Everyone thinks that their sport is the greatest. 'Football is the best!'; 'Judo is the best!'; 'Underground to-the-death MMA tournaments are the best!' – we’ve heard it all before. Rock climbing, however, actually is the best – it's a full-body workout that revolves around socialising and problem-solving, and it's so fun that you won't even realise you're getting ripped in the process. So here’s a list of great places in London to hang out and get in shape.
A Grade II-listed building, the Castle of Stoke Newington (formerly a waterworks) is a massive indoor/outdoor climbing facility modelled on a Gothic fortress. All that's missing is a moat and vats of boiling tar to pour from the parapets onto the barbarians below. The main tower can also be abseiled off for fun – Tom Hardy once did it, so it must be a pretty cool thing to do.
Photograph: Tom Bruce
Right off Ladbroke Grove, Westway is situated directly underneath the flyover. One of the motorway’s supporting blocks is actually inside the gym, but most people think it’s just a really, really big decorative pillar that has no practical purpose. Some of Britain’s finest young climbers train here but the hundreds of routes cater to all abilities. In addition to the top rope and recently refurbished lead walls, there are extensive bouldering areas and a pair of large outdoor climbing structures that rise up between the flyovers.
There’s a ‘secret garden’ at Mile End which is not really secret because (a) I’ve just told you about it and (b) it is labelled as such, in big metallic lettering. More of just a regular garden, then. But it’s a nice addition to the Mile End wall, as you can take a quick breath of fresh air during a hardcore bouldering session.
4. VauxWall, Vauxhall
Although their gym is indoors, the VauxWall does offer excellent opportunities for climbing further afield. Its main base, the Kendal Lakeland Climbing Centre, has strong and long-standing links with the outdoors climbing community in the Lake District National Park.
5. Trees, Hampstead Heath (et al)
Enfield Council has banned tree climbing, among a variety of other innocuous pastimes, such as kite flying. But do not be deterred, for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has 'nothing against it'. The finest trees for climbing can be found in Hampstead Heath – but don't start monkeying about in any of the eight Royal Parks because, if caught, you could face a hefty fine. Now go, break a leg! Or better yet, don't.