We always said, when we started climbing, that we would learn with the intention of taking it outside, and while we love our trips to The Biscuit Factory, the move into Spring over the past couple of weeks has really had me itching to venture out into the wild.
Until now, the idea of climbing outside has been more of a vague notion than an idea with real strategy. I’d assumed that we would need to sign up for a course over a weekend somewhere miles from London and, what with one thing or another, I wasn’t sure when my time and finances would align sufficiently to allow me a weekend away. That was, however, until I met Hus.
Hus and I started climbing together by accident rather than design. I was stuck halfway up a wall considering giving up when I heard an encouraging voice directing me from the ground below. A few helpful instructions later and I’d managed to complete the climb. It turned out that this disembodied voice actually belonged to a rather lovely climbing instructor who subsequently, very kindly, took me under his wing. After only a few climbs together I had noticed a marked improvement in my technique and had stepped up the level of routes I was doing. A couple of months on, my confidence has increased infinitely and I have finally overcome the plateau of The Biscuit Factory blue route (not to mention becoming well versed in all manner of climbing lingo!).
Hus is a partner at Kent and Sussex Climbing, based a short drive from Tunbridge Wells in the beautiful Kent countryside. Having mentioned to him our aspirations take our climbing outside, he offered my climbing partner Sandra and I an afternoon of tuition at Harrison’s rocks in Groombridge. Of course we jumped at the chance and finally, on Saturday, we made our climbing début in the great outdoors.
It was an absolutely perfect day for it with beautiful sunshine and clear blue skies. Sandra and I took the short train journey from Charing Cross to Tunbridge Wells, complete with train picnic, to set us up for an afternoon of climbing.
Harrison’s is just a 7 minute drive from the station and is beyond beautiful. In the sun the sandstone was golden and the scenery picturesque. Even if you’re not a climber I’d recommend going there just for a country stroll.
We began our tuition practicing smearing (using the friction from your climbing shoe to stand up on in the absence of a foot hole), as well as using harnesses, practicing knots (we used the bowline rather than the more commonly used figure of eight knot) and belaying. Then it was time to start climbing.
Climbing outside is a completely different beast from climbing inside. For one, there are no big coloured handholds shouting ‘use me!’ so you have to find your own way. You have to look at your feet more, to check your positioning and you have to trust your judgement that bit more. The sandstone was just drying out from the winter, so it was quite slippery in parts and we had to keep cleaning our shoes, wiping them on the insides of our legs (or, occasionally on Hus’s jumper when he was being kind and cleaning our shoes for us!) to prevent slipping. I also found that, at points when indoors I might have given up and jumped down, or else used a stray handhold, I was forced to keep going and actually discovered that I was stronger than I had thought I was. Moreover, topping-out at the end of each climb was so much more satisfying than completing a route indoors, only to have to sheepishly climb down.
Hus was a great instructor, giving us a good mix of routes of differing difficulties and requiring different techniques. I surprised myself with how little of The Fear I experienced, distracted instead by excitement at the task in hand and reassured by my harness and Sandra’s expert belaying! We flashed a number of the routes (that is, completed them first time, not actually flashed, which would have been inappropriate all round!) and my only fall was close to the end and, luckily, close to the ground. By the end of the day we were exhausted and definitely ready for a pint and delicious (vegan) supper at The Junction Inn not far from the rocks.
I’ve got the bug for outdoor climbing now and can’t wait for my next trip! Kent and Sussex Climbing do afternoon , day and weekend courses for adults as well as tuition and parties for children. I’m just looking forward to my nephew to be old enough to take him out too!