Review: Rock Up Climbing Walls At Lakeside, Essex

(AD - Gifted Entry) At the weekend we headed to intu Lakeside Shopping Centre in Grays, Essex for one of their newest offerings: Rock Up. No it’s not some sort of outdoor clothing store but a venue for climbing and soft play suitable for the whole family.

Me and my daughter climbing up colourful plastic climbing walls at Rock Up Lakeside
Climbing for all the family at Rock Up at intu Lakeside, Essex

Climbing at Rock Up Lakeside, Essex

I was invited to come along when Rock Up Lakeside opened in December, but I decided to wait until after Little’s 4th birthday so she would be old enough to have a go at climbing as well. My eldest daughter (aged 8) has been to lots of climbing walls before, but it was the first time for Little and I.

You can book your session at Rock Up online for a small discount or just turn up and book into the next session with available spaces. Half an hour before your session is due to start you are asked to go to the briefing area where there are lockers (that take £1, but it's returnable) and staff help you into your climbing harness. For those unfamiliar with the harnesses they have a strap that goes round each leg and round your waist and they manageable to unflattering emphasise both your bum and crotch area. Younger children wear a full body harness so instead of a waist strap it crosses behind their back and goes over their shoulders too. At the front of the harness is a loop which the safety rope is clipped to when climbing.

A 4 year old getting a full body harness on ready to go climbing
Getting the harness on

Once everyone in the session is strapped into their hardness you sit and watch a short video guiding you through the Health & Safety aspects. It wasn't very easy to hear all of it, but the video is understandable anyway and they run through the key points at the end. If it is your child's first time climbing I would recommend you check they understand the safety points.

A TV screen with a video on and a member of staff in yellow top next to it
Watching the safety briefing

There are 27 climbing walls in lots of different styles and a few are designed so you can race a friend (or sibling) to the top. Each one has a suggestion for 3 different levels of difficulty eg just using a particular coloured hold.

When you have chosen what you want to go on you put your hand up and wait for one of the staff members in yellow to attach the clip allowing you to climb up. When you are ready to come down you can hold on to your rope and step off and you are automatically lowered to the floor. You can unclip yourself and move on to the next wall you want to climb.

A climbing wall that looks like large balls balanced on top of each other and an 8 year old girl climbing up it

A climbing wall which rotates like a treadmill so you never reach the top

Stairway to Heaven climbing wall which is a period of increasingly tall blue pillars you stand on top of

Are the climbing walls suitable for a 4 year old?

At Rock Up children are allowed to book on to the general climb sessions from age 4. At 8 M whizzed up everything, but her sister wasn’t as confident or able. I asked for suggestions of which walls were easier to climb up, but I think it’s worth trying a few different ones and see how they go. They will find different grips and styles comfortable. Little didn’t climb all the way up any of them, but she gradually climbed higher during our hour long session as she gained confidence.

I was booked into climb myself so I could try a few out, but really Little (at just 4) was a bit too young not to be supervised 1 on 1. For instance: you aren’t meant to walk on the mats if they are on the floor as it means someone is above you climbing, but I repeatedly had to remind her. On one of the few occasions I climbed a wall, I saw Little on the mat beneath me as I was coming down and I ended up bruising my shoulder moving out of the way. 

When I was complaining about this later M pointed out that is why you are told to look down before you start your descent. It was a bit embarrassing telling her the reason I was coming down was because I couldn’t hold on any longer so I didn’t really have much choice!

As an adult you can go in the climbing area (with a fetching blue high vis jacket) and not climb at no additional cost, this is probably the best option if you are going climbing with a 4 or 5 year old.

A 4 year old climbing up a climbing wall at Rock Up Lakeside called Hexed which has hexagon shapes to grip onto

A bucket style climbing wall which is round and has steps with handles on directly above each other

Large blocks in yellow and blue being built up into a tower to climb up
Build your own tower to climb

Adult climbing at Rock Up

I enjoyed my climbs however brief, but going on a Sunday afternoon the climbers were predominantly children. You kinda felt that you had to give them priority if they wanted to go on the same wall as you which is unfair really as adults pay more. You also have to be careful to make sure children aren’t going to get in your way (especially your own in my case). It’s fun as a family activity, but if you really want to focus on the climbing then it would be worth checking out the adult only climbing sessions they have.

Optional Extras

In the climbing area there are 2 extras that you have to pay additional amounts for if you want to get involved: the Traverse Climbing Wall and the Vertical Drop Slide.  They cost £3 each or you can pay for both for £5.

The Traverse Climbing Wall was one of the favourites for M and I. I liked it because instead of climbing upwards you climb along the wall with a variety of different grips. You are meant to be able to time yourself, but the timer currently isn’t working. M liked this climb I think because you don’t click yourself to a safety rope and if you fall off you land in squishy foam blocks.

The Vertical Drop Slide requires you to take your shoes off and put on a boiler suit and helmet. You lie on your back and are pulled up a vertical slide while holding onto a cross bar. When ready you let go and whizz down it. You get 2 goes for £3. You need to be 120cm to have a go, but the girls loved it.

Me on the traverse climbing wall where there are different grips to climb sideways a long a wall
The Traverse Climbing Wall at Rock Up Lakeside

A girl in a helmet and black boiler suit holding on to a bar which is pulling her vertically up a slide
Vertical Drop Slide At Rock Up Lakeside

Soft Play at Rock Up Lakeside

The soft play frame is a mid size and can keep children entertained for a while. One section is for 0 to 2 year olds and has a little ball pit, slide, fun lighting etc and the rest of the frame is for 3 to 8 year olds. My daughters spent around an hour in the soft play after climbing until I insisted we had to leave. They would have happily played longer.

View across the seating area to the soft play frame at Rock Up Essex
Soft play and seating area at Rock Up Lakeside

How to find Rock Up at intu Lakeside 

If you are heading to Lakeside at a busy time I would recommend choosing any car park, but at quieter times choose either the outside parking near the front or the multi story next to the bridge for the station. Parking is free.

The entrance to Rock Up is on the ground floor at the House of Fraser end of the shopping centre, opposite a McDonalds. The check in desk is at the door and you can look down into the climbing area which is pretty cool. After grabbing your wristbands for your session you head down the stairs (or lift) to the rest of the venue. 

Rock Up has toilets and a cafe serving hot and cold food and drink.

Walk in prices for an hours climbing at peak times (eg the weekend) is £16.50 for adults and £14.75 for under 18s and concessions. Soft Play costs £8 for aged 6 months to 8 years which gives you access all day so you can leave and do a bit of shopping if you want. There are various discounts available as well as parties and exclusive hire options.

Sisters drinking slush drinks
Cooling down after climbing

A view of some of the 27 different climbing walls
The climbing walls at Rock Up Lakeside as seen from the entrance on the ground floor of intu Lakeside

What to wear for climbing

People wore a wide variety of clothing and footwear when we were visiting, but the key requirements are that your legs are covered and your clothing allows full movement of your body. You probably don't want to wear anything too loose that could get caught on anything. I was comfortable in a t-shirt and it was air conditioned, but I don't know what it would be like in the height of summer. Footwear should be trainers or similar footwear. If you plan to go on the vertical drop slide or in the soft play then you will need to be wearing socks. Long hair should be tied back and jewellery (including rings) should be removed so probably best left at home.

***Disclosure: we were gifted entry to Rock Up Lakeside for the purpose of the review, all thoughts are our own***

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