Today, nearly half a century after the local authorities had to relocate two hundred west London families because of the newly built Westway elevated motorway, what makes this part of the city so appealing is the presence of what’s probably the best leading/top roping wall in the English capital. However, let’s dive “under the Westway” as the guys from Blur would say, and discover Westway sports and fitness centre, home of one of the biggest climbing venues in the city.
It is 12 o’clock on Saturday and I’m approaching the complex – situated just a few minutes away from Latimer Road tube station. I’m walking through a quiet neighborhood, crossed by exemplary suburban streets with tidy lines of brick and mortar houses. Suddenly I spot a familiar sight – the concrete outdoor walls over a gravel-coated yard: an amazing mix between art and practicality, known to me from the masterclass videos I obsessively watched as a kid. This little sentimental detail arouses great excitement and triggers the delayed adrenaline blast set inside my cranium…
“Oh please get to the point already,” says the voice of reason.
“Hold on it will come,” I respond.
“People don’t have time for introspective mumbo-jumbo crap like this… let’s go climbing!”
I quickly register, followed by an accurate belaying test by Jonny – the duty manager. Instructors here are famous for their high level and I have to admit that I have not seen busier professionals in any other London wall. Legend has it they provide some of the UK`s most renowned coaching and children`s programs.
Entering the actual climbing space, I feel confusion caused by something I would define as “visual chaos”. The center, with its three hundred fifty routes over more than a hundred climbing lines, is quite big but there is a lot of information in form of signs, charts, floor marks, advertisements etc. The wall panels on the other hand really vary in colors and shapes so the density of piebald holds and footsteps makes it hard to follow some of the routes at first. Especially on the competition wall with its faded orange grips on yellow or the opposite. Anyway, after the first thirty minutes, it all starts to make sense and one realizes how all this visual puzzle is actually a result of great commercial climbing experience. Moreover, the whole chaotic environment creates a cozy and charming oldschoolish vibe.
Even though the wall is divided into sections according to the level of the customers, the climbing lines being too close to each other could be another issue, especially on a busy Saturday morning. On the weekends there is a queue for the best routes; sometimes they are crossing not only with each other but with some of the warm up climbs as well. However, this is a minor problem and a common thing for all the well-developed climbing gyms with full capacity. What’s most important here is the quality of the routes. Westaway’s routesetting actually makes it worth the wait.
During my time at the gym, I’m given the opportunity to check the work of at least seven or eight different routesetters. Most of the moves are fantastic. The angles of the wall really vary, allowing a cool flight of the imagination. Most of the leading climbing hold brands are present too and not only on the hard and intricate lines but the amusing top rope climbs as well.
While I rest, I walk around the sectors and another intriguing feature I should mention pops up. The hidden system and endurance training rooms. A small door, like a secret portal to another dimension of merciless self-development, is leading to box-like installments for strength and power activities. Excellent ones too – to be honest! Apart from that, Westway has the full range of toys you might need to become a climbing monster: bars, rings, yoga mats, weights, balls, campus and fingerboards… you name it, they have it!
Here comes the bouldering afternoon. Even though this climbing discipline isn’t widespread around Westway, what they have is tidy and organized. At the back of the centre, facing the big competition overhangs, one can find a compact but varied bouldering sector that offers mainly slabs and slight overhangs, covered with medium difficulty problems plus some V7-V8 here and there. Hidden at the back of the present bouldering area, there is another one, only more overhung – the so-called “fridge”. I personally enjoyed this secluded sector because of its longer and more intricate routes. Having said that, I must admit that the bouldering grades here feel a bit overrated (maybe as a part of the good customer service). I’m not always flashing V8’s, but when I do, I’m bouldering at Westway.
Leaving the center with burning hands I`ve already built an impression of a developed brand with a large community behind its back that only cements its reputation. After all, these people there have been defying gravity since ’94. Climbing at Westway feels almost like visiting an old, well-established sports crag with all its local charm and colourful details. A place with rich atmosphere and great social value.
More info: http://sports.westway.org/climbing