Sandstone Climbing Guides

There have been a number of guides to the sandstone outcrops published over the years. Here's an incomplete selection! The guides provide a fascinating record of the exploration of the crags and the steady progress in standards of difficulty. I am indebted to Mike Vetterlein and Bob Moulton for their help and the use of images taken from their early guides and to Tim Daniells for the loan of his 1969 guide.

Collectors of sandstone guides might like to know that copies of most of these guides can be obtained from Mike Vetterlein, 3, Edith Road, East Ham, London E6 1DE   Tel: 020 8472 3654 or mike [at] mvetterlein.freeserve.co.uk (replace the [at] with the traditional @ symbol etc.).

The new Climbers' Club Southern Sandstone Guide is now available! Cordee are the uk distributor.

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The Definitive Guides

This is the first guide to sandstone climbing in the south east of england. Published in August 1934 by the 'Mountaineering Section of the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland' only Harrison Rocks is described. This copy belongs to Mike Vetterlein and is now quite rare. There are some thirty three routes described, among them Long Lay Back, Hell Wall, Zig Zag Wall and Half Crown Corner, the latter apparently the subject of a wager made by Nea Morin's father that remained unclaimed (and one would suspect unclimbed) for two years.

Climbs are given adjectival grades only (Easy to Very Severe) and various tips are given on the way to approach the problems. 'For a beginner, a rope is essential on most of the climbs unless he is skilled in the esoteric art of coming off and dropping thirty feet without injury.' No mention is made of climbing style although the inexperienced are urged to acquaint themselves with at least the rudiments of rope technique.

The first two pages deal with access and conservation - nothing changes! Nailed boots are discouraged and plimsolls or bare feet encouraged as the only suitable footwear. Breeches are suggested rather than shorts in order to avoid 'sandstone rash'.

This guide to climbing in the area was published in 1936 by H. Courtney Bryson and titled 'Rock Climbs Round London'. This private publication, written in a romantic and quirky style, has a foreward by Geoffrey Winthrop Young. Bryson describes some of the more esoteric 'climbs' available to the London Mountaineer such as statues in Windsor Great Park (!), the roof at Trinity College Cambridge and various other smaller rock outcrops and quarries before describing several sites in the Southern Sandstone area among which are Stone Farm, where '...Many routes wait pioneering'. At Bulls Hollow he describes 8 climbs including Broken nose at 'very severe'. High Rocks is included but although he lists no actual climbs, he suggests there are many and divulges that the entrance fee is 6d (2.5p for those that don't remember LSD). The High rocks Annexe and 'Harrison' Rocks are the only other outcrops described in any detail. Slab Direct, Long Lie Back (sic), Half Crown Corner, Hell Wall, Zig Zag Wall and Rift are all graded VS. This guide clearly laid the foundation for the following volumes.

A Thomas Cook advert at the end of the guide offers 16 days in the Alps with full board accommodation and third class travel for £24 16s.

The 1947 Guide by Edward C. Pyatt contains a foreward by Nea Morin, crag diagrams by Edward Zenthon and a bibliography referring to the earlier guides by M.O. Sheffield and H. Courtney-Bryson as well as other documents. The cover drawing is by Jean Folkard.

This A5 format guide describes 20 routes at Bulls Hollow, 43 at Eridge, 85 at Harrisons, 54 at High Rocks, 21 on the High Rocks Continuation Wall, 19 at the High Rocks Annexe, 37 at Stone Farm. Grading is described in the familiar alpha-numerical system in use today and a table compares these with the adjectival grades. Interestingly, Pyatt states that '.....It is taken as axiomatic that no climb on an outcrop can be classified as Grade 6.....this being reserved in high mountains for expeditions of mountain length which are inescapable.....'

Other outcrops are listed but no routes described. A description of the 'Seven Outcrops Walk' is also described, taking in Bulls Hollow (Slab Variant), HR Annexe (Nose Two), HR Continuation (Port Crack), High Rocks (Anaconda Chimney), Eridge Green (Toadstool Crack), Harrisons Rocks (Wellingtons Nose), Stone Farm Rocks (Stone Farm Chimney). The time for this excursion was 6 hours.

As a comparison to the present grading, Eridge's Battlement Crack is graded 5b, Harrison's Vice is 5a, Niblick 5b, High Rocks' 'Helix' 5b, Z'mutt 5b.

Harder climbs that had not been led were simply graded N.L. These included Slim Finger Crack (Ha), Vulture Crack (Ha), Swing Face (HR),

There is also a description of Edward Zenthon's Girdle Traverse with over 1000 feet of climbing.

The guide is published by the London Section of the Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland of which both Pyatt and Zenthon were members. The book is listed here and there on the web, although copies are hard to come by.

Edward Pyatt's 1956 Guide to South East England, (Reprinted in 1960), the first Sandstone guide published by the Climbers' Club. This guide encompassed the many developments to the samdstone outcrops that had taken place over the preceeding 9 years. Of note is Pyatt's recognition of the potential of Bowles Rocks - at the time used as a pig farm - there was no climbing. This guide uses the now familiar A6 format and consists of 100 pages plus prefaces. Pyatt retains his axiomatic 'no 6a on an outcrop' system but in acknowledgement of the considerably harder climbs that were being climbed and led, the 5c grade is introduced. There are 11 pictorial plates, the frontispiece being a photo of M. Wills on Birchden Wall, graded 5c. There are great pictures also of Conways Cracks at a very overgrown Bulls Hollow, and Portcullis at Eridge. Outcrops described include - Bulls Hollow (21), Eridge Green (54), Harrisons (146+), High Rocks (87), High Rocks Annexe (27) and Stone Farm (31). The numbers in brackets represent the quantity of routes at the outcrop.

My version of the 1960 reprint has a home-made jacket with a cover picture of what appears to be Sapper or maybe its predecessor - The Sloth - at Bowles Rocks (note where the top-rope is leading).

The under jacket and content of the guide are the same as the 1956 guide.

First revision 1963 by D.G. Fagan, J.V Smoker and Edward C. Pyatt. Edited by John Neill and Published by the Climbers' Club. Diagrams by L. Balding based upon the original surveys by E.R. Zenthon. Printed by the Cloister Press.

Most of the additional routes were the work of the Sandstone Climbing club. Standards had risen sufficiently and rather than use the 5d grade, it was considered that as the technical grading had fallen from favour in the mountains, the 6a grade shold be introduced. Many of the harder 5c's were upgraded and new 6a's added. Outcrops described include Bulls Hollow (21), Eridge Green (54), Harrisons (146+), High Rocks (95), High Rocks Annexe (27) and Stone Farm (31). The numbers in brackets represent the quantity of routes at the outcrop. Bowles Rocks, although freed from the scourge of the pigs was not included in detail. This appears to have been due to the fact that Bowles was (is) privately owned and the availability of a guide published by Bowles Mountaineering Gymnasium themselves. It does mention that approx. 100 climbs exist. The newer routes are contained within an appendix at the back of the book and it's interesting to see some of the harder routes that had been done at that time. These include: Bulging Wall, Elementary, Far left, Muscle Crack, Baskerville, Little Sagittarius and Toxopholite at Harrisons, and The Lobster, Marquita, Luchita, Engagement Wall, Tilley Lamp Crack, Mulligan's Wall, Craig-Y-Blanco, Knife, Fork and Dinner Plate at High.

Second Revision 1969 by Edward Pyatt, L.R. and L.E. Holliwell, reprinted 1974, Published by the Climbers' Club.

This guide, based upon Edward Pyatt's earlier work was actually the work of Pyatt and the Holliwells. The first printing had Pyatt's name on the cover (as in the version above printed by The Cloister Press with rounded corners). The 1974 reprint (printed by Allied Publicity Ltd with square corners) had the Holliwells' names only. Clearly, both versions should have all authors' names on the covers. This guide added a considerable amount of information to the climbing available in the area. There are sections on most of the now common outcrops and descriptions of many other sites of interest, including a short section on caving. The 6a grade was used for the hardest climbs and many of the older N.L. graded climbs were soloed. Climbs of this era included 6a's such as Orangutang (by Mike Braines), Monkey's Bow, Baboon, Sossblitz, Hangover I, II and III, Celestial's Reach, Blue Murder, South West Corner, The Mank, Muscle Crack at Harrisons, Portcullis and Fandango at Eridge, and Hate, Digitalis and The Thing at the newly included Bowles Rocks. Many of these routes retain 6a today and The Thing is graded 6b.

Tim Daniells' Guide - 1981, consolidated the wave of activity that had taken place since the 1969 guide. Activists such as Gordon DeLacy, Nigel Head, Mick Fowler, Mike Morrison and Tim Daniells had been new routing and standards had risen considerably, such that the new 6b grade was introduced for the first time, allowing the broad 6a grade to be rationalised. Various routes below the huge roof at Bowles were pioneered during this period giving some of the hardest lines on sandstone at the time. Colour photos on the front (Dick Swinden on Hate at Bowles) and rear (Chris Hoyland on Advertisment Wall at High Rocks) covers gave the guide instant appeal and in a central section, 16 monochrome plates showed a selection of climbs from the outcrops.

Outcrops covered in detail are: Bowles, Bulls Hollow, Eridge Green, Harrisons, High Rocks, High Rocks Annexe, Stone Farm, Chiddinglye, Penns, Ramslye Farm and Under Rockes. Other outcrops are described but not in detail. Again, published by the Climbers' Club with maps and diagrams by Don Sargeant, a section on sea cliff climbing was included, written by Mick Fowler.

Dave Turner's 1989 Guide moved on to a hardback A5 format and featured colour photographs for the first time. Turner acknowledges the prior guidebook writers' contributions and builds on these. Bassett's Farm is included, having been missed out in 1981 and there is a section on the Sea Cliffs as in the Daniells guide. Standards continued to rise and this guide contained stars to indicate the quality of particular routes and the previously unseen 6c grade. Climbs such as Woolly Bear (6a in the earlier guide!) and Guy McLelland's free ascent of Crisis at Harrisons along with Cool Bananas, Kinda Lingers, and Judy at High Rocks and at Bowles: One Nighter and Them Monkey Things paved the way into this grade. Turner also introduced his own brand of humour into the guide and a controvertial 'Graded List'. A section on Sea Cliff climbing is once gain included, covering Dover, Hastings, Cuckmere Haven and Beachy Head

Dry summers, an easing of restrictions at Eridge Green and no small amount of talent necessitated the production of a supplement in 1992. An incredible number of new routes, many in the 6b and 6c grades were climbed including one route, Chimera (marked as 'new route' in the 1989 guide) was graded 7a and has only recently received a second ascent.

Mike Vetterlein's 1992 Supplement also detailed some of the incredible solos that had been accomplished - many again in the 6b grade. Also listed are first ascents for the period and corrections and variations to the parent guide. A thoroughly concise and informative (not to say necessary) addition to the guides.

Mike Vetterlein continued his efforts with a full guide in 1995. Maintaining the handy, tried and tested A5 format, the guide contains many high quality colour photographs interspersed within the text. Once again, a graded list is included, this time indicating the overlapping (and subjective) nature of grading by attempting a linear list - many climbs of a particular grade being shown as 'harder' than climbs of the next higher grade (in one case - that of Amphitheatre Crack at Eridge, 2 grades harder!). The list provides for some entertainment if nothing else. Again, a section on the Sea Cliff climbing is included. The guide is somewhat thicker than the 1989 guide as one might expect with the number of new routes. This guide is now out of print. The replacement is now published - see below!
The latest Climbers' Club guide to Southern Sandstone authored by Mike Vetterlein and Robin Mazinke and edited by Bob Moulton was published in May 2008. This thorough revision of the earlier guides has been produced in the new CC house style in full colour with many photo diagrams of the crags as well as colour 'action' photos. The graded list continues the 1995 guide's precedent of providing a 'linear' table of difficulty and for the first time, the guide contains a first ascent list compiled by Paul Highams. The historical section contains pictures of many of the sandstone activists throughout the years. Much attentiion is given to environmental issues and the avoidance of damage to the crags by the incorrect placement of top-rope belays, chipping, graffiti etc.
Available from climbing/outdoor shops or from Cordee

The Other Guides

Trevor Panther, a Harrisons Rocks devotee of many years has published a number of guides to this outcrop. Earlier guides were published in 1967, 1969 and 1971 but this particular one appeared in 1986. This A5 size guide of 54 pages is written in the descriptive style in large print and contains several photographs, some of climbers in bare feet. Dedicated to Julie Tullis, the book contains prefaces by Dan Lewis and Terry Tullis. Panther advocates the use of the toprope system in view of the friable nature of the rock and appears to view climbing (on sandstone at any rate) as an extension of gymnastics. Trevor can still be seen climbing at the crag and is a mine of information and advice.
Dave Atchison Jones has been climbing on sandstone for many years and is quite qualified to write a guide to the area. A naturally strong climber, Dave was responsible for many new routes and some 'interesting' route names in the '80's and 90's. Dave was a keen proponent of the new routes book and encouraged new routers to write up their efforts. This guide is written in the 'topo' style - it uses crag diagrams with wiggly lines and symbols to depict routes and has many high quality photographs.

Updated 26th May 2008.

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