An idyllic return to Harrison’s Rocks

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One of the boys making light work of Niblick, 5b

On June 30, Chris Henshall, the master in charge of climbing at Tonbridge School, invited John and I down to their end of the year climbing meet at Harrison’s Rocks. (Along with Hugh Tassell and Grenville Byford, we had been founder members of the Club in 1967, with John as the first Secretary.)

Gordon at the very same place, 47 years earlier ...

Gordon at the very same place, 47 years earlier …

This was another extraordinary trip down memory lane for me, and a lot of the time I felt I’d entered some kind of dream world, seeing long-forgotten old pieces of rock again and being almost not quite sure if it was all really happening, and I simply hadn’t entered that old world again in my imagination. Memory is such a strange thing, and on a trip like this it’s a continual mixture of the unchanged, the subtly different, and the unrecognizable.

The condition we found Harrison’s Rocks in was a wonderful surprise. John and I had been bracing ourselves for something a bit sad, a mere shade of its former glory – because how could it possibly have survived the onslaught of another quarter century of intensive top-roping since we had last visited them? Surely it would be a sad old worn wreck, long past its ‘sell-by date’?

But really it was in quite astonishing condition. To see the best parts of the rocks (Slim Finger Crack area, Wellington’s Block, the Isolated Buttress and Unclimbed Wall) basking golden in the sun was totally unexpected. In fact, I’ve never seen those areas looking in quite such good condition – if anything rather better than I remember it even in the late sixties. The very strict new protocol of belaying and climbing procedure has clearly reaped huge dividends. And the BMC has clearly done an amazing job with it, no doubt the result of much careful diplomacy and decision-making, resulting in a new approach path along the foot of the rocks and judicious tree felling in just the right places.

The idyllic nature of the rocks was helped by the fact that the gods had smilled on the day, giving us perfect mediterranean weather. The school team decided to concentrate on Wellington’s Rock area, and Chris put top ropes down most of the famous old classics, including an old favourite of ours, The Niblick (5b). Well over half the boys got up this, mostly in great style, and those who didn’t gave it determined efforts.

Chris Henshall on Niblick

Chris Henshall on Niblick

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Gordon, Hugh Tassell, and Nick Prosser (master in charge of climbing), below Niblick, 1968

Gordon, Hugh Tassell, and Nick Prosser (master in charge of climbing), below Niblick, 1968

John starting up Niblick 47 years later (well, at least he started ...:)

John starting up Niblick 47 years later (well, at least he started …:)

Not everyone was so sure about the wisdom of this pastime ...

Not everyone was so sure about the wisdom of this pastime …

It was certainly very heartening to see just what terrifically good shape the Tonbridge School Climbing Club is in, 47 years after we left… What really struck us about the boys on Tuesday was their quiet modesty, coupled with their enthusiasm, with no bragging at all, and just a little bit of gentle banter. Just as it should be. A very impressive bunch.

Boys on Bonanza (L) and The Niblick (R)

Boys on Bonanza (L) and The Niblick (R)

At around 6 o’clock we adjourned to The Hare at Langton Green for a lovely supper in the garden. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Thanks, Chris!

At The Hare at Langton Green

At The Hare at Langton Green

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