Climbers set to invade the castle

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Stoke Newington's famous landmark has found its forte. Lynn Eaton looks at life on the rocks

After more than fifty years of lying empty, a novel use has been found for one of north London's most striking local landmarks - the Castle in Stoke Newington.

A civil engineer, merchant banker and national ski-team coach are on the verge of signing a lease with Thames Water to turn the disused pumping station, a Grade II listed building, into a national climbing centre.

The castle might almost have been purpose-built for the job. Inside, a tower, which housed a reservoir of water used to kick-start the steam engines, has a 120ft drop that is perfect for abseiling.

The pits in which three fly-wheels, once part of the pumping mechanism, used to sit drop 40ft below the ground floor level and the wall above rises a further 40ft to the roof, offering a potential climb of 80ft - the highest indoor climbing wall in Britain.

The three sportsmen, who had written to several companies to try to find a vacant warehouse, could not believe their luck when Thames Water came up with the Castle. The water company had also been seeking a use for the building.

Architects Nicholas Grimshaw, responsible for the new Waterloo international rail terminal and Camden's Sainsbury, have designed the centre.

It will include space for 75 pairs of climbers to practise high-level climbs with ropes and another 70 will be able to practise bouldering - literally, rock climbing up boulders rather than a sheer cliff-face.

There will also be an 120ft abseiling drop, aerobics room and bar.

Eventually the company, High Performance Sports, intends to turn the old boiler rooms, behind the main castle building, into a fitness suite and sports centre.

They also hope to use some of the remaining boilers as high pressure chambers to acclimatise mountaineers to high altitude so they do not have to spend weeks in the country where they intend to climb.

There is hardly any provision for rock climbers in London and the South-east. The nearest rock faces are at Tunbridge Wells.

There is an artificial indoor bouldering wall in Mile End and a small climbing wall at the Sobell Centre in Islington and another at the Brunel Centre. But a survey by the British Mountaineering Council last year revealed that demand far outstripped supply.

A potential 900,000 visits would be made in a year in the area, but fewer than 300,000 were available at existing


The other major indoor centre is in a converted foundry in Sheffield, but that has only a 35ft wall. It opened in 1991 and has 70,000 visits a year.

Unlike mountaineers, rock climbers are less intent at getting to the top than finding the best way up a difficult rock face, even though it may only be a few feet high.

Steve Taylor, one of High Performance Sports' three company directors and an avid rock climber, stumped up pounds 100,000 he had inherited to make his dream a reality. The company needs to raise pounds 350,000 from corporate sponsors to open the centre and eventually plans to invest up to pounds 2m to complete the project.

'There are obviously a lot of problems associated with the building. It's frankly quite a pain. But we realised it had so much potential it was going to be worth the effort,' said Mr Taylor.

(Photograph omitted)