The city is wilder than we think; that’s what’s clear from up above.

It was by climbing London that I fell in love with it.

I don’t dislike ground-level London. I have grudging affection for its impractical streets and the unhinged ambition written into its architecture. I like the details: the font on the Underground station signs and the hundreds of sea gulls that perch, looking incongruously seaside and skeptical, on the Millennium Bridge each night. I like the self-conscious solemnity of the faces in the National Portrait Gallery and the variegated gray of the Thames. Most of all, and especially now, I cherish its defiantly global heart. But living in any city takes tensed muscles and a carefully calibrated deafness. There are moments when the desire for escape and a wider sky becomes overwhelming, and it’s then that I go night climbing.

I do so because to know a city properly, it helps to touch it and to know the textures and scents of the materials that built it. I have developed strong opinions about brickwork and brick dust and cement and concrete, about the skeleton of London. I have come to love the rich tawny color of the yellow London stock brick, its mellowness stemming from the clay of South East England.