2019 – Taking rock climbing to new heights

Only a few years back, rock climbing was considered a niche sport. Now, the number of social climbers and the newbies seem to have caught up with the adrenaline junkies and the muscly athletes which once dominated the sport.

Since the announcement in 2016 that climbing will be considered an Olympic sport, its popularity has boomed. With just a year and a half to go until the start of the Tokyo Olympics, more people are curious about exploring new heights, both outdoor and indoor.

In 2017, around one million people in the UK tried indoors climbing, with around 100,000 climbing once every two weeks or more, numbers from the Association of British Climbing Walls show.

Edinburgh climber Robbie Phillips thinks the sport has grown because it has become more accessible. With four walls in Edinburgh alone, there is room for the community to expand even further.

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Climbing “El Niño” on El Capitan – Credits to robbiephilips.co.uk

“The modern climbing wall caters for the community like they never did before. Climbing walls are more like social hubs, it is not a case that a climbing wall is something somebody just goes to have a climb or train, they are places people go to meet, hang out with friends, drink coffee and eat cake! This bolsters the community as a whole, brings everyone a little closer and creates more retention in the sport,” says Phillips.

Climbing walls are becoming alternatives to traditional gyms and more people are joining for either social or fitness reasons. Phillips points out that as climbing has a reputation of being adventurous, it encourages people to discover the explorer in them and to push their limits.

This rocky adventure is also becoming popular on the big screen. Last year, two big climbing documentaries were released in the UK, warmly welcomed by the growing audience: “The Dawn Wall” featuring Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, and “Free Solo” with Alex Honnold. Both set in the climbing Mecca of Yosemite, the experience of being on El Capitan is brought right to you in the cinema seat. With film tours such as Reel Rock and Brit Rock – where you can see Phillips star in “Blood Moon” – selling out shows and set to make returns, inspiration continues to flow from the cinema screen.

These films showcase the mental side of climbing, which Phillips thinks is one of the most interesting aspects to the sport. He says: “Climbing keeps you fit in nearly every way and certainly attracts the kind of people who like a mental challenge as well as a physical one.”


Rock climbing challenges both the body and the mind. Photo: Maria Gran

It is no wonder climbing has become so popular as Phillips highlights the good things about the sport. As a low impact sport, anyone can give it a try, it is a great way to stay fit, and it offers a chance to become a part of a very supportive community. Phillips even compares it to another popular activity, video games: “You can go as hard as you want, as easy as you want and you can literally make up your own adventure or climbing session – it’s like the RPG of the sporting world.”

Top 10 Scottish Athletes Of All Time

While Scotland might not be the biggest country in the world, we have managed to punch well above our weight in science, sports and technology. Many of our biggest names have been athletes, and in light of Andy Murray’s recent anointment as tennis’s world number 1, here are our personal picks of the best Scottish athletes.

1 – Sir Chris Hoy



Chris Hoy (pictured) on the top podium, as usual.


An easy pick from us. Hoy was Scotland’s biggest representative on the world stage as he peddled to glory between 2000 to 2012 Olympic Games. He went on to win the most gold medals for a British Olympian and second overall in the British medal tally.

2 – Sir Jackie “Flying Scot” Stewart



The Scottish driver flew into a respectable second spot


Formula 1 legend and Britain’s most successful driver in terms of overall titles. While he was successful in going for glory, he also pushed hard for better safety precautions for drivers when 2/3s of drivers had a chance of dying in a five year career.

3 – Kenny Dalglish (MBE)



“King Kenny” cantered into third


Scotland’s joint leading scorer and all time most capped player. Managed to shake up club football with his spells on both sides of the border; plundering goals for Celtic and Liverpool.  Also had fruitful periods as a manager, winning the “double” for Liverpool and also a league title with Blackburn Rovers.

4 – Andy Murray (OBE)



Still time to spare for him to push further up the list – watch this space.


Current world number 1 at Tennis and the first British athlete to do so. The oldest athlete to become number 1 but will hold it for the remainder of 2016 after seeing off Novak Djokovic at the ATP World Tour Finals.

5- David Wilkie (MBE)



Also current holder of En4News’s pick as 5th best athlete.


Only person to have held British, American, Commonwealth, European, World and Olympic swimming titles at the same time.

6- Allan Wells (MBE)

The Scottish sprinter nabbed golds at the Olympic Games, IAAF World Cup, European Cups and Commonwealth Games in the 100 and 200m.

7- Dennis Law (CBE)

Joint record scorer for Scotland’s football team (we will touch on the other joint scorer later on) and Manchester United’s third highest scorer. He is the only Scottish player to win a Ballon d’Or, doing so in 1964.

8- Isabel Newstead (NBE)

May not be the first name on the tip of your tongue but this Paralympic athlete was a jack of all trades in her competitive career. Isabel won golds across three  disciplines – Six Golds, one Silver and two Bronze medals in Swimming; Three Golds and one Bronze medal in Shooting; One Gold, three Silvers and one Bronze medal in Track and Field.

9 – Graeme Randall (MBE)

Second ever male from the UK to hold a world title in judo (1999).

10 – Eric Liddell

You may have heard of him via the movie that depicted him – Chariots of Fire. Won Gold for Britain at the Olympic Games in 1924 in Paris but was more notable for his religious beliefs. He was known for refusing to compete in his preferred 100m heats as they were hosted on a Sunday, forcing him to compete on a weekday in the 400m heats – which he went on to win. Chose to be a missionary in China over competing in the Olympics again.

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