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London’s best climbing gyms

Where will you try out rock climbing for the first time?

Climbing doesn’t have to be an obsession, it can just be a fun sport to break up the monotony of going to a gym. Many people have asked me where I go climbing in London and are surprised to know how many different climbing gyms there are in London, so I thought I’d put together a list of all the options out there, especially considering I’ve been to most of them. If this encourages even one extra person to give this wonderful sport a go, I’ll be very happy!

Here are my top five picks:

The Castle

Closest tube station: Manor House
Single entry price: £12.50; concessions £7.50
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 12.00-22.00; Sat-Sun – 9.00-19.00
Pubs nearby: The Browswood, a nice chilled out pub with a beer garden for summer

My review: 

This is one of the biggest climbing centres in London, and has top rope, bouldering and leading areas, and auto-belays in case you have no climbing partner but want to do long routes. It offers climbing courses, and you will have to do one if you are going to climb ropes without supervision. You won’t need one to just boulder, but it would be a shame to miss out on the climbing experience with ropes! 

It is one of my favourite climbing gyms, and had a nice atmosphere. It also has an awesome cafe, where they serve organic veggie food sourced primarily from their own garden, at a very reasonable price. There is also quite a large climbing shop.

However, it does get extremely busy on evenings and weekends, and it is the most expensive of all the gyms unless you are a student or have some other reason to get a concession price. 

Mile End Climbing Wall

Closest tube stop: Mile End 

Single entry price: one-off registration fee £5; adult climb £9.50  

Opening hours: weekdays 10.00-21.00; weekend 10.00-18.00

Pubs nearby: A really nice pub called The Victoria 5 mins walk from the gym, does food, drinks, and even tea and cake

My review:

Primarily a bouldering gym, but his actually has a top rope area, which even includes one auto-belay. I climb here regularly because it’s a 10 mins walk from my house, but I do find the routes here a little harder than the Arch most of the time. However, there are loads of routes suitable for beginners and some are even situated in beginner areas, so you aren’t intimidated by other climbers around you. A good place to give climbing a go! It also doesn’t tend to get quite as busy as the arch, though it is smaller.

The staff here are really friendly and it had the cheapest tea and coffee I’ve seen anywhere – teas start at 60p! However, you will be asked for a 50p deposit for a locker, and you’ll feel bad asking for it back, as all the money goes to the charity that runs the gym.

The Arch

Closest tube station: Bermondsey

Single entry:

Opening hours:

Pubs nearby:


This is purely a bouldering gym, one of the biggest ones in London. It currently has two buildings – The Biscuit and Building 1 – but the former is set to be closed eventually. It’s a good place to try out climbing as you don’t need to do a course – you can just go and give it a shot. All the levels are colour-coded, black being the easiest, and you can expect all routes of the same colour to be a similar level. 

My main issue with this place is that it’s so popular it gets really busy, especially in the evenings straight after work. You can avoid the crowds by going to The Biscuit building – older, so less popular, but still very good – or coming on the weekend, when it’s a little more chilled out. 

The Reach

Closest tube stop: 

Entry price: one off registration fee of £5; single entry £9

Opening hours:

Pubs nearby:

I wouldn’t try them


This is actually my favourite climbing gym, apart from the fact that it’s so far away from everywhere! But that does discourage many people from going, which means you don’t have to queue for routes and can enjoy your climbing.

Much of the climbing here is leading, and there is an awesome mix of routes, with a new massive overhand built recently which is very hard work!! There is also plenty of top ropes for beginners and a number of auto belays, and two bouldering areas. So a good mix. As ever, you’d have to do a course to climb on ropes or get someone experienced to show you. 

There is 

West 1

Closest tube stop: Baker Street/Marble Arch

Single entry price:

Opening hours:

Pubs nearby: The Harcourt, W1H 4HX; Duke of Wellington, Crawford St, W1H 2HQ


A much smaller climbing gym, but one that is close to my heart because it was the first place I started climbing in London. It is mostly top rope, though the routes all have clips for quickdraws, so leading with your own equipment is possible. There is also a bouldering area. The gym used to be owned by High Sports but the management has transitioned to the owner of the Seymore sports centre, inside which it’s located, so there are some glitches in the running of the place. However, it a great place to check out some very interesting routes. Many of them have been set by Mike, one of the instructors here who I famous for setting hard and well-thought out routes. You are guaranteed to sweat on these trying to figure out the next move!

This gym is nice in quiet periods, but can get very busy between 7pm and 9pm, when everyone comes from work. If you can get here early though, before the rush, you get the whole place to yourself!

Other climbing gyms


Closest tube stop: Latimer Road

Single entry price: one-off fee of £5; entry price £10

Opening hours:

Pubs nearby:


Located inside the Westway gym complex, this climbing centre offers both bouldering and roped climbing, but it is best for leading, in my opinion. Leading is where you are not attached to a rope at the top of a climb and are instead clipping your rope in every few meters as you climb up – in a similar way to what you do when you sport-climb outdoors. I find the bouldering in this gym super-hard, but the long routes are really nice. And there are enough top ropes for beginners to give this a go, but you would have to do a course or go with an experienced climber to supervise you. 

The gym doesn’t have as nice a feel as a dedicated climbing centre like the Castle, as its inside a complex, but there is a cafe inside the complex and a climbing shop too. It’s also far less busy, especially on quieter nights, such as Mondays or Fridays. 

Swiss Cottage

Closest tube stop: Swiss Cottage

Single entry price:

Opening times:

Pubs nearby: Swiss Cottage

Review: I used to climb at Swiss Cottage from time to time, but haven’t been there for ages. It’s another former high sports gym that is transitioning to the 

management of the sports centre it is based in. It’s also small, like west 1, and is a top-rope based gym, with a few lead routes. 

One major disadvantage is that it’s party open-air, with just a mesh wire protecting it from the elements, so gets freezing on the winter! The grades on the routes are a bit of a Mish-mash as well, so you may find yourself flashing a 6b put struggling on a 5+. If you live in the area though, it is worth checking out for convenience. 

There is a range of high sports climbing gyms still operating across the city, but I’ve never been to the others. You can check them out here and try the one near where you live.


Nearest pub: Royal Vauxhall Tavern; By the river: Brunswick House; bars in the St Georges development
Review: I’ve never been here, so asked my friend Ali to write a few words.
Vauxhall climbing centre is small but perfectly formed and it goes out of its way to solve many bugbears with bouldering centres. Firstly, it has a system of tags on specific routes like ‘SS’ or ‘JS’ which stand for sit start or jump start. Secondly, air con is so useful in the summer! Thirdly, it has a set of permanent routes, highlighted by the fact they are wooden, which are all independently graded, so that you can judge your improvement over time against a consistent base. Finally, showers! It is amazing to have a place which allows you to clean up after a session instead of making the long trek home smelling like a dog. There is also a cafe inside for those post-climbing teas and coffees!

White Spider

Closest tube stop: Swiss Cottage

Single entry price:

Opening times:

Again, I haven’t been here, but here are some thoughts from my friend Alec:
First impressions are a little disappointing, the iPads to log in are so slow and unresponsive that I had to register as a woman to get in… There was also a queue out of the door and only two toilets in the whole place. On the plus side there are two good and varied bouldering areas with a good level of challenges, and lots of friendly people to offer advice. Returning two weeks later I discovered plenty of good routes for top rope or leading, including some impressive looking stalactite features that were beyond my abilities. The grading was a little suspect with some fiendish 4+ and 5’s (many of the 6a’s were easier). A great cafe, the centre is far less busy than the queues at the door suggest. 

My favourite climbing books

Since I started climbing regularly I have been reading a lot of books about climbing and mountaineering. I have found them majorly inspirational and they are now some of my favourite reads! 

Below is a list of books I would recommend for anyone getting into climbing or mountaineering, or just wanting to find out a little more about it. I’m sure this list will keep growing, but for now here are seven of my favourites.

Touching the Void
Joe Simpson

Touching the Void follows the story of Joe Simpson’s successful, but disastrous, ascent of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andres with partner Simon Yates, which nearly cost him his life. There is also a film with the same name depicting the whole adventure, which will have you on the edge of your seats, even if you have read the book beforehand. It’s an absolute classic!

You can find a hardback or Kindle version on Amazon.

Into Thin Air
Jon Krakauer

This is the story of the disastrous Everest expedition in 1996 which resulted in many fatalities and a huge amount of criticism of the whole idea of taking clients up the world’s highest mountain. The book is an account written by Jon Krakauer, a journalist who was present on the expedition, but many people feel it is quite a biased view. Whether that is the case or not though, it is one of the best known stories in Everest’s history.

It was made into a Hollywood film in 2015, which also triggered a huge amount of criticism and controversy. Read my review of the film here.

You can find the book itself here.

The White Spider
Heinrich Harrer

This was actually the first ever climbing book I read, and clearly I enjoyed it if I got so hooked on them! It is a first-hand account of the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger – one of the most deadly big wall climbs in mountaineering history.

Many strong climbers had attempted this climb at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, only to perish before they could completed. In 1936, Harrer was part of a team that managed to make the first ascent of this route, which has since then become a classic line that many mountaineers dream of accomplishing.

Being a German, Harrer methodically lists all of the disasters that preceded his attempt in his book. Every single one…

Here is where you can grab a copy for yourself.

Life and Limb
Jamie Andrew

This is probably one of the most inspirational books I have ever read, and one that will really get you out of any state of depression or self-doubt you may be suffering from, because what this man has overcome is simply astonishing.

In 1999, Jamie Andrew and his friend Jamie Fisher got caught in a bad snowstorm, having climbed the north face of Les Droites, in the Mont Blanc massif. The pair spent five days trapped at the top of the mountain, unable to escape, bitterly cold and out of supplies. Andrew got rescued in the end, but the consequences of the accident were disastrous…

And it’s really cheap as well! Grab it here.

Alone on the Wall: Alex Honnold and the Ultimate Limits of Adventure
By Alex Honnold and David Roberts

My most recent read, this is basically an auto/biographical book about one of the greatest rock climbers of our generation, Alex Honnold. The man who solos routes that I cannot even imagine climbing on top rope. Soloing means climbing without a rope, or any other kind of safety equipment. It’s an enthralling read, and a very honest insight into what goes on in that man’s head. I used to think he was mental, but I sort of don’t anymore.

Check it out here, the Kindle version is much cheaper than hard cover.

9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes
Dave MacLeod

This book is actually only really relevant for those that climb regularly, as it covers various pieces of practical advice for climbers on how to become better at your sport. But if you are a climber, it is a must read! I “borrowed” it from my brother, and he hasn’t had it back yet…. (Sorry!!)

This book made me completely rethink my approach to training, and now I start every indoor lead climbing session with at least 10 falls on lead, for example. I can already feel it boosting my confidence massively! And that’s only one useful piece of advice. I have been annoying all my climbing friends in recent weeks by telling them “What would Dave do?” when they suggest one climbing technique or another. Evidently, this book has affected me deeply.

You can get this on Dave MacLeod’s own website, where you can also find his blog.

Age is no barrier

A man in his mid-seventies dressed in an immaculate pair of cream suit trousers and black loafers walks up to me with a concentrated look on his face. I’d just been speaking to his daughter, so I smile and introduce myself. He tells me his name is Chris, and we shake hands.

Then I notice he has the same pair of climbing shoes as I own, a Spanish brand called Tenaya, so I comment on that and we talk about how difficult that particular type of shoe is to break in.

We are out in the sunshine, at the Harrison’s Rock climbing crag near Eridge, in Kent. It turns out Chris has been climbing on this Southern sandstone for over 50 years, and drags his daughter Rosie along with him on sunny weekends.

Chilling out at Harrison's

Rosie is not quite as in love with the rocks as her old man. She doesn’t really have a head for heights, she tells me, but her father wants to go, so they go. They drive up from Brighton, a mere 40 minute journey, and climb until the afternoon, followed by afternoon tea or lunch in the sunshine at the car park.

Chris has been a regular at this sandstone crag since before harnesses were invented, he tells me. He and his friends had used the old-school belaying technique – one end of rope tied around the climber’s waist, the other bent around the waist of the belayer and held with both hands. In those days, there were no top rope bolts here. These pioneers had to solo the routes or use trees for anchors.

But Chris feels he has reached a peak of fitness in recent years. He says: “In the past five years, I’ve climbed some harder routes here than ever before.” That’s at the age of 75. What a man!

My friends and I were all a little gobsmacked to meet this man at the crag, dressed in his suit as he was showing us the moves of a particularly tricky start to a 5a route (British grade). A route I couldn’t complete, after trying a few times.

“Oh, I couldn’t do it myself for a while,” Chris told me nonchalantly.

Meeting Chris and his daughter Rosie gave me renewed hope that life doesn’t stop as we age, and as long as I remain young at heart, why can’t I climb harder than ever at 75?! That’s what I want to be like at his age. Dragging my daughter to the crag on a Saturday morning to lose some finger skin and sprinkle some chalk around. The afternoon tea can wait until the afternoons.

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‘Because it’s there’: Everest review

In 1923, renowned British mountaineer George Leigh Mallory was asked “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” His reply was: “Because it’s there.”

Stories of Everest climbs are no longer as scarce as they were in Mallory’s days, but few are as heartwrenching as the account written by Jon Krakauer after the expedition in 1996, which turned out to be one of the most memorable disasters in the mountain’s recent history.

Not that there have been few of those: the mountain has claimed over 250 lives since people began trying to scale its peak. But I guess the story told by the film, based on Krakauer’s famous book Into Thin Air, is the best known from that era (that’s what happens when you take a journalist on an expedition with you!).

It’s not an easy subject to translate into a film, so I really wasn’t sure what I would feel about this adaptation. I have a tendency to get very irritated with film adaptations that don’t reflect the book the way I think it needs to be represented, and that was definitely a possibility with this one. Then of course there’s the fear that the director, Baltasar Kormákur, won’t have the faintest idea about the compulsion to climb and conquer mountains, and will therefore miss the whole point of the story.

I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed the way I thought I would be, and I walked away from the cinema with a renewed yearning for high altitude – a dubious response to such a tragic story, I agree, but I’m a climber, so I knew that would happen.

Of course, I have issues with some elements of the film, that’s not to be avoided. I wasn’t convinced by the character of Scott Fischer, for example – the lack of exposure he got on screen, the way his character wasn’t allowed to develop and flourish, and even, frankly, the choice of actor. I also felt some other parts of the story were dropped after an initial mention, making them a bit redundant (the sub-story with the South African team, for example) – either commit to it, or leave it, I would say.

But that’s by the by, because despite its commercialisation and the typical Hollywood over-sentimentalising, the film nearly made me cry by the end, and that’s despite me knowing the story. I think the tragedy of the 1996 climb is so powerful, and the mistakes we see in hindsight so painful to watch, that it almost doesn’t matter how well the film is made.

That sounds like I’m belittling the efforts of the director though, but that is not at all my intention. He did a lot of things right. He stuck to Krakauer’s account of the story, which in my opinion is the key. He succeeded in creating a spectacle out of the words on the page that almost makes the viewer feel the crippling cold, headaches and lack of oxygen up above 27,000 feet, and he managed to create at least some likable characters.

The over-sentimental tone of the film, though perhaps not quite in the spirit of mountaineering, is necessary to translate the story into something accessible to the masses, and not just the relative minority of mountaineers sitting in the cinema and feeling chilled to the bone by the mere images of the cold, unwelcoming mountain terrain. The over-reliance on family stories sort of fits in. And anyway, that family connection and the painful connection to ‘real life’ was a key and memorable part of the book for me, it may just have been exaggerated somewhat in the screen adaptation.

I loved the humanity of the film, the personal heartbreak it lays bare, the sacrifices made to the mountain and the difficulty of managing inter-human relations on an expedition like this. The human error that always becomes our undoing.

When I criticise, I do so because it is in my nature to be over-critical, and because I see it from the point of the view of a climber that has often contemplated what it would be like to “do” Everest.

And I doubt I’ll ever stop wondering, but I also doubt I’ll ever let the compulsion drive me to the top of an 8,000m peak.

Everest is too expensive and commercialised anyway, but that’s not it. There are plenty of other 8,000-ers I could work towards. But the stakes are just too high.

For me, I think that’s what this story is ultimately about.

Time to think of Christmas

It’s September and I can really feel the turn in the season. There is a chill in the air and people around me are dropping like flies with stinking colds.

Yet for some reason every time I go outdoors into the crisp air I feel an overwhelming sense of excitement wash over me, mixed with a kind of wistful, aching undertone I can’t quite explain.

I’ve never been this excited about the onslaught of autumn, and it’s slightly confusing that I feel this way now, in a year when I finally discovered my favourite way to enjoy the outdoors, and have spent the entire summer doing so. I should be sad the season for frolicking around in the sunshine is over, shouldn’t I?

Perhaps it is all the climbing trips that I have been on this summer, spending virtually no time at home in London, which have made me crave a break from all that excitement and activity. Or perhaps something in me is fundamentally changing.

Read about my trip to the Wye Valley where I did my first ever trad climb here.

It is the anticipation of the festive season that is making me so excited, like a small child waiting for Christmas. Instead of mourning the dying summer, I can’t wait to wrap up in warm clothes and a hat and sit there having endless cups of tea. I can’t wait to smell the spices in the air and have my first mug of fiery mulled wine. I can’t wait to hear fireworks shaking up the quiet nights and watch them exploding on London’s skyline.

And for the first time, I don’t mind that it’s getting cold. I’m even looking forward to crisp winter mornings, and bouldering trips with thermos flasks to get us through the frosty days. I’m excited about coming home to a massive warm meal after spending hours out in the cold, or huddling up around a roaring fire in a country pub.

But how do I make sure I avoid disappointment this year? How do I make sure the season lives up to my expectations? Or will it always be a bit of an anticlimax, with the mulled wine tasting that little bit too weak, and the mince pies far too sugary?

The steady Morse code of raindrops on my window snaps me out of my fairy tale dreams.

Every year, I forget how much rain can ruin any weekend plan in England. We had enough trouble trying to book climbing weekends in the summer! The perpetual weather forecast checking, the indecision, the last minute changes of plan…

I know it’s too much to ask for, but can we please have a crisp, cold autumn and winter, like it’s supposed to be, not a wet and murky one?!

I’m going back to my fairy tale dreaming…

Slackline: The art of balanced meditation

For someone as impatient as me, learning to stand (and eventually walk) on a slackline is a pretty frustrating experience, but it is an invaluable lesson in patience, which I so badly lack.

Read my latest post: Lessons in being patient

I’ve always wanted to try out slacklining, but between climbing, work events, and attempting to still see my non-climbing friends, I’ve found it hard to find the time for it. Now that I’m injured seemed like the perfect time to give it a shot.

So on a Sunday my friends and I took advantage of the nice weather and took the slackline out for a day in East London’s Victoria park (along with a hula hoop for good measure).

My aerial circus instructor always talks about the importance of lines in aerial dance, and watching your form to create a beautiful shape on the equipment of your choice. I’m bad at that, so she would constantly shout at me to “point the toes!!” (love you for that, Astra!).

Slacklining requires a similar kind of elegance, where the body traces a line between the crown of your head and the foot that is holding your weight to make it easier to balance.

My friend Tamsin showing off her skills

To be honest, I thought I would just be able to stand on it on my first attempt, no problems. I was quickly proven wrong. Maintaining balance on a slackline is surprisingly hard! I suppose I should have known, considering my wobbly attempts to do one-legged balances in yoga.

If you’re good at balance in yoga, you will pick it up really quickly.  Apparently two hours is all you need to learn to stand on your own. Then it’s practice, practice, practice.

And guess what that means? Patience.

I’m learning patience, and I reckon I’ve been quite a good student so far.

When I look at the slackline, everything inside me is screaming: “I want to walk on this damn thing already!!” But when I push my body upwards with my foot, the concentration and focus needed to stay on the line overshadow all my frustrations and impatience.

It’s like meditation. The surrounding actions and noises just sort of disappear as I focus my eyes on tree branches in my line of vision and try to relax into the balance. The moment the slackline stops fluttering wildly under my foot and stays still is when I know I’m finally in control.

But the moment never last long enough. A millimetre shift in either direction, and I’m back to flailing my arms around wildly just to stay on the line.

Prolonging those moments of inner and outer calm is worth learning to be patient for, though.

If you’re interested in giving this a try, you can get your own slackline for just over £40 and it is pretty user-friendly. The only caveat is that it is prohibited in any Royal parks in London, so that rules out anywhere central.

NOTE: My friend Tamsin (whose picture I have shamelessly stolen for this blog post) is looking into giving lessons for a small fee, so this would be a good place to start.

Details to follow. Comment on this post to register your interest.