The Case For A Climbing Wall In a Redeveloped Sands Centre

The Case For A Climbing Wall In a Redeveloped Sands Centre

Recently it came to our attention that the new management of the Sands Centre here in Carlisle, were about to push through changes that would see the Sands’ current climbing wall demolished with no plans to replace it in the new facility.

For the City’s growing climbing community it represents a real loss. Pete Gunn, has organised a petition through Change.Org to try and get a rethink on this short sighted decision (IMHO). It’s the only decent sized leading wall in North Cumbria and for those living in the Borders. Kendal’s massive wall is 50 miles away and it’s 60 miles to Newcastle the nearest alternative large lead wall. Under Pete and Davina’s stewardship, it’s open to the public 7 days a week and these two enthusiasts are able to provide after school climbing sessions for children and popular adults sessions that continue a 25 year tradition.

Tear Down The Wall… But Replace It Please!

In a city that is looking to the future it seems very peculiar that the city on the northern edge of the Lake District would be the one, not to have a lead climbing wall. The redevelopment plans are a prime opportunity for the City of Carlisle and the Sands Centre to build a new modern climbing wall to attract people back.

A Personal Perspective on Losing The Sands Climbing Wall

I got involved in this by alerting the rest of my pals in the Carlisle Mountaineering Club and emailing one of the local councillors in connection with those proposed changes and to help encourage the Sands Centre’s new management to think again about killing off the climbing wall.

When Carlisle wall first went up, it was a highly valued training facility for the town and surrounding area’s climbers. People used to come in from Dumfries, Keswick and Kendal! At that time some of Carlisle’s climbers were still at the forefront of hard rock climbing in the UK and that facility, which was a massive improvement over the old wall in Trinity School, allowed them to maintain an incredibly high standard, for a considerable number of years afterwards.

Many non climbers, including Anne Quilter, probably aren’t aware of names such as Pete Whillance, Dave Armstrong, Jeff Lamb, Pete Botterill and Alan Greig… but these guys were really pushing standards of performance and when I first moved to Carlisle as a clueless young teacher – I was more than a little bit scared of hooking up with the “Carlisle Boys”; as they had such a BIG reputation nationally. This was helped in large part by the presence of the climbing wall. And I well remember the long hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays when we’d try and absorb a few tips and mimic the sheer talent of that group!

There was one redevelopment that I am aware of, when Jack Wolfskin sponsored some fresh structures on the old wall after a few years: as climbing wall technology had advanced and the training needs intensified. Sadly, I feel there was a lack of commitment from the management of the Sands to improve the facility after that.

There were a few downsides to the old wall, including the fact that it was in the main sports hall where there was almost constant blaring music and loud instructors… which made communication difficult between belayer and climber. On one occasion I nearly hit the floor after falling at the top bolt, when the noise distracted my belayer! It was a close shave for my ankles! In truth, we always felt a little bit like we were tolerated; rather than accepted as an integral part of the sporting make-up of the Sands.

The lack of investment in upgrading facilities meant that developments in Penrith, here at St Aidans, Kendal, then Keswick were a far more attractive option which led to falling numbers on Carlisle’s Sands wall. More recently the arrival of Eden Rock’s bouldering facility has been a fantastic addition to the town but has attracted even more people away.

The upside however as that the presence of more facilities also saw many, many more women and girls attracted into the sport compared with when I first took it up in the 70s.

A Short Sighted Decision?

Simply getting rid of the wall is very short sighted. I would love to have a decent leading wall in Carlisle so that I could cut down the number of car journeys I make to Penrith, Keswick or Kendal often on my own as my climbing partners are widely scattered. The combination of Eden Rock and a good leading wall in Carlisle would attract many more people back and cut out a lot of our unnecessary car journeys.

Rock climbing along with many forms of outdoor adventure recreation is growing steadily, so there will always be a good market for courses and individuals who want to train to perform better on real rock. The Carlisle Mountaineering Club is a strong and vibrant club these days despite the fact that we don’t have many world class rock athletes amongst us at the moment. Although we’d kind of turned our backs on the Sands, we’d me very much in favour of a more dedicated facility. Involve us and we would help to promote the wall and pete’s courses to our  100 members

For many years, Alan Greig, along with Sue and Arthur Glencross kept rock climbing tuition going at the Sands even when support from the management was less than forthcoming.

More recently Pete Gunn and his partner Davina have invested a huge amount of time, effort and their own cash into teaching legions of youngsters and coaching older climbers to improve. I know they have also personally added features to the wall to increase its versatility with little help. This happened almost unbeknownst to the club, as Pete had arrived here along a pathway that simply hadn’t included a climbing club.

Climbers are by nature a fairly unconventional bunch compared with other people and we tend to be less accepting of strictures and many societal norms regarding risk. This is a good thing and now more than ever this kind of independent free spiritedness and acceptance of personal responsibility for your own wellbeing and safety needs to be encouraged. Far from being reckless risk takers, climbers tend to weigh up and learn to manage risk before committing to something that looks like it could be dangerous.

Climbing Outdoors after transition from climbing wallFor many people, the availability of a climbing wall of quality, is a fantastic springboard to an outdoor climbing life which takes people back outside into very close contact with the “bones of the earth” again.

It was exactly that feeling which turned an Essex lout into an avid outdoor adventurer with a positive outlook on life. it saved me from turning into just another football hooligan at Tottenham! Too many people have never managed to remake that kind of connection with the rocks and dirt, the plants, trees and water; once childhood is over. That simple but profound loss of experience is a huge contributor to the mental health crisis in this country. Anything that encourages people to take up an activity that is taxing but enjoyable and which encourages making that jump back into the outdoor environment is a good investment in people’s wellbeing!

A training facility such as a re – engineered climbing wall would be a valuable asset for the city and an attraction that would bring climbers back to the Sands! You know it makes sense and I wholeheartedly support Pete Gunn’s campaign to keep a high standard climbing wall facility in the town’s main sports centre!

Petition Details and Some of Pete’s Pros For A New Wall At The Sands Centre!

Location – attracting climbers from Cumbria and the Boarder regions, Scotland and Northumberland, including washed out, lakeland climbers on their way home!

Student population with current Outdoor courses running.

Competition opportunities: The North West Youth Climbing Series (YCS) currently have rounds at Manchester, Kendal, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

Eden Rock, a bouldering centre in Carlisle, open now for 4 years. A great success story (they have just opened another wall in Edinburgh) with thousands of members so providing a health base of climbers new and old.

Climbing is going to be in the 2020 Olympics. Lets get more children active.

NURTURING LOCAL TALENT; A young Female Carlisle climber has recently made it onto the British Climbing Team, coming 5th in a European climbing competition at Imst in Austria, with a male placing in the top 10 from Longtown. We have lots of local talent that have to travel miles to climb and train.

So I echo Pete’s plea to help by signing this petition. Lets get together and at minimum save our wall, or better, inspire a completely new modern leading wall for the City of Carlisle and provide the hub for developing a new strength amongst Carlisle’s climbing community.

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