Anna Fedorova gives her overview of the Southern sandstone crags near Tunbridge Wells, particularly popular with London-based climbers, as they are only within a short hour’s drive or train ride away from the city and make for a great day out without committing the whole weekend or breaking the bank.
…Londoners and Tunbridge Wells dwellers, and especially great for beginners, as all the climbing is on top rope (or bouldering). The sandstone will also help you develop killer footwork!
What I liked most…
It’s a very relaxed environment and a fun day out, easy to get to with or without a car, which really helps me as I don’t have a car of my own. Sandstone is a very interesting type of rock to climb on – no big positive handholds, all slopery, with a lot of reliance on feet for balance.
What could be better…
The key downside is that if it rains a day or two beforehand, it’s a no-go, because the sandstone is so soft and fragile it becomes unclimbable and gets damaged if wet. So you have to watch that weather forecast before making a trip, and prepare to be flexible! Since I started lead climbing, I do prefer to get out to places where I can climb on lead, but this area remains a great option if time or money is scarce.
Access and approach to Harrison’s Rocks
This postcode TN3 9NH (or simply entering Harrison’s Rocks car park into Google Maps) will get you to your parking spot, from which you can walk to the crag within a few short minutes. The car park costs £4 for the day or £6 for 24 hours, or you can purchase a Discovery Pass for £27 which will give you access all year round, if you plan to go often.
The car park has a toilet and clean drinking water, and there is also a small campsite which costs £5 per person, per night – but do arrive here early on busy summer days, as the places are first come, first served.
If you don’t have a car, take a train from London Victoria and London Bridge to Eridge. They go every hour and take around an hour to get to the station, give or take, and aren’t particularly expensive. The walk in from the train station is around 20 mins.
You will need a static rope (around 10 metres in length is enough, can be bought from any climbing shop) and some carabiners to set up the top rope anchors, and a 30 metre rope to climb on. You will also need slings and ideally a rope protector or a towel to put under the rope to stop it from rubbing the rock. You’d do well to bring a towel for cleaning your shoes in between climbs as well – the area is very sandy and it gets everywhere!! You will also need your own shoes and harness of course, and if you choose to boulder – bring a boulder mat.
This BMC article gives a great overview of the skills you need to set up a top rope at a sandstone crag. Many crags have anchor points built into the rock, otherwise there are lots of trees than can be used as anchors. The climbing etiquette in this area stipulates that you don’t lower off to the ground from the bolt after completing the climb, so you have to top out and walk down from the top of the crag.
Best routes at Harrison’s Rocks
The area has a quite a big selection of routes, and the technical skills necessary take some getting used to! All the climbs are graded using the British technical grading system. Some of the classics include the Hangover – an overhanging UK 6a climb; the climbs on the Isolated Buttress; and the Niblick (UK 5c), but this is just a small selection.
Where to eat and drink after…
There is a lovely little pub near the train station, The Huntsman, which has plenty of outdoor seating and friendly staff. Be aware they don’t always serve hot food in the evenings, though.
Which guidebook for Harrison’s Rocks?
Southern Sandstone, Mike Vetterlein, R. Mazinke, R.Moulton, Climbers’ Club 2008