I was full of curiosity as I made my way – with the rest of the Experience Days team – to Greenwich Peninsula to take part in the Up at the O2 Climbing Experience.
The last time I visited London’s O2 Arena it was the Millennium Dome. I can only vaguely remember an enormous beating heart, an episode of Blackadder and a shiny £5 coin (refused by a shopkeeper some years later).
Since the ill-fated Dome’s rebranding, the arena has played host to some of the world’s biggest stars – including Prince, Beyoncé and One Direction – and has become an iconic feature of the London cityscape.
The Up at the O2 Experience invites visitors to climb over the landmark via a 380-metre walkway suspended just a few metres from its surface.
Upon entering the foyer – decorated with coils of rope, compasses and ice axes – we were handed forms to complete and a safety booklet. After a short wait and a few nervous glances at the furnishings, we were shown through to the Expedition Room.
Here, we met our guide for the evening, Ross, and watched a brief – but informative – video, explaining what to expect during the climb. Ross then led the way to the changing room and issued us with boiler suits, rubber-soled shoes and harnesses.
Suitably attired and with our possessions stowed securely, Ross lent a rough hand to ensure harnesses were properly fastened, before we made our way to the starting point.
Standing at the foot of the walkway, the ascent appeared steeper than I’d anticipated and somewhat exposed without an outer handrail. Ross’ reassuringly no-nonsense demeanour, however, meant I took my first steps full of confidence.
Made to replicate the ‘tent’ beneath, the walkway wobbles and bounces underfoot and – though we’d been expecting this – it took some getting used to. Trickier still were the devices securing us to the central safety cable, which had to be cajoled along at regular intervals. Our inexperience was clearly at fault here though, as Ross glided up the slope untroubled.
The team were all breathing a little heavier by the time we reached the top. Once unclipped, we were free to wander round the platform and take in the view. The lights of the capital winked all around us and the dark Thames surged below.
As we gawped, Ross proved himself a treasure-trove of interesting facts – describing the erratic course of the river and the history of some visible places of interest. By this point, we’d all become rather fond of our guide, whose gruff exterior belied a warm heart and expansive knowledge. Bearded and with “the skin of a Norwegian fisherman”, Ross was a support and pleasure throughout – the Edmund Hillary of urban mountaineers!
After a few more photos, it was time to make our descent. The final section was the steepest we’d tackled yet and our steps became tentative as the walkway shuddered beneath us. It was with some relief – plus a real sense of achievement – that we finally set our feet back on solid ground.
This, my second, visit to the ‘Dome’ turned out just as enjoyable – if surreal – as the first and I’d recommend the Up at the O2 Climbing Experience to Londoners and visitors alike. If you fancy giving it a go, you can find more information and book here.