“Nobody likes a cry baby,” jokes Ross, our climbing instructor, “so if you feel nervous, just hold it in, OK?”
We’re about to clamber over the roof of the O2 arena in Greenwich, and Ross, our Scottish accented, bearded guide, has us chuckling from the off, which pretty much sets the tone for the next eighty minutes.
Before we set off, we’re made to sign a waiver (“You’re doing this at your own risk”, la-di-da…), and piled into a room to watch a safety video. At this point, it feels like I’m back on a school trip, but the difference is that there are people of all ages – from teens to families to those in their forties and fifties – and in actual fact, the safety video isn’t yawn-a-minute stuff, it’s quite hilarious and insightful.
It’s here that I learn about the clever symbolism that’s contained in the design and structure of the Millennium Dome (as the O2 Arena was formerly known) – for example, there are references to time, with 12 masts of the dome representing the months of the year and the hours on a clock face. The dome is also 52 metres tall – representative of the 52 weeks of the year, and it’s 365 metres wide, representative of the days of the year.
I also discover that the dome is located close to the meridian line, which has a longitude of zero (0° 0′ 0″), and every place on earth is measured in terms of its angle east or west from this line.
After the briefing, we’re given a pair of climbing shoes and a gilet to wear – gilets are given out in the warmer months, but full-sleeved, thick overalls are available for winter climbs. What’s great is that both have a dedicated pocket for a mobile phone or small digital camera, so you can take a few snaps when you reach the viewing platform at the middle of the climb. We pop all our other belongings into a small box, tie our hair back, and climb into our harnesses as instructed.
As we approach the start line for Up at the O2, there’s a photographer waiting to take our pictures. It’s a nice touch, and it gives us a chance to show off our climbing gear. Before the first step, we’re clipped to a railing that runs the length of the climb, so we feel secure at all times.
As we begin the ascent, we notice that the walkway is super bouncy (although you’re told not to bounce!), it’s like walking on a mattress. The photographer is available again to take pictures as you set off, if you want.
The climb is not that strenuous, although you do break out in to a small sweat at times, as the climb height can go up to 30 degrees. It’s good exercise and you can go at your own pace. Plus it’s not at all scary, so suitable for those who may have a fear of heights. Now I understand why Ross joked about us being nervous – there really isn’t anything to feel nervous about.
After about 15 minutes of climbing, we reach the viewing platform that sits at the middle of the climb. Here, you can unclip and have a walk around, take pictures and enjoy the view. Ross let us take all the pictures we wanted before pointing out landmarks and sharing interesting facts.
As the O2 is so far east, the main landmarks in sight are the buildings of Canary Wharf, the Olympic Stadium in Stratford and the Emirates Air Line cable cars. Further in the distance, you can see the Gherkin and from one point, you can apparently spot Wembley Stadium, although we didn’t see it.
“In terms of the view, the best climb is the one which takes place at sunset in the winter months,” says Ross. We’d opted for a 5pm climb, and although it was an overcast day early in September, it was very windy up on the viewing platform.
We spent about 20 minutes on the platform. I couldn’t help but feel that some sort of bar, refreshment or entertainment provision at this point would make the experience better.
Anyhow, what goes up must come down, and it’s a little steeper on the way down than the way up. As you finish and unclip the safety equipment, it’s a great feeling. “You’ve just walked over the ceiling of a big building,” jokes Ross, and we all give each other a round of applause.
We take a look at the photographer’s pictures – they’re great, but at £15 a pop, I’m happy to make do with the shots I took on my iPhone.
All that fresh air is sure to have us sleeping like babies, but for the meantime, we really need a hot cup of something to warm us up.