/ Which are the best modern bouldering walls?
I'm keen to learn which modern bouldering walls are considered as the best examples of what we have on offer in the UK?
Living in the north I have been to the Leeds, Manchester & Sheffield dedicated bouldering centres. Looking on social media though its seems that there might be more effort being put in by centres darn sarf (perhaps as there is less or different market?)
Places like the Yonder wall in London stick out.
So what are the best walls around these days and is there a north south divide or is that my imagination?
> So what are the best walls around these days and is there a north south divide or is that my imagination?
There is a divide. In the north there is real rock, everywhere. In the south east you have very little, so they climb plastic instead.
In my view, I find southern walls do have a different focus to walls up north.
It's a lot more focused towards the casual climber. People who've little outdoor experience but have taken up indoor climbing as a hobby as just another way to keep fit or active. In terms of the centres, it's a lot more about the facilities, coffee, changing rooms and all that guff and for the walls themselves, it seems to be not too much steep stuff and lots more volume focused "comp style" things usually so people can jump around pretending they are like the pro climbers they see on Instagram videos only what they are doing is about V4 (but as long as it looks cool).
Up north, we have also certainly seen a move towards the casual climber but there is still a much bigger tie in up north with real climbing and dedicated climbers who'll be using the walls to train for things outside as well.
Basically, I think things are still a bit more traditional up north although not as old school as it used to be whereas in the south with no direct tie into outdoor climbing the sport has drifted a lot more as indoor climbing as evolved down its own diverging path and walls are adapting to that.
- the newer the wall, the better it is.
- the bigger the wall, the better it is.
- stand alone walls tend to be better than those attached to leisure centres or other facilities.
- those in new(er) buildings tend to be much better than conversions of older premises.
As such, it's no surprise that, for example, Oakwood (meeting all four requirements) stands out as one of the best in terms of facilities and design. See https://www.oakwoodclimbingcentre.com
There probably is a North/South divide but I'm sure it's mainly a function of the population density making the business models and investment decisions for new walls in modern facilities more viable. Unfortunately, nothing much anyone can do to change that. Big cities and population centres always end up with bigger and better facilities, it's just a fact of life.
Never been to Yonder, but from its web site it looks similar to the Depot in south Manchester. Have you been there?
London walls seem to be going that way. Certainly less care and attention seems spent on providing enough for outdoor orientated experienced climbers. Indoor climbing is evolving though. In London it's been taking a new direction for a few years and a heck of a lot of people like it this way.
Why would someone, investing a lot of their own money in a commercial venture, focus on pleasing a minority audience, who will only come when it's cold wet and dark, and will bring their own drinks and lunch?
Interesting that The Wave, the very best bouldering wall is in The Foundry which isn’t a dedicated bouldering centre. It’s one of the oldest out there, featured panels, but I guess Jerry just got it totally right.
a lot of the newer facilities are a bit anonymous, but the Boardroon in North Wales stands out as a good one, and like The Climbingworks and Eden Rock (two sessions there last weekend), it’s all down to the route setting.
I accept that. Climbing might not be so fashionable in the future...at least in London..Climbing managers need to think about the future as well as the present gravy train.
> Interesting that The Wave, the very best bouldering wall is in The Foundry
I almost hesitate to suggest this but here goes...
Do you think it's just possible that your assessment of The Wave as "the very best bouldering wall" might not be entirely objective?
It took the opening of the Works to make indoor bouldering make sense for me. I was never strong enough to get my money's worth from the Wave back in the day, but more to the point if your face didn't fit with the in-situ shirtless heroes the vibe was cliquey. Slightly intimidating even.
It's easy to forget now that bouldering walls are such friendly and inclusive places. As arguably the first of its kind I think the Works deserves credit for helping to change the culture for the better.
I’m with you on that, The Works is the best bouldering centre (except on wet weekends) but The Wave is the best bit of wall imho
I wonder whether in time, if bouldering stays very popular and more walls keep opening, there will be more specialisation. Some walls will focus on the beginner's market, churning out fun dynamic sub 6b stuff with a little bit of harder stuff to keep groups coming. Some will focus on comp style/parkour moves and the gymnastic elements of climbing. Some will move back towards boning down on dirty crimps and generally getting traditionally strong.
In Newcastle we have The Valley and The Pool, there variety of climbing at The Valley* is vastly greater but I feel like I get a harder workout going to The Pool, the problems just tend to feel more basic.
*and the training facilities are class
> I wonder whether in time, if bouldering stays very popular and more walls keep opening, there will be more specialisation. Some walls will focus on the beginner's market, churning out fun dynamic sub 6b stuff with a little bit of harder stuff to keep groups coming. Some will focus on comp style/parkour moves and the gymnastic elements of climbing. Some will move back towards boning down on dirty crimps and generally getting traditionally strong.
This is already happening in London. There has been a massive increase in number of dedicated climbing centres in London alone in the past two years. I can count nine off the top of my head! There are at least 5 other dedicated climbing centres that I can think of. At least two of these have been specifically catered for training. Luckily most centres provide more than enough climbing to cater for both the dedicated outdoor climber and indoor comp style climber, though bouldering problems tend to cater for the comp style climber in the lower grades (under V4/5) generally. The majority if not all of these centres have a training area to boot. I have no idea what a 'northern' climbing centre is like but I can't imagine you could want much more than what 'southern' centres have.
"The wave" at the foundry is not the best bouldering wall in the country - it's a pretty boring shape, the holds are all ancient, worn out and clogged with 20 years of gunk and the texture last resembled grit 20 years ago. This myth is perpetuated by Foundry goers vs the Works (which is much better IMHO) because those really familiar with the wave feel superior because they've learnt where the features are.
The Foundry wall isn't that bad but it is tiny and greasy. The worst bouldering wall in Sheffield is surely the one at AW, I suspect they will all have a run for their money with the new Depot.
> I’m with you on that, The Works is the best bouldering centre
Ah.. see I wasn't quite saying that either. There's no doubt that for quite a while there it was the best bouldering centre in the UK if not the world.
But things move on. It's still great, don't get me wrong (wet weekends and around 7pm weekday evenings aside), but pretty soon it will be a matter of opinion whether it's even the best bouldering centre in Sheffield let alone the UK. (Between the 3 Works units if you're a toddler or someone who effortlessly cruises up 7a and above, I think it clearly still will be. For the rest of us, there are probably going to be two schools of thought on that one...)
> The worst bouldering wall in Sheffield is surely the one at AW, I suspect they will all have a run for their money with the new Depot.
I'm with you on the first bit. And it's a crying shame to see so much space wasted on something that could have been really good but just isn't. Especially when the Works is so crowded sometimes you can barely turn round without sticking your elbow in somebody's eye.
But why the down on the Depot? I've only been to the Manchester one, and I like that place a lot. Even if it is a tad pricey.
Edit: Oh, I think I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying the Depot would give AW a run for it's money as the *worst* bouldering wall in Sheff, but that's not what you meant is it?
Is the bouldering at AW still dreadful? I saw loads of stuff a while back about them turning it around. When we go over there we never look in, so I guess that says a lot
Aaaaaand that’s why I like it, ancient, worn out, gunked up, a bit like me, old and curmudgeonly
> Is the bouldering at AW still dreadful?
Certainly seemed that way when I had a quick look between routes a week or two ago. The bouldering walls were deserted though, so I didn't see anyone climbing on it and I didn't bother pulling on to anything myself so who knows, maybe the problems were much better than they looked. (Ha ha - nah!)
> Ah.. see I wasn't quite saying that either. There's no doubt that for quite a while there it was the best bouldering centre in the UK if not the world.
Not so. At that time Broughton in Manchester was far superior, and still would be if it hadn't been demolished
AW has promised that the circuit board will be improved with a re-set in April; I'm skeptical
Indoor bouldering and outside climbing are entirely different sports as far as Bristol is concerned. It's 2.5 hours to Dartmoor and 3.5 hours to the western Peak District; we have no worthwhile bouldering anywhere near. Indoor bouldering and the image that goes along with it is very much the fashionable thing here right now and I'd wager 90% of the people in Bloc & TCA have never touched rock. Van life, craft beer, expensive coffee, Patagonia shirt, being 'strong' - it's all the image.
It could well be driven by the environment (no outside boulders, very un-beginner-friendly Avon Gorge) but there is very little tying indoors and outdoors together here like I imagine there is in the north (where you can rent a pad from your local wall and drive for 20 mins to get to some of the best climbing in the country.
That's pushed the disciplines so far away from each other that there's barely a connection.
It's a bit different with the roped centres, as there's a few bolted crags in South Wales and the Wye that people can jump on when they've found their feet. I think there's a lot more of a translation from the indoor centres to the outside world.
As far as indoor bouldering here is concerned, it's as close to Ninja Warrior as it is outside climbing.
I've not got anything down on the new Depot - what I mean is it looks really good and the other walls will experience fierce competition.
Now I really like Oakwood; you can make a 17 point undignified landing and not hit anyone as they have acres of mat, the staff are friendly, the setting is pretty good but it is a bit 'punter grade world cup problems' at times. Maybe I am prematurely an old curmudgeon but I would like a few more 'actually useful training for font' dirty crimp fests.
Also every circuit above the easiest couple should have one utter stitch up problem (Yorkshire graded?) as an educational tool to prevent tantrums when climbing outside for the first time.
> .... I'd wager 90% of the people in Bloc & TCA have never touched rock. Van life, craft beer, expensive coffee, Patagonia shirt, being 'strong' - it's all the image.
haha, I know exactly what you mean.
I designed a London bouldering centre not overly long ago and after much disscussion in regards to the design, I summarised with "So basically it's for hipster w*nkers who can't really climb then?" and they replied with "yeah pretty much". So I designed it to the brief and its been open for a while now.
One of the most refreshing posts I have read recently.
Yeah, sorry, I had the wrong end of the stick. Realised I'd misunderstood you just after I posted.
I think I'm gonna argue a little, took some of it a little personally after a few bevvies. No need to reply. Forum venting.
I live in East anglia. It is a climbing vacuumn with few walls of any real merit. I'd be made up to have Avon on my door step. beginner unfriendly? Excellent. I like the crag to myself (and partner..). my closest proper crag, is somewhere around Bristol, that's about 2.5hrs drive. Granted theres some sandstone bouldering closer, but knees are shot so the mat is unused these days.
I like to think, certainally for a number of years, I was a proper climber. (child stopped play). Rather than the trying to be cool wall punter. Being outside, abseils, trad, trying hard, getting the aproach to the climb wrong, interpreting old guides and guessing what line you think you're stood below.
I own a van, happy to sleep in the back of it in a lay by near a crag. Is van life wrong?
I'd wear a patagonia t shirt if I owned one, but never bothered buying one. I'm not gonna discriminate against a printed tshirt. But I won't buy crag hoppers or bear gryls clothes. Think I know why but let's not examine that now.
I like beer. Craft beer, warm pish water, cans of garbage bought and left in the van in bright sunshine for the day. All are welcome after a day at the crag.
Granted I've never been "strong" and I hate coffee, but thats me. Have to say though, those who are stronger than I can still climb damn hard. I respect that.
Most of the rest you state may well be true, but I own a van and drink beer. Can we have a caveat so I can be accomodated please?
Yours, armchair warrior, k.
Eden rock in Edinburgh has to be a contender. It’s certainly the best one I’ve been too, streets ahead of anything in Sheffield that’s for sure!
> Eden rock in Edinburgh has to be a contender. It’s certainly the best one I’ve been too, streets ahead of anything in Sheffield that’s for sure!
If it’s similar to the one in Carlisle, then it’s very, very good. Me and Mrs Paul in Shef managed two sessions ar Eden Carlisle last weekend as we passed up and down the M6. Brilliant route setting.
It’s like Carlisle yes, in that the setting is excellent and the angles are interesting, but probably 4 times the floor space. Top out boulders added to the mix also. Really recommend a visit if you’re in the area.
> It’s like Carlisle yes, in that the setting is excellent and the angles are interesting, but probably 4 times the floor space. Top out boulders added to the mix also. Really recommend a visit if you’re in the area.
Cheers for the intel. One of the other things I like about the Carlisle wall is that it gets busy enough for there to be a buzz about the place, but not so rammed that you just pack up and head off home to the dirty chalky woodie in the garage ;-( one more thing about Carlisle is the setting of routes on Beastmaker wooden holds, skin friendly and polished enough to build core.
It’s primarily population density, rather than north/south.
I live near and use Kendal Wall which has a good bouldering wall as well as a very good climbing wall. The same company also owns 2 (now 3?) dedicated bouldering walls in London. Wet BH weekends aside, Kendal is rarely busy, and midweek it’s often empty. Kendal is a small town, sadly lacking in hipsters! By contrast, the London centres are rammed pretty much every evening, with queues for most problems. From a business perspective it’s easy to see where to build your next wall.
for interesting set routes Mt palace crystal palace, small but good
or kendal wall and rockcity Hull, for long roof climbing
or Rokt Bighouse for lots of different type of bouldering
Answer: its yours and lots of other people imaginations.
Nobody has mentioned Stronghold, one of the better Bouldering walls in London I reckon?
Or is it designed for hipster w*ankers?
Maybe I'm a hipster w*anker?
I tend to travel a lot with work and I've tried walls big and small all over the place. I'm probably in between a 'casual' and 'non-casual' climber? I'd prefer to be out on rock but time limited by family and work means that the odd-night every other week and perhaps one day the odd weekend is about my limit. I boulder mostly, initially that was because I couldn't commit to a schedule for climbing partners, now it's because I prefer it (though my daughter, now nearly 6, has really taken to roped climbing so I'm getting more done). Anyway, basically I'm not rubbish but I'm not great. Here's my opinion, which plenty of people will disagree with, and pretty much no-one will care about, but I've never before sat down to think about it:
- City Bloc (Leeds) - my local so maybe a little biased. It's not posh and it's not cavernous like some other walls but it has some of the BEST setting of any wall I've been to. Recent improvements in facilities too (toilets, shower). Very frequently reset. Never too busy.
- Rock Over Climbing (Manchester) - I've tried a few walls in Manchester but this remains my favourite. Friendly staff, great facilities and absolutely massive. Really fun problems too. If I can remember a problem from a place then it's usually a good sign, and this one had loads on my last visit. Also home to the (official?) Team GB Training room. It's bloody hard, I could get up two problems in there but I'm a bit crap. Might get busy but due to size never seems it
- The Climbing Academy (Glasgow) - Great centre, never feels TOO busy. My major complaint with this one is that I went once when in Glasgow with work and then ended up back there 3 months later. The problems were still the same. I mean, they were clearly quite good problems because I could remember a number of them, but it's a little surprising that they'd not been refreshed.
- The Kendal / Vauxwall / Croywall - Always found nearly all of these centres to be good, with the exception of Vauxwall. I ended up at Croywall the other week and it's not massive, but I loved the problems and the centre was nicely designed. Kendal is the closest to my home town and it's a brilliant facility, with an ace lead wall in addition to some good bouldering. Vauxwall I found a little cramped/small.
- Mile End (London) - I'm usually torn on which wall to go to in London but I think here is still probably my favourite. Several sprawling rooms with great quality problems. The Castle falls in to much the same category. However being Northern I'm just not used to how busy these places get. I hate queuing 2 deep for a problem. Also I hate paying the entry fee...
- Eldon Leisure Centre (Newcastle) - There are better options in Newcastle for bouldering but I have a soft spot for what I think are Bendcrete walls. Upstairs in the Eldon leisure centre there's a massively long wall with some great features and some fun problems. As a bonus I think I've only ever seen one other person in there, and it's also really cheap. It is, however, boiling, and I imagine a local would get bored pretty quick. I always go back there though.
- Rokt (Brighouse) - A sprawling maze of climbing rooms and ideas. Loads of different rooms but the setting there has never appealed to me, and I tend to find it a little gimmicky. The top floor room (Penthouse?) is actually pretty decent but the rest is a great novelty, the outside wall is a nice little (well, big) draw to the place and the lead wall is fairly massive. Just a fun place to explore.
- IngleSport (Ingleton) - Certainly not the best bouldering facility but I love how handmade it is. The campus board looks like it's made from sections of a cabinet and everything is just so cobbled together. THe problems are hard to read and weirdly graded, getting in there confused me and it's pretty small, but I still love it!
- The Hull Wall (Hull) - No idea if it's got a proper name! Always quite liked it in here. Loved the old cave they have but I think that's gone now. Haven't been in a while but they had some of winding 'solo' area with a cave that just seemed to keep going up and up in a spiral. It was awesome fun and I've not seen anything like it elsewhere. I always found their roped climbs tough for the grade, or maybe I'm just bad.
Feel a bit bad labelling these, but some walls just aren't worth visiting. They're mostly attached to leisure centres though so it's a little unfair:
- Park Leisure Centre (Barrow in Furness) - This is my home town, and whenever I'm back visiting for any lengthy period of time I usually pray for good weather so I can get OUT for a climb (there's a not so bad limestone crag for traversing at a nearby golf course) but if I'm totally stuck I've been here a couple of times. It's really really poor. I even took my daughter and another kid top roping and the routes there were just plain bad too. On the positive side it's super cheap and there's never anyone else there.
- The Showroom (Lincoln) - Great facility for roped climbing, the bouldering is pretty dire though. Really oddly graded problems, a tiny short room. Just not so good. I spend a lot of time in Lincoln and I end up going here fairly frequently and I'm always let down! I've been unable to find much outside nearby too that doesn't involve me basically getting all the way home (Leeds-ish)
- One in Bournemouth - Some leisure centre in Bournemouth. Two holds snapped on me and the room was tiny. That's all I remember about it but it's obviously scarred me enough to mention it.
I've been to loads of others that are good but didn't stand out enough to add above:
Awesome Walls, The Nottingham/Leeds/Big Depots, Bristol, Boulders in Cardiff (found it hard as nails in there!), Edinburgh Alien walls, a couple in Birmingham (inc a Depot I think), The Ballroom in Coventry, most of the London walls. Hull, Harrogate and York will always have a fond place because that's where I started. Probably tens more.
THere we go, if anyone cared enough to make it to the bottom of that, I'm impressed.
I’d completely forgotten about Inglesport! Spent many a wet Sunday alternating between the wall and the cavers cafe up the road. Really good bouldering, and I think a training woodie in a loft,....it was a long time ago!
Is the Showroom still there in Lincoln? I thought it closed down and the panels ended up on eBay. We were there with work for a while, but it was still better to drive to the walls in Sheffield
I'm biased; but I have an entirely different impression of the Bristol climbing scene. Granted, the area's not blessed with a lot of top end bouldering; though I've thrown a pad down at Winterbourne Down and had a lot of fun, there's some stuff in Weston (but I lived there and would take what I could get) and there are distractions in south wales.
However, there's a lot of people who'd kill for the kind of access to sport and trad routes you have being based in Bristol. Being able to bike down to the gorge and traverse along the base on a Summer's Eve as a broke student was a blessing. The easy access means pretty much everyone I know / knew who bouldered in Bristol also climbed outdoors regularly; they did sport or trad. Most of my "training" for Cheddar sport was done on TCA's circuit walls. I will still argue til the cows come home that bouldering is great training for trad.
Yeah, you get some hipsters, but Bristol is a bit of a hipster-ish city (so is Sheffield, frankly) so naturally they're at the walls; they're everywhere else.
In essence it comes down to route setting. Sure nice facilities are nice to have but the problems are what counts.
North South divide? Not sure honestly. I have climbed regularly at walls in newcastle (Pool/Valley) and also in and around london - spider/vauxwall/ealing/craggy/craggy2/oakwood. From this list bouldering wise the best facilities are oakwood - new, big, training area, pretty interesting setting, good cafe, kids area, all commendable but my favorite two are craggy2 in sutton (an ex squash court) and the pool in newcastle. I think the limited space likely forces the setters to be creative. either way all are good but grades will kick your ass at craggy.
BUK Preston just off the M6 (J29) at Walton Summit. It ticks all the boxes. It's 18 months old, well designed, well built and the blocs are reset on a regular rolling programme. The setters are Ian Vickers, Jamie Cassidy and Neil Mawson. Good coffee, the cakes ok and good craic! Have a look and enjoy😉👍
Just back from a session at my local wall, plenty of chat about weekend exploits, both on rock and on plastic, and I read this forum.(rarely feel compelled to post mind)
What a load of bigoted trash...
Its all climbing, what does it matter if someone prefers a coffee and a Patagonia t-shirt on some plastic routes, over a cup of tea on a grit hill side?
Our attitudes define us, more than our choice of hot drink and beer!
Yours a northerner living in the south
It would prob be worth mentioning the School Room, which has problems on the old School Room boards which date back to the 90s so definitely not modern. Those boards have problems which rank equal to a lot of outdoor Boulders. Still a couple of a Malcolm Smith problems on there unrepeated. Also hits some of the utilitarian vibe too. Out of my league, but a thing of beauty
I visit slot of bouldering walls in the Manchester area, and my favourite is The Hangar in Liverpool. Great value, great setting, friendly atmosphere.
Niky Ceria has bouldered at a world-class level for several years, although he cares less about the arbitrary number attached to the rock and more about aesthetics, movement and history. UK readers will remember Niky as the man who made the 2nd ascent...