My kids can shoot a climbing wall – but the real rocks were a big challenge | Climbing holidays


“I don’t know where to put my foot,” says my 10-year-old son, his voice mixing frustration and frustration. He’s stuck halfway up a six-meter rock face, watching us for help.

I stand at the back holding his rope with our guide, Chris McCellan from Adventures of Hatt, and my eight-year-old, who moans loudly about the wait and thrills with impatience for her turn. “I can’t tell you what to do,” Chris said gently to the elder. “It’s like a puzzle, you have to try a few things.”

We came to Harrison’s Rocks in East Sussex, a southern sandstone rock in a pretty forest just outside of Tunbridge Wells, for some rock climbing. The boys have been to the interior walls several times and always enjoyed it, but it quickly becomes clear that climbing outside, away from the neon color-coded routes and plastic noodle handles, is a very different beast. The holds are not obvious and the rock is rough and unforgiving.

Sam Haddad's children climb Harrison's Rocks in East Sussex.
The Writer’s Children at Harrison’s Rocks Photography: Hatt Adventures

Indoor climbing has grown exponentially in the UK over the past decade. There are now more than 400 walls and, before the pandemic, nearly a million people climbed inside each year according to the Association of British Climbing Walls. This summer, rock climbing will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo, which is sure to increase demand even further.

But while Chris rejoices in the interest and increased participation in the sport that has fascinated him all his life, he is not sure that the simulated interior setup always gives people, especially children, the best foundation. for real climbing.

“To be as accessible as possible, some walls are as easy to climb as a ladder, so kids can run up them,” he says. “While outside you have to take your time and get by, and sometimes sit down with that difficulty.

Like my son has to do now. An alien concept given to much of children’s lives today, from learning time tables online to texting friends or playing Fifa, is getting kicked. fast endorphin and doing things at a hundred miles an hour. It’s nice to see him slow down. And he ends up doing it, beaming at us from above as he pulls away. Delayed gratification in action.

The youngest has the advantage of following his brother’s route, and I manage not to be shy and also climb to the top. As Chris prepares for our next climb, he tells us that Harrison’s Rocks is owned by the British Mountaineering Council and that there are over 400 routes of varying difficulty on the rock, including the beginner routes we hike today. Sandstone is too brittle for lead climbing, where the front climber is strung to those following, so climbers use the top string, where the string goes through a bolt at the top of the road, instead.

Before this trip I had no idea that there was such good rock climbing within an hour of London. It is certainly popular on a clear but cold Sunday morning that we are here. After a short walk through Birchden Wood (we parked in the parking lot managed by the Forestry Commission, although you can also take the train to nearby Eridge station and walk 1.8 miles) the rocky outcrops s ‘rise through the forest of nowhere. We see groups of young friends gathering around rocks with protective mats and hands raised in a gripping position, couples with dogs and sometimes toddlers in tow, and lots of Patagonian fleeces.

We do a few different routes throughout the morning and Chris is generous with the general advice (eg, “push with your legs, don’t just use your arms”); but when it comes to decision making, he encourages us to experiment, frequently reminding us that we are firmly tied to his rope, so we don’t have to worry about falling.

Taking our turn means we rest a lot more than we would at the local boulder wall, where you can climb almost constantly for two hours, but we all feel more tired in one way or another, maybe. be fair because of the sensory overload and the excitement of climbing outside.

For my part, I really enjoyed the physique and the accomplishment of each course, the feeling of weathered rock at my fingertips and watching the children grow in confidence as the day progresses. But I also liked being in a quiet forest with no traffic noise and the air clean enough that lichens were growing everywhere.

This year more than ever, it is important to find fun and active activities that we can do as a family in nature. If that also involves a lesson in the power of patience and persistence, so much the better.


About John Crowder

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