There isn’t a whole lot of natural rock in Central London, but there are a fair few climbing walls where urban outdoorsy types can work out their wholesome urges. One such place is the Arch in Bermondsey, which can be found on a Saturday afternoon quite literally full to the rafters with lean, mean bouldering enthusiasts of all kinds.
There’s a strong smell of sweat and chalk dust when you walk in (although it’s not as offensive as the London Fight Factory), but you soon get used to it. Before you’re allowed a go on the wall you need a pair of climbing shoes, which are hired out from the front desk at £3 a pair. Like all rental footwear, they smell like death, but climbing shoes are especially horrible because they are designed to bend your toes forward so it’s easier to get a grip on the footholds.
I have enormous feet so despite the crippling pain it was actually nice to see what I’d look like if Mother Nature had built me in proportion. A lot better, it turns out. After twenty minutes or so you do start losing the feeling in your toes though, so take those bitches off every once in awhile to get the blood flowing again.
Once you get over the pain, though, it’s really good fun. The Arch is actually a bouldering centre, which means you climb without ropes or harnesses. The upshot of this is that you can get to climbing almost straight away and the walls aren’t too high. You still don’t want to fall off though; I found that often I’d get to the top and have a complete spaz attack about getting down, so if you’re too much of a pussy to just throw yourself off the top of the wall make sure you take a trusted friend to help you find the floor. I only properly fell once and wouldn’t recommend it. I lost my footing and slid down the wall like owl shit on a hot tin roof, nearly scraping off one of my tits in the process.
There are walls of all kinds, including ones that lean out a bit and others that you can climb completely upside down if you’re a real hardass. Each wall also has a number of different paths to the top, regularly re-jigged and colour-coded according to difficulty. There are so many routes that the whole thing takes on a puzzle-solving element as well as a physical one.
When you finish your hands will hurt and your feet will hurt. The next morning your back and forearms will hurt too. But if you can get past that, it’s a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. And you’ll look like a real badass when you tell everyone at work what you did over the weekend.
We visited the Arch on a Saturday afternoon (i.e. peak time). It costs £10/person plus shoe hire, though there are concessionary discounts and membership options available too. Find out more on the Arch website.
Address: The Biscuit Factory, 100 Clements Road, London, SE16 4DG.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.