I first started climbing when I was 9 years old and my first ever climbing session was with Geckos. I originally went because my mum basically said ‘Stop being lazy and go out and do something!’ So I chose climbing and I was instantly hooked.
Geckos is a place to learn how to climb, but it is also a place to make friends and learn valuable skills. I enjoyed the easy going atmosphere of Geckos, which was somewhere to focus and get better at climbing, but also a place to have fun. Geckos introduced me to a whole new group of people who supported and helped me achieve my goals. Climbing teaches discipline, patience and determination- all things that can be transferred into everyday life. Without climbing I wouldn’t be who I am today.
The thing I love about climbing is that it is so freeing and Geckos not only teaches how to climb, but it embodies it as well. I am visually impaired meaning I have reduced vision. Some may view this as a disadvantage but I don’t. Geckos helped me realise that even though I can see as well as others it is no reason to stop following your dreams and for me that was to become the best climber I could be.
Geckos has led me to climb with The Castle’s Academy and then onto the competition squad. This fuelled an obsession with climbing, which has driven me to both work in the industry and to compete in international competitions with the GB para-climbing team.
For anyone who wants to climb or who has already started, my advice would be ‘keep going’. Sometimes it will be tough and you’ll have to learn to overcome adversity, but in the end the rewards from climbing will be more than you could have imagined. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve my dreams without having been to Geckos, it was my starting point and thanks to the coaches and other kids in Geckos I have reached many of my goals.
Without the help of the coaches from Geckos I would’ve have never pushed myself and achieved what I have, they helped me realise that even though life dealt me a bad hand with my eyes, that shouldn’t stop me, it should motivate me and make me the best version of myself.
Grace started climbing with Geckos as a nine year old. By no means the tallest of her cohort, she rose to the top – literally and figuratively – due to a combination of determination and dauntless enthusiasm. She was always hugely popular with her fellow Geckos and the instructing staff, who were bowled over by her cheerful, positive attitude to both climbing and life in general.
As Grace grew older she generously donated much of her free time coaching youngsters at The Castle. Few of those who encountered her there were surprised when, in 2012, she became a national junior climbing champion.
However, on 17 October 2018, Grace was involved in a catastrophic (non-climbing related) accident. What happened and how she has responded to the life-changing consequences almost beggars belief. In April 2021 Grace told her story to Jane Garvey, as part of a series for Radio 4 called, ‘Life Changing‘. Take a half hour out of your life to listen. Her positivity and her generosity of spirit are astonishing and truly inspirational.
I think we all saw it coming, even before the details began to leak out late on Friday night. Influential voices from the worlds of science and politics had been clamouring for a temporary lockdown, a ‘circuit beak’, since well before the half-term holidays.
So, here we are again. Let’s hope that it’s not too little too late.
I can confirm that both The Castle Climbing Centre itself and therefore Geckos Climbing Ltd will be closed from Thursday 5 November to Wednesday 2 December 2020. If you have a session booked with Geckos between those dates we will shortly be in contact with you to rearrange it after the reopening or, if you prefer, issue a full refund.
In the spring, as climbing centres closed in line with the initial lockdown, rumours abounded that climbers’ chalk could be a source of transmitting particles of the virus, fomites, to use the jargon.
However, more recent research would suggest that these early fears were misguided. Investigations by a team at De Montfort University suggests that, on the contrary, chalk may actually help to prevent transmission. A statement has been issued by the Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC):
A model coronavirus for SARS-CoV-2, human coronavirus OC43, was used for the experiments. The presence of infectious virus on a plastic surface dusted with chalk was monitored over the course of one hour. The results indicated that the amount of infectious virus was reduced by around 99% immediately upon contact with the chalky surfaces. By comparison, the control test where no chalk dust was present, showed only a slight decline in infectious virus over these time periods.
Traditional liquid climbing chalk chalk contains less than 70% alcohol, so it is below the minimum level required to kill Coronavirus. New forms of liquid chalk have a higher percentage, but the latest research suggests that it is no more effective. A chemist charged to investigate the issue concluded that:
[Liquid chalk] is completely ineffective in killing any potential viruses on the climber’s hands, and more importantly, on the holds on the wall.
As of Saturday 17 October 2020, London is to be moved from Tier 1 into Tier 2, a response to the recent rise in infections in the capital. Parents of children who climb with our regular kids’ club and prospective customers may be concerned at the impact of the myriad new rules and guidelines. However, for the moment, we can continue to provide climbing activities to children and young people.
In line with guidelines from national sporting bodies, you can take part in sport and physical activity outdoors. Organised indoor exercise classes are only permitted if it is possible for people to avoid mixing in with people you do not live with or share a support bubble with. There are exceptions to enable disability and youth sport and physical activity indoors, in any number.
Finally, finally Geckos is getting back to (some kind of) normal. It’s been a difficult few months for everyone. We are now taking bookings for personal tuition and taster sessions and the kids’ club will be reopening in mid-September. Hopefully climbing parties will return soon after that.
Not surprisingly, while the pandemic is still with us, things are going to look a little different. A number of changes have been made in order to limit potential transmission between anyone in the climbing centre. While evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of children experience few, if any, serious symptoms, we are erring on the side of caution. After all, children interact with adults at home and at school who have a greater chance of becoming seriously ill, if infected.
The Association of British Climbing Walls, who publish a regular Covid update on their website, have been taking the lead and clearly both the Centre itself and Geckos will follow their advice. Their guidelines will probably need to remain in place until there is an effective, widely-available vaccine or treatment. Key changes include the following:
A limit on the maximum number of people in the Centre at any one time
Maximum numbers in specific areas
A one-way system within the building
2m distance between climbers
The use of face-masks for anyone not climbing, including belayers and instructors
A reduced number of courses
Smaller groups and shorter sessions
No cafeteria or communal water-fountains
In addition, all communal surfaces will continue to be cleaned regularly, particularly the rental and teaching equipment. While it’s clearly not going to be feasible to individually clean all of the thousands of climbing holds or even the ropes, antiseptic hand-gel is provided at reception and hand-washing facilities are available around the building. Efficient ventilation is also useful; fortunately The Castle Climbing Centre benefits from very high ceilings and a sophisticated aeration system.
If you have any concerns, comments or suggestions, please get in touch using the form below.
It is with great sadness that I share news of the death of the Mountain Leader and Instructor Rick Abbott, aged 74. Without his work and support Geckos and The Castle would certainly not be the businesses that they are today.
Between 1997 and 2010, Rick was – among many other things – the technical advisor for The Castle, overseeing the centre’s health and safety and delivering technical workshops to the Centre’s instructors. I was fortunate enough to be one of them and I’ll always be grateful for his support, encouragement and, above all, his humour.
At his funeral at Barnstable in North Devon on 2 March 2020, the crematorium was packed with people from the worlds of climbing, mountaineering and canoeing. Sad though the day undoubtedly was, it was good to see so many making the effort to show their respects to Rick, known only as ‘Abbo’ to many of his friends. The ranks of down jackets and bright outdoor clothing (as Rick had requested) spoke volumes of the deep affection and respect in which he was held.
It might be a cliché to talk of ‘a life well lived’, but it’s difficult to deny that Rick always lived his life to the full, always did his utmost to help and encourage others to do likewise, and always looked on the bright side of life.
Rick Abbott, mountaineering guide and instructor, 1946-2020.
Garden Conditions of use
The garden is based on the principles of permaculture design. We reuse and recycle materials as much as possible, compost waste, use organic growing techniques and have created habitats to support wildlife and promote biodiversity. The fruit, vegetables and herbs grown in the garden are used in the centre’s café.
Please take some time to wander around; you can find out more about the different areas of our garden by reading the information boards.
Use of the Garden
Please be aware that other people may be using the garden to relax and enjoy some tranquillity.
Please respect the plants, insects and animals.
It is your responsibility to monitor the safety of your group and make sure that they are aware of the hazards.
Please take into consideration
The garden is a working garden; please keep to the paths, do not pick or eat anything, either in the beds or other in areas of the garden.
There are trip hazards, there may be construction materials stored here and occasionally there is work taking place.
Children and animals to be supervised at all times. Dogs, in particular, must be kept on a lead at all times and away from the growing beds. Please don’t allow dogs to foul in our garden- but if it does happen, please pick up and dispose the poo immediately.
There is a bee hive located between the Engine House (Café) and Boiler House (ground level) entrances. Do not disturb the bees.
There is a small pond in the SE corner of the garden- take special care in this area with small children.
Do not climb the trees.
Visitors who haven’t checked in to climb at reception are not permitted to climb in the centre or on the outdoor boulders. Children who are attending a group climbing session are only permitted to climb during the session under their instructor’s supervision.
Do not drink from the taps- some of these are untreated rainwater used for irrigation.
Please dispose of all rubbish and used dishes in the centre. If you have a large amount of recyclable material please ask reception or a duty manager who will be able to provide you with a large bag for the recyclables to go in.
There are a variety of plants in the garden, including some that sting or can make you ill- don’t touch anything you are unsure of.
Staff regularly monitor this area. Please report any incidents, problems or concerns to the Duty Manager.
There are men’s and women’s changing rooms with toilets inside the building (the women’s and an accessible toilet with baby changing facilities are on ground floor, the men’s is on the mezzanine floor).
There are water fountains in the centre.
If there is an incident or you require first aid please go to reception and they will contact the Duty Manager.