How do I get started?
The standard disclaimers about how dangerous climbing is and how unreliable anything is you read anywhere apply here as well. This site is far from definitive (and probably far from accurate). It is here for the amusement of myself and friends and possibly to shed some light, though I don't mind a little obfuscation now and again either. Various parts have been adapted and pilfered from sources found hither and yon, though I have tried to make all entries mostly original. So please read, but remember that responsibility for safe climbing is your own.
1. Ok, I want to try this climbing lark. How do I do start?
There's four ways, you can start inside, outside, and with or without friends. Starting inside is probably safer.
a) Inside, without friends.
OK, you are on your own, or you do not have climbing friends. This is a right pain, because this can get expensive. Basically you will have to pay someone to teach you how to belay, before you can start off on your own. A "taster" session from Leeds Wall, at the time of writing, is £25 for one person and £30 for two. A beginners climbing course, 2 hours for four weeks, is £75 from the same place. You cannot generally just turn up and climb, as the centre will have very strict health and safety and insurance requirements which they WILL NOT bend. Once you are competent to belay you are free to climb in the wall, and might even get a little plastic card.
Climbers go in two's, most of the time. One person belays the other, then they reverse. Being without a partner does mean you are limited to bouldering (no bad thing) or working on the automatic belay devices (of which most centres have at least one or two). Saying that, at the time of writing, Huddersfield, Liverpool and Sheffield The Edge have none, Leeds has four in theory, but one always appears down for repairs, and Hull normally has six in perfect working order.
However, climbers are, it has to be said, sociable animals. Well, most of them. If you ask someone for a belay you are very likely to get a "yes" answer, and if you are down the indoor wall and are a relatively courageous person who doesn't mind going up to total strangers then your chances of pairing up with someone are high. What you can also look out for is a group of three, and ask if you can pair up with the "spare" person.
I was once working out of Liverpool office and just went down Liverpool wall and asked a few people if they wouldn't mind giving me a belay, and several refusals later (they were a miserable lot at Liverpool) I joined up with a couple and had a good climb. The next day I did the same, and ended up pairing with a guy who was in a three for the entire night.
Another hint is to go down a boulder on your own for a bit. You WILL get talking to the other boulderers, and just ask if they fancy doing a bit of routing.
b) Inside, with friends.
Here you can get your friends to teach you the basics, which cuts out a lot of expenditure (be sure to buy your friends a pint!). Your friends should be able to supervise you, so you will be able to climb at once. a few sessions in, your friends will get you to take the Wall's belay test, and you will be in as a signed-up, competent member.
c) Outside, on your own.
Just don't. The chances of you having a good time are vastly dwarfed by the possibility of injuring yourself.
However, it's perfectly possible to start bouldering outside on your own. It isnt as much fun, but hey, may be you are in the middle of nowhere, and all your mates prefer getting drunk.
If you have to, then you will probably need a chalk and chalkbag, and possibly some rockboots. A bouldering mat might be useful too - expect to pay £50 for the bargain basement crash mat to £350 for something the size of a double bed and a foot thick. If the latter, you might need a big car as well.
Go and buy a guidebook for the local bouldering venue, get out there and start on the easy stuff, working upwards slowly. Normally boulderers have folk to spot them, so be very, very careful.
d) Outside, with friends
Quite possible to start outside with friends who have kit, though you might have to find a friend with a spare harness or rockboots, or buy them yourself. Again, your life is in your friend's hands, so make sure they know what they are doing.
2) What equipment will I need?
Most climbing walls have facilities for hiring out equipment, normally boots and a harness are all you will need. Also useful will be a chalk bag and chalk, which you can pick up for a tenner, and a belay device with a screwgate karabiner, which will be another tenner.
At time of writing, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield (both The Foundary and The Edge), Liverpool and Ratho hire out kit. Huddersfield is the only wall I have been to which does not appear to have gear available for casual hire. Expect to pay a couple of quid for the hire of each item for a session.
Most climbers will buy a harness and rock boots fairly quickly - about £40-60 each. Which you get first depends on which hurts you more - the hire boots or the hire harness. The hire harnesses are utilitarian devices which are a little short of padding in locations where padding would be useful, if you get my drift, whereas normal harnesses are designed for comfort as well.