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THIS STORY LAST UPDATED: 10 March 2004 1316 GMT
Climbing the walls
Instructor Pete Cooke at The Ridge Climbing Wall in Swindon
Instructor Pete Cook at The Ridge Climbing Wall in Swindon
It's wet, it's gray and it's cold are you climbing the walls yet? Well maybe you should be.

To find out we tried the biggest and most challenging climbing wall in the county at the Link Centre in Swindon...
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The Ridge Climbing Wall Swindon

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FACTS

The Ridge Climbing Wall
The Link Centre
Whitehill Way,
Westlea, Swindon
SN5 7DL.
tel. 01793 44 55 66
fax. 01793 44 55 69

Opening Times: Monday - Friday
2.00pm - 10.00pm Saturday & Sunday 10.00am - 6.00pm

Courses:
Click here for course details.
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"When you're on the wall all you're thinking about is the next move. Your mother could have died, the old man could have left you but when you're on that wall making that move there's nothing going around inside your head ... nothing."

And he wasn't kidding.

Clinging on to a wall, eight metres up, with toes jammed into impossibly small crevices trying to work out where to move next is a guaranteed way to clear the mind.

So what's the appeal? Why is Rock climbing becoming one of the fastest growing sports in the country?

Well for a start it has all the ingredients of a seriously sexy sport.

Think Spiderman, James Bond and Tom Cruz in Mission Impossible ... it's a little bit dangerous, a little bit reckless and a little bit extreme.

Bouldering
Bouldering

In fact it has all the makings of the thinking man's extreme sport.

But anybody can do it from 8-60. All you need is a certain level of fitness, dexterity and intelligence.

At the Link Centre in Swindon, the Ridge Climbing Wall offers the biggest and most challenging climbing wall in the county.

Thirty metres long and nine metres high it stretches along the entire length of the sports hall.

Pitted and moulded, the concrete rock face mimics natural rock with crevices, ledges and ominous looking overhangs.

Colour coded foot and hand holds stud the walls marking out set climbing routes.

And they can vary from the very easiest F4 level to a hanging on by your fingernails F7b.

But with complete novices being able to tackle an F6a route at the end of a six week course everyone can take advantage of the 120 set routes on offer.

"It's technique and what's in your head that makes the difference," says instructor Pete Cook.

"There's no rules in the game of making the move your body shape awareness is what you're looking for."

Being more than aware of my body shape I wasn't too confident of my chances in the first challenge 'bouldering'.

If you don't like being any higher off the ground than the top of your aerobic step than bouldering is for you.

It's a low, ten metre long sandstone looking wall with a big crash mat to flop into.

The concrete wall
The 9m high concrete wall

You scale across the wall sideways like a Spiderman double, believe me, a lot harder than Pete made it look.

Hand and foot suckers may have helped.

Next was the ominous looking nine metre high concrete wall.

With this wall you need a rope and harness - a crash mat is just not an option.

This is where the trust comes in.

To climb you need a partner or belayer to stand below you with your rope attached to their harness to anchor you and stop you falling.

Facing the wall with the prospect of not being let down until I had placed both hands on the top ledge I started to climb.

At eight metres with a mind as clear as a summers day hearing "Move your left foot, no your other left foot" was surely forgivable.

But by the time I'd made it to the top ledge and placed two hands triumphantly on the top I was hooked.

Not only is it a fantastic physical and mental workout but you'll get so involved you'll forget that it's exercise.

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