Durh-rum: drunken Cambridge night climber copycats

Ruairi O'Donoghue 14 November 2013

Four drunken students from Durham University had to be rescued after their attempt to imitate the famous exploits of the Cambridge ‘Night Climbers’ after a night out ended in disaster. Two fire crews and a police helicopter had to be called to the scene after the students scaled, and then got stuck at the top of, Durham Cathedral.

On the night of 1 November, the four students managed to climb onto the roof of the Dean’s House, part of the 11th- century Cathedral but found themselves unable to make their way back down again. Fellow students at the University who witnessed the scene were forced to alert Cathedral security services, who in turn contacted the emergency services. This prompted a further large- scale rescue operation, with a police helicopter called to help find them on the cathedral buildings.

The four were thought to be imitating the efforts of the ‘Night Climbers’, a shadowy and mysterious group famed for their daring stunts, which include attaching Santa hats to all four spires of King’s College Chapel in 2008 and unfurling a massive ‘Peace in Vietnam’ banner between spires facing King’s Parade in 1965. Marc Press, a member of King’s Mountaineering and Kayaking Association (KMKA) and a keen amateur climber, expressed amazement at the “incredibly reckless climbers; only experienced people should be attempting these sorts of exploits.”

Night climbing is a variation on urban climbing which is typically undertaken by students at night, the long and fantastic history of which dates back to the 19th century in Cambridge. It has spawned several books, the most famous of which is The Night Climbers of Cambridge. Published in 1965 under the pseudonym of ‘Whipplesnaith’, this extensively details suitable routes of ascension for various buildings around the city.

Although King’s College Chapel is considered the apex of night-climbing in Cambridge, many other notable buildings have been targeted around the university throughout the years including the Fitzwilliam Museum, Senate House and various buildings within Trinity.