You can see The Castle climbing wall at Manor House long before you get anywhere near it. The gigantic Victorian building looks every bit the fortress it is named for – it’s slightly disappointing when you find out it started life as a lowly pump-house (it also makes you realise how much of a sense of style the Victorians had).
Inside The Castle is every bit as impressive as the facade, housing one of Europe’s biggest indoor climbing walls. Here climbers of every level, from seasoned pros to complete novices come to conquer the (sometimes literally) dizzying heights.
The walls range from a few metres to a stomach-churning 13m (if this doesn’t sound like a lot, wait until you’re dangling from a rope at the top).
The centre is so vast you couldn’t hope to climb every wall – let alone every route – in a single session. Whatever your preference – bouldering (no ropes), overhangs, lead-climbing – there is something for you here. The sheer variety means a long session flies by, ensuring you’re never stuck for new challenges.
Climbing is a great way of keeping fit, giving you a full body workout (if you’re only using your arms you’re not doing it properly). But it is more than that – it’s sociable and mentally challenging: everything that running isn’t.
I grew up playing video games and watching TV. Like an unruly child, my brain needs to be constantly entertained, lest it uses its energy for evil rather than good. In this respect, climbing is perfect for me. If you’re not actively climbing you can plan your next route or help your partner navigate a tricky wall.
Before joining the centre, you will have to prove you can tie the right knots to prevent you plummeting to your (almost) certain death. The Castle will teach you everything you need to know in one of its weekend sessions, which run for five hours on a Saturday or Sunday.
But beware – it is fiendishly addictive. Make sure you have some clear weekends ahead of you – you’ll want to spend them at The Castle. Price: £12.00 a session or £65 monthly fee. Weekend courses £70.
WHERE ELSE TO CLIMB
• EAST LONDON
Mile End Climbing Wall, located a short walk from the underground on the district line, has a good combination of rope and bouldering walls (biased slightly towards the latter), with some fiendishly tricky routes. It feels less testosterone-filled than other climbing centres, although those wanting to prove their prowess on the wall can swing from the ceiling in the monkey room.
Price: £8 (including locker) or £40 monthly fee
• CENTRAL LONDON
Located under the arches of London Bridge, The Arch is the most central of London’s climbing walls. It is also the most compact – but don’t let that put you off. There are more than enough routes – updated regularly enough – to keep you on your toes. This is bouldering only and, on week nights, expect to see City boys working off their daily tension.
Price: £10 (peak) or £50 monthly fee
• WEST LONDON
This gigantic west London centre has the highest walls in the city. Westway Climbing boasts 20 rope lines with 350 routes, not to mention to 100 bouldering problems. Some of the overhanging lead climbing walls here are spectacular – and give the novices among us something to work towards.
Price: £10 (peak) or £52.50 monthly fee