Wealden Sandstone -  Sandstone Rock Outcrops near Tunbridge Wells and along the Kent-Sussex border.

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The Weald of Kent is formed on sandstone and outcrops of this comparatively soft and friable rock appear in various places around Tunbridge Wells and along the Kent-Sussex border. The rock has been climbed on by generations of climbers since the 1900's and has remained popular despite the limitations of height and climbing style. Due to the friable nature of the rock, traditional British 'lead' climbing cannot be practiced. Lead Climbing is the term given to the method whereby the leader starts from the ground, trailing a rope behind adding protection in the form of wedges or camming devices into natural features such as cracks and grooves as progress is made. These are then used as a running belay, attaching the rope via karabiners. The belayer or 'second' is then able to prevent the leader from hitting the floor should they fall.

As the sandstone is comparatively soft and sparse in the way of natural features into which protection may be placed, climbs are often 'soloed' - climbed without ropes or protection. As the maximum height of these outcrops seldom exceeds 30 feet (10m), the risk of serious injury is reduced. However, it is also common to use 'toprope' protection where a preplaced rope is belayed to the top of the crag, such that the climber always has fall protection above. Whilst considered by some to be ethically inferior to leading, the system has its clear advantages of safety, allowing climbers to try something they might not otherwise go for were they on the 'sharp end' and in danger of a fall. The toprope (actually a bottom rope as the belayer stands at the base of the crag, the rope running up to a belayed karabiner before leading down to the climber) system has been badly executed in the past and ropes running over the top edge of the crag to a karabiner set too far back from the edge have 'sawn' grooves in the rock. This is clearly irresponsible and apart from adding handholds to the finishes (for a while until they wear through and break off) clearly wrecks the climbing for future generations. In recent years, much has been done to educate users in the placing of belays such that the karabiner hangs over the edge on a static rope or sling, keeping the moving rope away from the rock.

There are various rules and a recently revised Sandstone code of practice available on the BMC site. There is however, nothing that a little common sense would not reveal anyway - soft soled shoes, no pegs or other ironware, static slings for belays hung over the edge of the crag, the use of chalk kept to a minimum. There have been instances of chipping - 'improving' or manufacturing holds where none or (in the chipper's opinion) insufficiently good holds exist. This disgraceful practice is very much frowned upon and perpetrators are likely to find themselves at the mercy of the climbing community. If you can't climb it, get better at climbing or leave it to someone who can do it.

There are many outcrops, some of which are publicly accessible, others 'private'. Guide books from the Climbers Club (descriptive, definitive) and Jingo Wobbly (topo style, selected outcrops only) are available. The climbs are graded using the UK technical grade only and are generally 'a bit stiff' for the grades compared to other climbing areas where leading (or 'Trad' climbing) is the norm.

As with any climbing area, there are good and less good climbs. I've tried to indicate a short list of the best at each outcrop within particular grades. Click on the links in the index above to view info about the various outcrops.

If you find a mistake, or have other/additional information, please let me know.