Geckos alumni: Grace

Grace Spence Green

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.

Listen to the interview:

Summer climbing!

Climbing at Stanage

With overseas travel likely to be challenging and domestic holidays booked up or over-priced, this might be the year to join one of our outdoor climbing trips.

This summer, weather and Coronavirus permitting, we hope to run a number of trips to different climbing locations in England. Cost is in the region of £99 per head, inclusive of all necessary equipment.

PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL UNDER 18s NEED TO BE ACCOMPANIED BY A PARENT OR GUARDIAN.

Full details of dates and locations will be posted on our website, but are likely to include:

The Southern Sandstone in Kent
All climbing is top-roped, so suitable for beginners and upwards. Less than 90 minutes from central London, the crags of Harrison’s Rocks and Bowls are ideal for day trips.

Harrison's Rocks
Harrison’s Rocks

The Peak District in Derbyshire
Mainly top-roped climbing, though we can offer traditional lead-climbing trips for older kids and advanced climbers. Over the years we have climbed at a number of crags in the Peak, including Stanage Edge, Burbage, Froggatt, Bamford, Yarncliffe Quarry and Birchen Edge. Normally our trips run for two days during the week to avoid the crowds. Accommodation is either the North Lees campsite, or a local B&B.

Stanage Edge
Stanage Edge

Portland and Swanage in Dorset
We hope to run both top-roping and sports-climbing trips to these popular seaside climbing areas. Accommodation is either in campsites such as Tom’s Field, or in local B&Bs.

Dancing Ledge, Swanage
Please email us for more details.

Pixie’s poem

We love this. This was written by one young member of our climbing club during the frustratingly long months of lockdown. What a lovely and touching way for them to express their enthusiasm for going climbing each week. It’s reassuring to know that that the kids enjoy the session as much as the instructors do!

Roll on the 12 April!

The Lockdown Newsletter

During the three lockdowns of 2020-21, our diligent kids’ club manager, Larner, produced a series of informative newsletters, helping keep parents and kids up to date and in touch. The latest copy, produced for the spring, has just been produced. Hopefully, if the vaccination rollout and the government’s roadmap both go to plan, we’ll be returning to some kind of normal soon and the latest issue will also be the last.

We shall see!

For those of you who missed out on any of the issues, here they all are:

Once more unto the lockdown…

Vovid-19

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.

Image from The Guardian

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.

The Prime Minister insisted that the lockdown will end on 2 December, though Michael Gove has already suggested it may need to go on longer. We shall see. In the meantime, I’d like to thank everyone for their continued support. We all very much look forward to resuming all our kids’ climbing activities just as soon as we can.

If you’d like to get in touch, please use our contact form.

Covid-19 and climbers’ chalk

Chalky hands
Frictionlabs chalk, available from The Castle Shop

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.

Read the ABC press release

What about liquid chalk?

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.

Read the full report on liquid chalk and Covid-19

Conclusion…

While powder chalk may help to limit transmission, it is important to stick to the three things that we know to be effective:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based gel for at least 20 seconds
  • Wear a mask (over your mouth and nose) wherever and whenever possible
  • Maintain social distance

London moves to Tier 2

Level of infections in London, October 2020

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.

The stipulations, as they appear on the government’s website, are as follows:

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.

If you would like to know more, the Association of British Climbing Walls has a FAQ page.

Obviously, to minimise the risk to the children in our care and to our staff, we will continue to follow The Castle’s social distancing and hygiene policies set out in an earlier blogpost.

Geckos alumni: Rachel

Geckos enjoying a trip to Stanage Edge

Rachel climbed with Geckos for two intervals: the first as a 9 year old, the second as a teenager. She now works as the Comment and Features Editor of a London newspaper and appears regularly on television discussing the media (and cats). Here is her beautifully written and inspirational account of climbing with us and what she got out of it.

Old habits die hard! Rachel still climbing trees in 2020.

I started rock climbing age six. It was inevitable really – I’d been attempting to climb things (boulders, trees, walls) since I could stand, and as my parents hadn’t been able to stop me, they figured I should probably be taught to do it properly. I never stopped. From the week Geckos was founded (I was one of the original class) until today, rock climbing has been a constant in my life. It has taken me all over from the world – from the slabs of Burbage North in the Peak District, to the sheer faces of the Swiss Alps, to the cliffs of Cat Ba Island in Vietnam.

It’s been over a decade since I was officially a Gecko, but the years I spent training with Richard Baxell and his group of instructors instilled in me the skills and confidence that have enabled me to sling on a belay harness and start scrambling wherever I am in the world. No tree or boulder is safe. People think of rock climbing as a solitary sport, exercise for people who don’t like teams. The opposite is true. In what other sport are you trusting your teammates not just with winning, but with your life? From day one I was taught that belaying was far more important than climbing, and that safety was paramount. From before I could read or write, I was learning about trust, responsibility, and discipline. Those are lessons any parent should want to instil in their child from an early age.

As an adult, rock climbing has never been just about fitness – it’s an exercise in problem solving, in confidence, and in resilience. There is no opponent, just you and the rock and your own assessment of what you can do. Of all the sports I’ve ever tried, it’s the only one which engages my brain as much as my body, and the exhilaration at reaching the top of a rock face that looked utterly insurmountable is an adrenaline rush like no other. There is no feeling like gazing down at the ground from 1,000 feet and knowing that you got up there with just your own two feet and ten fingers. What other workout enables you to see the world from an entirely new perspective?

Geckos, The Castle and Covid-19

The Corona virus

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
A useful reminder

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.

Geckos alumni: Louis

Louis & George

Louis Parkinson climbed with Geckos as a teenage during the 2000s. Having been a member of the GB climbing team, he regularly competes in competitions and coaches at a number of different centre. I bumped into him in early 2020 in Walthamstow’s new climbing gym, Yonder.

Louis doing his thing…


Hello Louis, nice to see you again. What are you up to at the moment?

I’m currently working as a professional coach, though I still train hard to enter competitions and attempt my projects outdoors.

When and why did you first take up climbing?

I first tried climbing when I was 13 years old. My younger sister was turning 11 and my parents (correctly) thought that a rock-climbing birthday party at the local climbing centre would be an exciting option. I was TERRIBLE at it … in fact, I got stuck at the top of the wall on my first attempt, and cried in front of all my little sister’s friends! Despite the less-than-ideal beginning, I was hooked immediately, and rapidly became obsessed with climbing.   

What did you enjoy about climbing with Geckos and what did you get out of it? How long did you climb with Geckos?

Climbing with Geckos was critical to my development as a climber. Over the years I climbed with Geckos, I learned ALL the necessary skills to keep myself safe while at the climbing centre and rapidly developed my technical skills for movement and problem solving while on the wall. Richard Baxell was one of the kindest and most patient teachers I have had in any discipline or subject, and I feel truly lucky to have had him as a guide in my early years of climbing.

Does learning to climb (or climbing itself) have any transferable skills?

Absolutely! Climbing fosters a growth-mindset, and through it I have learned to be persistent, to have confidence, to solve problems by working with others, and to be patient in my hard work. I have slowly grown in to a well adjusted, self-confident and happy adult, and I would credit my experiences within climbing and the friends I made within the community with the majority of this development.

What advice would you give to children who are thinking of getting into climbing, or have just started?

Get started!! You’ll do things you never thought yourself capable of, you’ll become physically and mentally stronger than you thought possible, and none of it ever will feel like hard work because you’ll be having SO MUCH FUN doing it! Plus, you’ll make loads of great friends and have a reason to travel to some beautiful places around the world.

What do you enjoy about climbing?

This is a difficult question to answer as I have so much to say here! For me, climbing is so many things; it’s my community, it’s now provided me with a job I love, it keeps me in fantastic shape and is my constant source of fun and excitement. I think one of the most useful things I get from climbing is that I have a hobby which continually forces me to be incredibly mindful in my practice – almost like a form a moving meditation.

What’s next for Louis Parkinson?

I’m really excited about the years to come! To be honest though, I’ll just be doing more of the same: training, competing, coaching and travelling, but constantly aiming for bigger and better than I have in the past!