London – The Best Place to Climb in the UK?

Think of a 'climbers city' – do you come up with Sheffield? Edinburgh? Leeds? Glasgow? What about London?! Perhaps in part due to the dearth of available rock, London is amazingly well served by indoor climbing facilities.

A quick search on the UKC Classifieds comes up with 39 walls within a 20 mile radius of central London. With established centres such as The Castle, MileEnd and The Westway now competing with young businesses like the brand new bouldering wall from Craggy Island, it seems that London has more routes per square metre than the Peak District.

It can be no co-incidence that the UK's 2008 double champion (bouldering and leading) is Audrey Seguy, London based Managing Director of The Castle Climbing Wall. If Audrey keeps the motivation, fitness and strength to win these national competitions – then London must have something going for it.

As of this month, London has a huge new bouldering facility to add to its quiver of training venues. Rob Mitchell is the director of Craggy Island and here he describes his new London facility:

The wall has over 500 square meters of climbing surface up to 5 meters high. The centre has been built in an old squash courts facility in the grounds of the Oaks Park golf club, Mark Burridge general manager of the club and a regular climber at Craggy in Guildford, approached the directors of the wall with a view to developing the site 18 months ago. The centre is large enough to cater for all abilities with plentiful routes in all grade ranges, so that anyone visiting should have a great days climbing. The wall will host its first major competition BoulderBash on Saturday 8th November, and will be a great opportunity to see the countries best climbers performing on its newest wall.

Climbing wall manufacturer Entre-Prises were behind the new wall, and Director Jim Nichols (See UKC Interview) has a better idea than most on the future development of climbing walls in the UK. I asked him if we have reached bursting point, or if there are even more walls to come?

I'm sure a lot of the wall building industry have been waiting for a down-turn, but we're as busy as ever, amazingly we just haven't seen production slow down at all. We're still building huge commercial centres such as the new Oaks Park bouldering wall you mentioned, plus we've been working up at Ratho, and we always have lots of school walls to build. Some of these school walls are amazing – really big. They could be commercial climbing centres in their own right. It makes me want to be back at school myself!”

I think the big shift has been that indoor climbing is seen as a sport in its own right. There are lots of people who use walls for exercise, to keep fit. They live in the city and can't get to a real crag after work. Climbing walls have got better, the buildings are nice places to hang out, the walls themselves are amazing, and it's a really fun thing to do.”

It seems as though there are more climbing walls than crags in the UK. Sheffield has got to be a close second to London in the climbing wall stakes, with the trio of training facilities; The Edge, The Foundry and the hugely successful Climbing Works. Bristol is coming up behind with Bristol climbing wall and a new bouldering wall opening soon – watch this space.

Newcastle has its own 'Climbing Works' style wall now (See UKC News) and Leeds is apparently not far behind with The Climbing Depot.

Surely there has to be a point where the demand for climbing walls has been met? Judging by the current rate of development, we could reach that point very soon.

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