Fifty ways to leave a hotel? Here’s a new one

The world’s first bed, breakfast and abseil package has gone on sale at the St Giles hotel in central London

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Sunday 17 December 2017 15:03 GMT
Simon Calder tries abseiling down central London hotel

Afterwards, I wrote to thank the man who had instructed me to step off a 15-storey building in central London.

Dave Talbot responded swiftly: “Hopefully our relaxed manner helps people 'over the edge’.”

Usually, Dave is to be found scaling vertical rock faces on implausibly high mountains. But for rest and relaxation he organises charity abseils from the tops of tall structures.

By “organise”, I mean telling a sequence of presumably rational people to overcome their reluctance to tussle with gravity, to step into thin air and dangle from a rope as they edge down the side of a skyscraper. As a means of raising funds for charities, it’s slightly more challenging than carol singing.

The reason Dave spent a quiet few minutes persuading me to believe him rather than my own intuition was because the charity abseil has now spread to tourism. I was enjoying, if that is the correct word, a preview of the world’s first bed, breakfast and abseil package. It has gone on sale at the St Giles hotel in central London. On Tuesday, guests who have signed up for the package (costing a very reasonable £118.50 for two on Monday night), will enjoy bed and breakfast followed by belaying by Dave Talbot.

The hotel will pay £30 per person, more than half the room charge, to the Hotels with Heart charity, which is collecting funds for London’s homeless. The St Giles is also meeting the considerable cost of setting up an abseiling operation.

“Modern buildings are no problem,” Dave Talbot tells me as we survey London, “because they have constant force anchors.” These are metal fixtures on roofs which can bear ridiculously heavy weights. Good news for window cleaners. It’s also handy for anyone who needs to secure ropes to ensure the safety of guests who are finding a new way to leave a hotel.

From the moment you emerge onto the roof, wearing an unflattering harness, everything is devised to keep you safe: you are hooked on to a safety line and have time to appreciate a fresh view of the capital from a very central vantage point. The St Giles is around the corner from Tottenham Court Road. Centrepoint dwarfs the London Eye, while the dome of the British Museum looks like a plumped-up cushion.

When your turn comes to move to the edge, the adrenalin combined with everything you can see convinces you that your adventure at the extreme end of the hospitality industry is unlikely to end well. No plumped up cushions below.

Dave invites you to his perch: a small ledge that presumably is standard Himalayan fare on K2. But for normal people in central London, it would be vastly improved in its appeal if it were four, rather than 164 feet, above the street.

You are attached to the rope that will be your best friend for at least the next five minutes. Thanks to a remarkably effective system that invokes the principles of friction, you can control your descent with no more than thumb pressure. But on the basis that it is possibly the first time you have willingly descended from a great height, Dave has a separate safety rope over which he has sole control, belaying you at no more than an appropriate pace.

Time to go over the edge. All you need do is shuffle backwards so that only the soles of your feet are on the ledge, then lean back in the general direction of oblivion.

The fact that, having done this, you are still aloft and alive vindicates your trust in Dave. So your work begins: plodding down the side of a 1970s monolith while mastering the fine art of friction. Braver souls may pause and look around, but I was studying the brutal concrete exterior as my feet bounced against it.

The St Giles Hotel began life four decades ago as the YMCA — part of a huge development that includes central London’s largest gym. While it was fun to stay at the YMCA, it wasn’t fun for the charity’s finance director, and the "Y" sold off the hostel to hotel investors.

While they wait for brutalism to come back into fashion, the hotel's chief executive, Abigail Tan-Giroud, is devising ways to generate goodwill and good business. “This package enables us to offer our guest a unique way to view London, as well as drive awareness and give immediate relief to those fortunate,” she says.

For the abseiler, the only way is down. Traffic noise has never been so welcome: you know you are getting close to the end of the ordeal, sorry, experience.

But about 30 feet from the ground, just as you are getting some sort of rhythm into your vertical walking, the wall disappears and you find yourself dangling in an overhang. So this is what mountaineers mean by "touching the void". Fortunately you can continue to make progress using the friction device, and Dave’s ground controller, Robyn, helps you shakily onto the pavement.

Going to the ledge and beyond are the first steps to an urban adventure that will certainly thrill you, possibly persuade you to reassess your limits, and happily help others.

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