Famous American mountaineer Annie Smith Peck once said that climbing was an unadulterated hard labour, and it’s only real pleasure was the satisfaction of going where no man has been before – where few can follow.
After spending an hour in the new ROKT climbing gym in Brighouse, I can confirm that Annie knew what she was talking about.
Ten minutes spent clinging desperately to the rock face, less than a metre off the ground and unable to pluck up the courage to actually move, I realised this isn’t a sport you can bluff your way through.
But it is one you can learn quickly, and that’s exactly what directors Euan Noble and Leigh Topping are trying to encourage people to do. Friends for over ten years, Euan and Leigh want to attract new people to a sport which is growing by the day.
“We’re trying to do something different here,” said Leigh. “Climbing walls can be very cliquey which doesn’t encourage new climbers, but we’re trying to be more socially inclusive.”
The climbing gym occupies the former Sugden’s Flour Mill, which has for a decade been caught in the cross fire of ownership and usage disputes, but finally looks to have found a purpose almost as good as the one it was originally built for.
“When we did our business plan we didn’t dream of finding anywhere like this,” Euan said. “It’s incredible and it’s exactly what we wanted.”
The inside of the centre is covered in deliberate and stylish graffiti, and music is played through speakers all the day. A ‘chill out’ area with comfortable leather chairs leads out to a spacious outdoor decking balcony which overlooks the Calder and Hebble Navigation. In terms of leisure facilities, it’s like nothing Brighouse has ever seen.
The wall was officially opened last month by former Indoor British Climbing Champion and TV star Leo Holding, with many more big names and events scheduled for later in the year.
Newcastle University graduate Hannah Bond, who is the granddaughter of former Brighouse Town clerk John R Liddle has been chosen to be an ambassador for the centre and, safe to say, her climbing is much better than mine.
“I was dreading coming back to Brighouse after leaving Newcastle, but then within a few days of getting home I heard there was going to be a climbing wall and suddenly I couldn’t wait to get home,” she said.
“It’s a really good thing for the town and it will hopefully bring new people to the town, which will be great for local businesses.”
The second phase of the build will be a 22 metre ‘lead’ wall, before, possibly, the creation of a 35 metre wall – the biggest in the country.
Schools and families are welcome, with beginner walls available for those who, like me, could do with a few days of practice.
For a long time the old mill was one of Brighouse’s biggest problems. Now it could find itself at the centre of a recreational revolution.