The word on the street is that there is a new climbing wall in South East London. Yes, in Woolwich! This is great news for me as it is only a 20 mins bus or bike ride from lonely Lewisham. In a way, the Arch in London Bridge is ideally situated as it is on my work commute route, but trying to be nicer to my not-so-happy fingers, I have decided to stay away from bouldering walls, and a lead wall south of the river is exactly what I need.
So I decided to suss out this place called the Reach.
Tucked away inside an unassuming, if slightly post-apocalyptic, industrial estate close to the Thames Barriers, it is basically a massive warehouse unit. If you are taking a bus from the direction of Greenwich, e.g. on number 180, get off at the third roundabouts on Woolwich Road after the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Flyover. Otherwise, the Woolwich Dockyard rail station seems to be the closest train station, and the Woolwich Arsenal DLR is just a bit further away. The climbing wall itself is located inside the Mellish industrial estate towards the river. From the aorundabout, walk down Warspite Road, follow signs and try not to get lost. When you finally reach the Reach (terrible pun!), you will be greeted by a bright, clean entrance (something of an oddity inside this depressing industrial estate) with bike parking space on the right. Registration is straightforward. However, do note that when I went (27th Jan, 2010) they did not have a card machine, so bring along some cash!
The warehouse is huge and spacious, and it currently consists of a steep overhang lead wall (with easy very slab 50/60-degree toproping on the other side), another slightly overhanging lead wall, and a number of toproping/lead vertical/slab wall, including a wonderfully named 80/85-degree tall slab - the "Black Slabbath". They seem to be in the process of building more walls at the back of the warehouse. There is also an upstairs bit, with a traverse bouldering wall, sofas, tea and coffee, etc.
First of all, if you like to show off your toned climber body by wearing the bear minimum, the Reach is not the place for you as it does not seem to have any heating. I suppose it would cost the earth (in every sense) to heat up a warehouse! So put some layers on and stop showing off.
The lead grades seem to be bunched around the F5c - F6c range (my estimate is there are about 40/50 routes within this range), so if you are new to leading, or if you are a F7 climber, you will find the leading a bit limited. On the toproping front, there seem to be quite a lot of easy slabby routes for beginners. Personally I feel that the grading is slightly inconsistent, but hey when do climbers ever not moan about grade inconsistency?
Will I go there again?
Being close to Lewisham/Greenwich, for me this beats all the other London walls. If you do not live around the area, it is a bit out of the way, but there are buses, trains, and well, DLRs going to that part of Woolwich. Price-wise, at 8/9 quid a pop, it is OK - not cheap, not extortionally expensive.
Personally, I like the wall because it is spacious, and unlike the Castle or the Westway, you won't have to queue up for climbs or get into each other's way while climbing, but this may obviously change if the Reach eventually becomes popular.
I think there is still loads of room for improvement, and they seem to have big plans in the future. For now, being a new place, it is not bad if you are more into climbing than socialising! If you are from SE London, pop along with a fleece and check it out for yourself (no, I don't work for them, in case you are wondering!)