We were a pretty close bunch of climbers and we liked to get our climbing fix on a regular basis. The Kelsey Kerridge wall in Cambridge was our home when we were not at either Sixth Form, traversing Long Road bridge at lunch, working in Actionsports on Saturday or lucky enough to have parents who would take us away to real rock on Sunday.
It was normal to roll up early afternoon and leave late in the evening. Don’t you be thinking Climbing Works, Climbing Academy or The Depot.. think Brittas Empire and you get the vibe. There would be a few sessions of aerobics or badminton as we climbed, raising the ambient temperature to sauna point and forcing us off the wall to top of the slab where we would slug cans of coke next to a small broken window, the only ventilation in the room. The only other time we avoided the wall was during martial arts classes when flying weapons provided a greater hazard to our health than chalk dust or hard landings. When our fingers screamed they couldn’t take anymore we would leave to find that at least one wheel, or seat post would have been stolen from our bikes.. this was Cambridge after all.
Sometimes when things were slow we would set up a tryolean traverse, stack coke cans above the slab, play around with trad gear, anything to justify hanging out just a little bit longer… like something really excellent was just about to happen. Fashion of the day was Jrat tank tops, Troll trousers, Ron Hill tracksters, Patagonia Snap tees, Calange fleeces and Rock Designs tshirts. On our feet we wore Asolo Runouts, Boreal Ninjas, La Sportiva Mythos, that kind of stuff. We were a colourful bunch.
New vs Old
So this is where we hung out. Myself, Col, JIm and Nick (now Alpkit) along with Alex Ratcliffe, Tim Jones, Nick Benwell, The Horn, Tim Brown, Daisy, Sarah, Liz and The Bird and then there were others like Stretchy Jeremy the token grad student. Every gym has their own strong locals, and 20 years ago KK was no different. Alex and Tim did pretty well for themselves but Fran, Merlin, Yann, Kim and Airlie for the girls were probably the ones we looked up to.
Kelsey Kerridge has always been severe on the fingers. Built in the 70’s it was once state of the art, its holds formed out of immovable glued on rocks, pretty much slate like in frictional qualities. Who knows how many variations on variations of movements were created over the years, you had to be creative. Obviously these haven’t roughened up none over the years, meaning that another 20 years on none of the old problems have got any easier. Protection was provided by a couple of judo mats and a strong sense of self preservation, but thinking about it I don’t remember a single person being carried out with a sprained ankle or worse.
New health and safety regs. Improved matting and no hands above the red line. ‘Climbing in this area is strickly forbidden!’ This niche used to have some good problems in it!
Despite the nostalgia, and it is fun to hide behind a vail of nostalgia when you get older, we were asking for a new wall 20 years ago. A new generation of wall was cropping up around the country with the likes of the Berghaus wall in Newcastle and the Foundry in Sheffield. KK eventually responded by spraying the wall, covering up some of the exposed chicken wire and bolting on some holds that would never be changed. It was too little, too late.
Crank the clock on more than a decade.. badminton, table tennis, basket ball, judo and aerobics have been booted out, and the hall has been fully matted and dedicated to climbing. Zig Zag Walls of Sheffield have installed a fabulous bouldering structure that finally brings KK into the 21st century, whilst preserving the heritage of the old wall.
So I turned up on Friday for the official opening competition. Despite travelling from Nottingham apparently all the tickets were sold out! Typical leisure centre bureaucracy, so I sat tight for a few minutes, and after they realised how much space there was they sold me a ticket! They were ever so nice about it.
It was great to see some problems set on the old wall, the holds were smaller and more polished than I remembered and it was quickly apparent that I don’t have the finger strength I once had! The 30 problems were more or less set in number of difficulty, although problems 8 and 9 on the old wall were complete sandbags and closed down pretty much everyone! I think the score chart was slightly wrong, 10 points 1st go, 8 points 2nd go and 7 if completed, and the distribution of difficulty between 15 - 25 could, in my opinion, could have been smoothed out a little, but for these minor criticisms the event was friendly and a lot of fun.
The Mayor and VIPs
After the comp the new wall was officially opened by the Mayor of Cambridge with an entourage of important people. The Mayor even got on the wall, fairplay to her for entering into the spirit of things, although she really should have taken that chain off first. Steve McClure and Katy Whittaker were around after the comp to offer advice, and it was amazing to see so many of the climbers who competed pull their boots back on and get involved, proving that Cambridge climbers have an insatiable appetite and this wall is long overdue!
This was, and still is, a leisure centre, in fact I did recognise a few staff faces! So don’t go expecting a dedicated climbing centre, however, just as when it was OUR wall, you make the best of what you have. It is always going to be the bunch of people who are there, at the same time, who make the difference, and I sensed a pretty good vibe back in Cambridge.
If anyone has the old route book get in touch!