In this Castle developments blog we interview Mike Langley – Castle Climbing Development Manager. Mike has worked for the Castle for over 10 years in various roles and is now in charge of all wall design, builds, and refurbishments amongst his other responsibilities at the Castle. We caught up with Mike to get the lowdown on the exciting plans in store for May with news on roped walls, more traversing and a completely refurbished Mezz bouldering area.
The Castle seems to always be building, what’s in store this time around?
ML: In May we are building two new areas and refurbishing one! The Tower and The Pump Room are the two new areas to open to Castle’s climbers by the end of May and The Mezz bouldering is getting the refurbishment treatment.
Route climbing first - where is the Tower, what challenges were faced in its development and what is the wall going to be like?
ML: Castles tend to be characterised by their towers - our Castle is no different and we are very excited to be able to develop climbing into our biggest tower for the first time! Only a small handful of people would have been inside this tower as it is currently only used for group abseils.
The Castle is unlike any other centre in the world as it is housed in grade II-listed Victorian water pumping station which is so unique. It’s a big challenge at times to work with it but it also gives us lots of potentials to push into new spaces.
The inside of the Tower is around 35m tall. Unfortunately, due to English Heritage protection, the Victorian cast iron spiral staircase, which wraps around the walls starting at 7 meters, means we won't be able to have 35-meter pitches. However, we are putting in 7 new top ropes lines ranging from 7 meters (downstairs top rope height) to 12 meters (tallest lines in the centre). These lines will be all vertical and follow the circular shape of the tower itself.
From the bottom of the routes you will be able to see to the very top of the tower! It should be pretty dramatic. So psyched!
And what about the second development due to open in May - The Pump Room?
ML: To gain access to the bottom of the Tower we had to open up a corridor space that is attached to the side of the building. This area used to look like a set of old haunted vaults! In gaining access to the Tower we were left with a long, narrow room around 13m long and 3m wide. Rather than just using this as through space to get to the Tower we have built a massive continuous traversing room that will be route set to serve as training endurance for routes. We think we can get over 60 moves in one circuit alone! Hence the name “Pump room”.
Exciting! How do you get to these two new areas?
ML: For both of these areas, you will use the Oak Stairs that link the café level to the Wells. The entrance is about halfway down.
What about the Mezz? Why is it getting refurbished and what will the new design offer?
ML: The original Mezz bouldering area (the blue room opposite the slabs) was built around 2006. It’s a great room but it needs refurbishing due to many years of heavy use it has been getting day-in-day-out. We will be ripping out the entire wall and replacing it with a brand new one with a slightly different design.
The current design is awesome and has served us really well but because the main overhang is so steep (at 50 degrees it really dominates the space) it can cause crowding issues. One thing we are always considering when building walls is what we refer to as “the finished Castle”. When building something new or refreshing a space we have to think a few steps ahead about what spaces we have currently and what the mix of walls should be in each area and overall at the Castle in the future. As you may have read in the previous blog we have extra buildings waiting to be developed and the plan is for one of them to contain lots of very steep bouldering. This means when developing the Mezz, which is a smaller space, it makes sense to reduce the overhang slightly to around 20 degrees and generally open the space up whilst maintaining super cool angles.
We have also designed a nice overhanging feature in the right-hand corner to spice things up a bit.
How will this all affect the customers?
ML: This is all happening very soon and all three areas should be open by the end of May! As the Tower is all behind closed doors, all the customers might notice is the occasional power tool noise or materials being carried in. The Pump room is nearly ready but it needs some finishing touches once the Tower is done. The Mezz will be completely shut for its refurbishment from around 12th May for a couple of weeks.
Sounds exhausting, what’s next?
ML: After these 3 walls, we will start design work for a new outdoor boulder for 2019 (replacement for Battleship), the two new buildings and multiple further refurbishments of both boulder and roped walls. And dare I say, our plans currently even involve a speed climbing wall! Check back next month for further updates.