides further up the rock face.

I stretch my weary muscles, feeling my toes throb, constricted by the almost vacuum-packed climbing shoes – an essential for climbing but neither fashionable nor comfortable. We pack up our bags and metres of rope and move on (or rather hobble) to the next easy climb; another 2b. While my partner sets up the ropes, a tourist steam train choo-choos past at the bottom of the field, bellowing great puffs of white smoke like an old man smoking a pipe. I channel my inner spiderman and attack the wall with gusto.

Before long the sun starts to sink lower in the sky. I’ve clocked up three climbs. I pop on my new Sherpa baselayer (thanks Snow + Rock for the voucher I won!) to ward off the chills. We have time to squeeze in one more climb then it’s off to the pub for steak and ale pie and a generous helping of hot chips.

How to do it:

Activity: Top rope rock climbing and bouldering. No lead climbing allowed because of the friable sandstone. You will need your own kit. Also a lovely area for country walks.
Difficulty: A range of grades, for beginners all the way through to the more advanced.
Getting there: Driving is generally best, with parking and campsite at the rocks, which are located about 1.5km south of Groombridge. Drive past the old station on the left. Take the right fork; 200m further turn right again down a narrow lane signposted “Birchden Wood and Harrisons Rocks   
  
Thanks to Granulated (Andy) for the expert photo taking

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