Inspiration

Don't look down

Vertigo sufferers avert your eyes now. Mark Bailey explores the Olympic standard ROKT climbing centre in West Yorkshire and chats to team GB champion Luke Murphy about how to get to grips with the UK’s highest climbing wall.

Climbing becomes an Olympic event for the first time at the Tokyo 2020 Games, but at the ROKT climbing centre, in Brighouse, West Yorkshire, the Olympic buzz is already here. Built on the site of an old flour mill, it’s an eye-catching 4,100 metre-square climbing facility where giant grain towers have been converted into action-packed climbing walls that are luring beginners and Team GB athletes alike. Fearless children and nervous parents inch up the colour coordinated handholds fixed to the ‘lead’ climbing wall, supported by a harness and ropes. This 69ft facade is the tallest indoor climbing challenge in Yorkshire.

Other climbers dangle off lower-level ‘bouldering’ walls which permit rope-free climbs above thick slabs of padding. But the real daredevils can be found outside. Walk past the entrance and you’ll see a cluster of ant-like figures wriggling up ROKT Face - a vertiginous 118ft outdoor route bolted to one of the enormous disused grain silos.

Newly opened in 2017, it is officially the highest outdoor climbing wall in the UK. What makes ROKT so special is its range of facilities. If you could line up all the indoor climbing routes in a row they would extend for over two and a half miles. The outdoor climbing wall offers 21 unique routes, as well as some mesmerising 20-mile views across Yorkshire. The new bouldering gym is packed with over 300 different challenges. “Bouldering walls are very good for learning technical skills and improving your grip and balance so they are a good starting point for beginners,” says ROKT commercial director Euan Noble. “The bouldering climbs go up to 4.8 metres which doesn’t sound too bad, but trust me, when you’re up there, it feels much higher.”

As well as families, ROKT encourages schoolchildren, scout and guide groups, stag and hen parties and teambuilding office workers to visit with many sampling climbing for the first time. Even toddlers can enjoy the dedicated Kids Attic – a soft play den of miniature walls, climbing boulders and ball pools. Induction sessions, taster classes, themed fun nights and student evenings encourage newcomers and, with an on-site pub (Miller’s Bar) and restaurant (47 Grains), many visitors stick around for the whole day.

However, ROKT is also a pioneering destination, testing its 40,000 enthusiastic members’ skills to the limit. This year saw the opening of the Northlight Loft, a 280 metre-square bouldering gym which offers highly technical challenges for experienced climbers, including the many professional British climbers who have made Yorkshire their home in the build-up to the Olympics, lured by the proximity of stunning outdoor climbs in the surrounding countryside.

“It’s fun for families and beginners, but this is also for elite climbers who compete in regional, national and international competitions,” explains Noble. “Climbing’s arrival at the Olympics is also sure to whip up interest. It’s great seeing kids inspired and seeing parents climb with them. About 80 per cent of our members are local but we’ve had visitors from all over the country because we’re offering something unique.”

Noble hopes that ROKT will become the national hub for elite climbers. “In the six years since we opened in 2011 we have been constantly evolving. We already have Team GB athletes using the facility and we hope to get more coaches and athletes here to develop it into a centre of excellence. Kids can come and have fun but if they excel, they may well be scouted and progress to the very top of the sport.”

“My ‘office’ was the side of a wall that’s higher than the Tower of London”

Luke Murphy, 19, from Hebden Bridge, is one of the Team GB climbers who train at ROKT. He helped set the routes on the 118ft outside climbing wall and installed some of the holds.

He’s also been instrumental in setting up the climbs in the new bouldering gym. “Setting up the big outdoor wall was surreal, even for me, but it was great fun installing the holds. If you get to the top, you can tell people you’ve climbed higher than the Tower of London. Climbing is really diverse and ROKT just goes to show how many different types of climbing you can do in one place,” he says. “I’ve used ROKT since it first opened. A lot of the British climbing team is based in Yorkshire because we have great indoor facilities like ROKT and easy access to outdoor climbs in Yorkshire and the Peak District.”

This article was taken from This is Y 2018