Scale the walls of one of London’s real castles and you’re lucky to get off with a stern lecture from some Yeoman. Scale the walls of the Castle Climbing Centre, however, and you’ll get a round of high-fives from your friends. From the outside, the stern grey stones of this former Victorian water pumping station don’t exactly scream rock climbing, but guide your most adventurous mates to the entrance and you’ll find the premier indoor climbing venue in England. All around you, climbers wearing colorful gear steadily navigate up, down, and across walls of all kinds, either training for serious outdoor expeditions or just having some fun.
To get started, sign in and demonstrate your belaying abilities to the staff. Once they’re satisfied that you know what you’re doing, you’re free to hit the huge hall’s angular walls, dotted with handholds and fixtures of endless shapes and sizes. Inspect your prospective routes by following the colored lines of tape snaking upwards until you’ve found the perfect path for your skill level. Check your friends’ gear as they check yours. When you hear the call of “climb when ready,” respond with a confident “climbing!” and step up to the first holds. With a fluid motion, make your way up the wall, fueled by the excitement of the moment and a strong desire to make it all the way up. Go ahead and be aggressive. If your grip fails, with a quick snap of the rope your buddy will have you securely dangling over the padded floor, ready to try again. When you eventually reach the top, throw your hands in the air and let out a victory cry. It might not be Everest, but it’s an accomplishment all the same. After a few more “summits” and a brief fuel-up with pasta and tea at the top floor café, head back out into the real world, where everything you see will look like another wall to be conquered.