Climbing walls these days are increasingly gentrified. Brand new brightly colored holds, wifi, yoga classes, posh coffee. But at the back of an industrial unit in Sheffield lies a reminder of a simpler age. A time when all people wanted was a few holds on a plywood board in a filthy room to pull down on. That time was the mid-1990s, when bouldering was poised for global stardom, to take its rightful place as an equal alongside it's trad and sport counterparts.
Its holds look positively archaic now. The plastic holds of the time were not the ergonomic beauties of today, and the wooden holds are a motley ensemble of sawn up banister rails and random scrap offcuts. Their layout probably a combination of random chance and judicious tweaking, no volumes and clever trick moves here. But what you do have is bags of character.
The passage of time has given this simple wooden creation a dark patina like an antique school desk. Some holds themselves have, in many cases, seen better days. Hundreds of pairs of hands and feet have traced their climbing aspirations across these chunks of resin and roughly cut wood. They have left us today with a not a time capsule from the past, but a evolving piece of climbing history, the like of which we see on every outdoor crag but very little in the world of indoor climbing.
The frequent resets demanded by todays market means that short of searching out the few remaining early '90s Bendcrete "artificial rock" concrete walls there's not much chance you'll find yourself pulling on the same holds that the masters of ten or twenty years ago tested themselves on. But these surviving relics are still out there for anyone inclined to step away from the mainstream. A taste of the past, a hint of the future. Will the concept of the permeant indoor test-piece find a new home in the walls of tomorrow for the new generation of indoor-only climbers? Can accumulated sweat, chalk and grime find a home alongside posh coffee?
They say things come in cycles after all.