Bowles Outdoor Centre at Eridge is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
To mark the occasion the Centre was visited by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh on Monday. Prince Philip has been Bowles’ Patron since 1964.
John Walters, the founder of Bowles, bought the site with a deposit of just £100 in 1961, and set about transforming it. John first built the chapel using local craftsmen and containing stained glass of the Matterhorn, which was his figurative goal, and then the club house which is now the chalet.
Today the Outdoor Centre on Sandhill Lane now boasts accommodation for 130 plus a wide range of outdoor activity facilities including 2 ski slopes and a heated pool.
Richard Hardwick, Bowles’ Director said:
The aim of the day was to celebrate: to celebrate 50 years of success and to celebrate the many people who have made Bowles into the amazing outdoor centre it is today. We wanted to spoil the children and give everyone an unforgettable day to make the spirit soar.
Beautiful Bowles has not been built delicately, gracefully or lazily, the stunning site that now greets 12,000 visitors each year and which started off as the vision of one man, is the culmination of significant blood sweat and tears over 50 years by an incredibly dedicated and tireless team of staff and volunteers.
Tony Walters, son of the founder John Walters revisited Bowles on Monday. Tony regaled us over lunch with stories of how he helped to transform the site back in the 1960’s clearing the pig sties and digging drainage channels to drain the swamp. Tony even slept under the rocks for 9 months in all weather, what an effort given the limited shelter they offer.
John sadly died this year. The Duke who had met John, and helped him to keep going when times and finances were tight, paid tribute, telling the gathering that if you have a vision, an aim, and you stick to it, you can achieve something that no one else thinks is possible – what a profound and timeless message for our younger generation.
100 schoolchildren from across the South East were at Bowles taking part in a wide range of activities – skiing, rock climbing, ropes courses, archery and bushcraft.
Bowles is a charity for young people. Its aim is to bring the benefits of adventurous and outdoor activities to young people, regardless of disadvantage or disability.
The centre is based around Bowles Rocks, one of the few rock crags in the south east of England where climbers can practice on real rock. Since the 1960s it has been transformed from an overgrown pig farm into one of the country’s leading outdoor centres.
Bowles boasts two dry ski slopes, an indoor pool, accommodation for 130 people and three ropes courses, kayaks and canoes, as well as an archery range, orienteering course an countless problem solving and teamwork exercises.
The charity aims to raise £50,000 in 2014 for its bursary fund to allow young people who might otherwise not get the opportunity the chance to come to Bowles for a residential.
Richard Hardwick the Bowles Director said Prince Philip was friendly with everyone and had a smile on his face throughout:
We are proud to have such a Royal patron who has visited the centre five times in 50 years. This association gives Bowles the recognition that it deserves and helps the charity to make important friends in high places, but above all it makes everyone proud to be involved in the work that we do supporting children and young people using the outdoors.
The Duke took an interest in everything and everyone. Enquiring about the barbeque prepared by Sue Long and the Bowles catering team, he was clearly pleased to hear that the sausages were from the local butchers. The Duke also showed his interest in current issues including challenging childhood obesity and making sure that children are challenged and that they get outside and are active.
The occasion was marked with a time capsule, the capsule contains mementos from the first 50 years of Bowles, and letters, thoughts and visions of some of the young people who were there on the day. The Duke who in typical witty style said that he had never understood the point of time capsules, cut the ribbon and the capsule rolled perfectly into the hole.
The Bowles Rocks Trust is a registered charity, which supports children and young people to achieve their potential through outdoor education.
If you would like to donate or fund raise on their behalf please call 01892 665665 or see their website for more information.