Monday, 27 August 2007


There has been no climbing of significance to report over the last week or so, since I was forced, much against my will, to take a trip to the Flatlands of Middle England. Milton Keynes.

Even worse, I had to travel via Luton.

Luton any other railway station in the south east

Yet another instance of Work interfering with Play. I shouldn't grumble, since I am about to have a whole 14 weeks away from Work, in order to Play. But it is frustrating, when there isn't even an indoor wall to visit.

Milton Keynes, of course, has an indoor snow slope. Heading eastwards, I think it must be the biggest hill between there and the Alps! It is certainly visible on the horizon almost all the way from Luton. I knew that there was supposed to be a climbing wall of some description under this artificial hill, but the details on UKC were scanty and the Ellis Brigham website didn't give any more useful information than a phone number (which wasn't much use to me, doing my research, as usual, at midnight the night before departure). I managed to orchestrate my travel so as to minimise the time work activities would take and maximise my chances of locating and using said climbing facility.

Xscape, Milton Keynes. A pretend hill...

Nothing had quite prepared me for the disappointment of what Milton Keynes had to offer in terms of climbing facilities. Inside a shop were two tall towers, with assorted holds bolted to them. In addition to this was a very low and short bouldering wall, maybe 12 feet high and around 30 feet long. It cost £10 for HALF AN HOUR . The towers themselves looked as polished as the F3+ routes at Sella and the self-belay devices indicated that this is a "have-a-go" facility. As soon as you let go of the wall, the self-belay device lowers you right to the ground, thereby offering no scope for "working" moves. Maybe there weren't any moves to work anyway.

I had a chat with the staff in the shop, who were very nice. The facility is really aimed at children with desperate parents on wet Saturday afternoons. To that end, it is a fun and entertaining place to introduce pint-sized people to the joys of this wonderful sport, in the hope that it will inspire them to pursue it further. But I left thoroughly disappointed. It seems clear to me that Milton Keynes (and its environs) is a prime location for an indoor climbing facility. Everything else about this town is artificial; an indoor climbing wall would fit in beautifully.

This brings me to my rant about Milton Keynes itself. I might be biased against this fair corner of England on the basis that it offers me no opportunities to indulge my obsession, but that aside, I think I have never come across anywhere so soul-less and unimaginative. The theories of post-war town planning make sense; they're logical, there isn't any obvious or scientific reason why completely new, planned urban environments should not be successful. And yet, to travel around and through Milton Keynes is an almost terrifying experience. While it is green and leafy, the traffic flows smoothly round umpteen roundabouts, houses glimpsed through the trees look well-kept and tidy, it feels sterile and clinical. Where are the people? Why are there not more cyclists? Is there some kind of curfew in place, or a local bylaw that keeps everyone locked up at home if they aren't en route from one place to another (by car)? I see no evidence of Life (or should I say Lifestyle?). The last time I was in Milton Keynes was the day before the 2005 General Election. I kid you not, there wasn't a single election poster anywhere. No fliers, no posters, no campaign leaflets. Nothing. Maybe I have this wrong, but I can't imagine that even in so-called safe seats, MPs do nothing for their election campaigns. The lack of 'history' couldn't be more obvious if the place was called Newville. It's not just weird. It's wrong.

While I'm on a rant....Milton Keynes is flat. As a pancake. Perfect lazy (or fast) cycling country. But the whole place is littered with signs saying "No Cycling"!! The Green Party have clearly shot right past Milton Keynes on the M1......

The view of Willen Lake from my hotel. Maybe Milton Keynes is a haven of peace and tranquillity....


Hot Aches said...

Hmm. You may have suffered for 2 days, but I endured 15 soul-less years in that god-forsaken place. Bet you never knew that! Maybe explains some of my character disorders. When I took up climbing, MK was quite possibly the single city in the UK furthest away from any rock climbing venue. Well, crags dont grow in a few years, so I guess it still basks in it's glorious isolation.

so there are worst places for a climber to live than Edinburgh.

- Dave

Ian said...

You mean that "Lord of the Rings the Musical" didn't tempt you?

Or "The Teddy Bears Picnic"?

Dave said...

Enough of this melancholy. Whats the plan for these 14 weeks off: Personally I'd work an 8c, do and 8b in a day, onsight 8a and get a tan ;)

alpinedreamer said...

Dave B -
Edinburgh rocks compared to MK. Give me Scottish weather and beasties over English flatlands and sunshine any day!

Dave R -
Patience, patience..... wait for the next couple of posts :-) But the tan is most definitely on the list!


jen said...

Willen lake has a great chinese restaurant - at least it did. My grandparents lived there - and my mum (before it became Milton Keynes - they lived in a village that got swallowed up by the evil that is MK). I always shuddered when my grandparents suggested going out into 'town' - vile, vile place! So I do know it far better than I would like. Of course I now live near Swindon, which is a bit like a rounder MK with far more evil roundabouts (including the 'Magic' Roundabout where you can go either way round it - terrifying!), so I guess I haven't ever really escaped... ;)

Anyway, glad you escaped!