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'Adrenaline Junkie' Grandma Has Turned Her Home Into A Makeshift Rock Climbing Wall

Collect/ PA Real Life

Dressed to scale a perilous peak, a grandmother-of-six expertly picks her way up and down the sheer three meter beam, traveling from her first-floor landing into the attic, before adjusting her head torch, ready for a spot of caving beneath her double bed.


For retired civil servant Judith Plowman, 71, of Glossop, Derbyshire, England who discovered her “adrenaline junkie" side in retirement, will not let the absence of a mountain range prevent her from practicing her favorite hobbies—rock climbing and caving.

Married for nearly 30 years to German teacher Adrian, 68—her second husband—she was inspired to start rock climbing at 68 after watching her IT consultant son, Tim, 29, teach younger members of the family at The Foundry Climbing Centre in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, back in 2016.

Enthralled, she was not content simply to watch from the side-lines and, within a few months, in early 2017, was scaling the climbing wall beside them, then going on in December 2019, aged 70, to start caving, too, saying:

“Trying a new hobby will only have a positive outcome—even if something isn't for you."
“It's such an achievement to still be willing to try something new."
“Your age has nothing to do with how you attack something or how hard you try at it."

Judith climbing in her home (Collect/ PA Real Life)

She continued:

"I can do things now I couldn't have done 15 years ago—I'm stronger and fitter than ever."
“Rock climbing is a very physical workout. It's so confidence building, and I've discovered moves I thought my body may find were no longer possible."
“I've remembered how useful my body is and what I'm capable of. It keeps me young and stops me from becoming rigid and falling in on myself."

Judith on an outdoor climb (Collect/ PA Real Life)

She is not the only older woman looking for adventure, according to a survey by holiday and park home manufacturer, Willerby, which found that 58 per cent of over 55s say life is more fun than it was in their 20s and 30s, while 43 per cent relish their newfound confidence in later life and 42 per cent , like Judith, want to learn new skills and embrace new hobbies in retirement.

For Judith, rock climbing in particular, had her instantly hooked, much to the delight of her son and grandchildren, and she loves the fact it challenges both her strength and her mental agility.

Keen to encourage other members of the 'baby boom' era, like her, to pursue new adventures, Judith said in the more repressed society she grew up in, it would have been frowned upon.

Judith and her son out climbing together (Collect/ PA Real Life)

She recalled:

“Growing up in middle class suburbia meant that young girls weren't encouraged to do sport—besides P.E lessons—or have adventures."
“I'd always fantasized about taking a trip or doing something incredible—but I never really had the opportunity."
“The most adventurous thing I ever did growing up was going on a camping holiday to Belgium. I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but it was the most low key, miserable holiday you could imagine."

Judith and her partner (PA Real Life/Collect)

Motherhood and work then gave Judith little opportunity to pursue other things.

“Being a mum is an adventure in its own way. I loved bringing up my children and being a mum."
“I knew I had a lot of responsibilities, though, so the time was never right to do something adventurous or challenge myself."

Judith Plowman (Collect/ PA Real Life)

That all changed the day when Judith watched the younger members of her family rock climbing and seized the opportunity to try something new.

She said:

“I was surprised at how safe it actually looked. And I just thought 'This all looks pretty safe, I should give it a go'."
“Tim is really proud of me, and I know he loves that now we've got a hobby that we can do together."

Judith Plowman (Collect/ PA Real Life)

Keen to help his mother, in early 2017, Tim took her to Manchester Climbing Centre for her first session—and she was hooked after her debut ascent.

“I loved it immediately. Rock climbing always gives me this wonderful exhilarating feeling."
“There are moments when you're scared, but not quite scared enough to care, just enough to get a lovely rush of adrenaline."

Judith Plowman (Collect/ PA Real Life)

She added:

“It's great because it challenges my mind but, at the same time requires mental skill. It's like a puzzle and you have to work out the best way to get yourself up."

Since then, Judith—who has been part of a Morris Dancing “group of grandmas" since she was 50—has been a valued member of The Climbing Clan, attending the indoor climbing sessions almost every week.

The Climbing Clan in a Manchester based indoor climbing group and has almost 200 members.

Judith climbing through her attic (Collect/ PA Real Life)

Most people are in their 20s or 30s, but Judith is able to keep up with and inspire the younger generation of recruits.

“I think in my generation—where you had to do a lot more exercise regularly, like cycling six miles to and from school, and then the abundance of physical housework—this helped to build up muscle development."
“I have the confidence in my muscles that I've developed over many years and, if I put them to use, they work. This has certainly proved to be true when I've been rock climbing."

Judith Plowman (Collect/ PA Real Life)

And while Judith began climbing indoors, she was keen to try a real rock face, so in the summer of 2018 she joined Tim on her first ever outdoor climb in Chapel-en-le-Frith in Derbyshire.

“Outdoor climbing is a much slower climb than indoor climbing because you spend a lot of time working out where best to put your hands."
“It's quite a commitment and a bit of a mental puzzle, but honestly, it's amazing. When my hands touch the rocks I feel like, 'Ah, I'm coming home'."

Judith caving (Collect/ PA Real Life)

She added:

“It can be difficult, because you need to 'trust the rock' to hold you, but in my case, I need to 'trust my fingers' to keep a grip, too."

Last summer, Judith took part in a one-day eight-pitch climb, led by Tim, up Tryfan, in Snowdonia, which soars to over 3,000 feet above sea level and is the 15th highest mountain in Wales.

“It was brilliant—it was one of the best days and I hope I can do another climb like that in the future."

Judith Plowman (Collect/ PA Real Life)

But Judith did not stop there—with climbing whetting her appetite for adventure, last autumn, again with Tim and a group of others, she decided to try caving for the first time at Bagshawe Cavern in Bradwell.

“Caving is much more of a group activity, because the whole group has to get through the cave and you're only as strong as your weakest link."
“So, when you're wriggling through the caves, there's always someone to give you a leg up or to help pull you through."

Judith caving under her bed (Collect/ PA Real Life)

Keen to encourage her contemporaries to take her lead and try something a bit risky, Judith now sings the virtues of finding excitement later in life.

“Rock climbing and caving have allowed me to break out of the conventional box, which has been amazing."
“I'd say if you ever hear of someone doing something new or exciting and you fancy having a try, ask about it, and join in. Don't just think, 'Oh, good for them', instead think, 'Can I do it too?' The chances are that you can."

Judith at a climbing wall (Collect/ PA Real Life)

She added:

“Make sure you stay acutely aware of the opportunities presented to you—don't ignore them, be brave and follow them up. You never know what happiness they might bring you."

And, following Government advice to stay at home until at least the end of June, because of her age, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Judith has remained determined not to neglect her hobbies.

So, as she cannot get to the indoor climbing wall or the rock faces, she adores, Tim, who is isolating with her, has helped her to improvise at home—turning their house into a makeshift climbing and caving centre, with the help of a beam and a double bed.

Judith Plowman (Collect/ PA Real Life)

Judith, who split up with her first husband in 1985, laughed:

“Tim and I saw this spoof video made by a well-known rock climber did, climbing around his home and thought it would be a great idea if we made one, too, so we did!"
“Climbing and caving at home and making the video have kept us very entertained during lockdown. Laughter and silliness was what get us through these things."
“There's a beam in my house that starts off in my attic and goes down to the first-floor landing, so you can rope down two floors—it's great. I've managed to perfect my single rope technique while I've been doing it."

Judith Plowman (Collect/ PA Real Life)

She added:

“And I've been practicing caving under the double bed, to get used to wiggling through some tight squeezes."

But, while she will happily make do with her homemade climbing wall, Judith is really looking forward to getting back to the real rocks.

She added:

“I've started looking at rebooking climbing trips for next year that I've had to cancel due to the pandemic. But, for now, while I'm stuck in the house, I'm talking to friends about climbing and caving—and to The Climbing Clan, when we meet on a weekly Zoom call."

Judith out walking (Collect/ PA Real Life)

She concluded:

“Hopefully, I will be meeting up with them and enjoying rock climbing again for real very soon."

To find out more about Willerby click here and to find out more about The Climbing Clan click here