We’re asked to forfeit our valuables before a black sack is placed over our heads and we’re led to a tiny cell at the end of a dank hallway.
The cell door creaks shut and we remove the sacks.
When our eyes adjust we can see we’re on the wrong side of a locked jail door.
While this sounds like the beginning of countless backpacking stories in second world countries, it’s a privilege for which we’ve paid good money.
The timer starts as soon as we remove the hood and Jakki and I have an hour to escape from a real Victorian-era goal in Canterbury’s Westgate Towers. The jail is real, but the circumstances are thankfully fantasy. In short, we’ve found ourselves in the heart of a mad scientist’s laboratory who, in Victorian times, used the gaol as a ground zero for testing out a number of controversial punishment experiments.
For an hour we look for keys and clues, solve puzzles, and decipher combinations to padlocks until we push open the final gate and escape to freedom.
Escape in the Towers is our first encounter with an escape room and it went surprisingly well, considering the squabbling required to order groceries from Tesco.
Of course, the entire experience in monitored by an attendant, so it’s a far cry from the gladiatorial pursuits of online grocery shopping.
The attendant is able to offer hints if your party hits a wall in puzzle-solving ability.
I imagine it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find an escape room with equivalent atmosphere. Few jails have the freedom or budget to devote that much space and energy to the escape room trend. Escape rooms have undeniably been trending for the last year, so other authentic locations may be on the horizon, but so far, the majority of escape rooms I’ve seen are regular old shop fronts. Or the trend could fade out like arcade bars. Right now people are really into getting locked into a room and using their brains, but how long until they just go back to sitting around loud sports bars and staring blankly at their phones?
Regardless, Escape in the Towers is a unique experience. Jakki and I spent an hour locked in a prison, working together to solve a variety of puzzles.
The unfortunate thing about escape rooms is the lack of replay value. In some ways, that’s a good thing, there’s nothing like the first time. And if Escape in the Towers is your first experience, that’s about as good as it gets.
The tower itself is the oldest surviving gate in England, and was originally built by the Romans around 300AD, and then revitalized by the Brits in 1340AD. So, undoubtedly, someone was sick of looking at it every day a thousand years ago, and they’re long gone, and this gate is going to be around at least another thousand years.
In the 1800s the tower was used as a jail, which is where our escape room story takes place. But now it’s a cafe and restaurant as well as an escape room and museum.
We managed to escape with a time of 47 minutes and 58 seconds. Just over 12 minutes to spare. According to our host, the best time to date was 40 minutes by a group of people who actually ran another escape room. Not bad for a couple of rookie escape artists.
Address: 1 Pound Lane, Canterbury, Kent, England
Admission: £21 to £30 per person, higher for smaller groups
Duration: About an hour