Tab Tries: Cambridge Night Climbing

It’s illegal and terrifying but probably worth your time.

night climbers

Unbeknownst to most of Cambridge – in spite of their historical pretensions – the Cambridge Night Climbers are alive and well.

In Cambridge, there’s a climbing community of around 70, a smaller proportion of which practise night climbing, and a much smaller proportion of which constitute the actual top-secret Cambridge Night Climbers, who are a Big Fat Deal, the subject of a number of books in the 20th century.

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Try being there in person. It’s a lot more terrifying.

The Cambridge Night Climbers are a bit like an athletic version of the Apostles, but they trade nerdy exchanges on philosophy for death-defying feats on the spires and turrets of Cambridge. (Sorry, Wittgenstein, you’re not cool outside of Cambridge.)

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It’s like the rooftop scene from My Fair Lady except apparently 1960s cinematography works better than my phone.

They’re highly exclusive and you have to be invited to apply. The Tab has seen a document of 24 questions you have to answer via email to in order to be accepted. The questions include:

  • Would you consider yourself a renaissance man?
  • How close have you come to dying?
  • Do you ever have to consciously prevent yourself from deliberately jumping when you find yourself standing on a cliff or rooftop?
  • What do you know about central banking and currency laws?
  • Describe your religious beliefs, if you have any.
  • How successful with women are you? Would you describe yourself as a feminist? Do a little bit of research on the gender wage gap and give us your thoughts on the issue.
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Fuck fuck fuck.

The questions are accompanied by a warning that you should “be prepared to defend what you say” and an inscription in Latin – vita aedificium est istam scande – which, if my A Level Latin serves me well, means something along the lines of “life is to climb that building over there”. (But correct me in the comments. There must be at least a couple of Classicists who read The Tab.)

One almost wonders whether the Cambridge Night Climbers aren’t a highly elaborate front for the Apostles, and all the climbing-related questions aren’t a sophisticated decoy from the more philosophical ones.

In any case, I was keen to try out this illegal pastime with a friend of a friend of friend of a friend, whom I met at midnight in an unspecified location in a scenario that felt vaguely like a drug deal, not that I have any idea what that involves.  He’s not a member of the Night Climbers himself, but he’s a climber and knows some people in the group.

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Precipitous.

I spent most of the next hour or so desperately hanging onto walls and rails and pipes while my guide – who does a lot of slacklining – handled the situation with considerably more adroitness. We scaled the walls on the eastern side of New Museums – one of three entry routes he knew of, this being by far the easy one.

Check out that pixelation.

Check out that pixelation.

The most difficult part was probably the start, when you have to haul yourself over several stages to the top of the complex.

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Enigmatic leg shot.

At this point, the danger is more being seen by any researchers who happen to be staying up late, although there were also a couple of nerve-wracking points with a 30 metre drop on one side, a net on the other and those really annoying anti-pigeon spikes underfoot. (Nerve-wracking for me. Not nerve-wracking for someone who can actually climb.)

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It looked suspiciously like cannabis from a distance.

I felt badass. Said feeling of being badass was reaffirmed by signs indicating danger.

Radical.

Radical.

At one point we had to crawl along a ledge adjacent to a window to avoid being seen by some obsessive scientist at his desk. Realistically, though, there are a number of exit routes we could have taken and you’re literally hiding on a roof in pitch-black lighting so getting caught isn’t a major issue.

Well obviously I wasn't going to take a photo of one of the labs WITH a scientist.

One of the labs.

The view from the top was an attractive one, but mainly facing Pembroke. The other side of the complex faced onto this swanky building site.

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Even more attractive from on high than from down low.

Most importantly, I didn’t die. 

Do you know any more about The Night Climbers? Or The Apostles for that matter. Especially The Apostles. Send us a tip here.