When is a rock not a rock? When it's a fake rock. Round our house we eat a fair bit of fake meat, soya imitations like fake bacon. We call it 'fakon', and so it only seems right that fake rock, such as the 'boulder park' Enterprise built at Whickham Thorns Outdoor Centre in Gateshead, should be called 'fock'. Hidden away in plain sight, just a few hundred metres from the A1 and the sprawling shopping experience of the Metro Centre, lies an oasis of calm and a strange- looking large piece of fock specifically designed for bouldering. You're immediately struck by its odd sprawling shape that looks more like it would be at home in Alton Towers and painted purple. However, this is largely due to the fact that it is purpose built- it's circular nature means you can climb it at any point inside and out. It also means the designers have been able to provide a good mix of slabs, overhangs, pockets, jugs, cracks, and chimneys.
|A slabby central descent route for some more technical ascents either side|
The online guide suggests 68 problems from Font 1 to 7c+, and there are clearly a huge amount of further permutations and eliminates. Certainly enough to keep you happy for an afternoon, and return visits. Whickham Thorns also provides an experience definitely lacking with indoor walls- topping out. In fact, the topping out was one of the more challenging aspects for some of the climbs, especially on one side where the top mushrooms out and requires some high stepping. They have, however, provided a fun descent chute should you get stuck up there.
So, it's not the real thing but Whickham Thorns does have a number of advantages over an indoor wall. Possibly the biggest of these is that it's totally free to use. It's also one of the few places you can combine a climb and a trip to Ikea, and it definitely made my visit to the Swedish Labyrinth a hell of a lot more enjoyable.
|Looking across the A1 towards Gateshead.|