'Escaping with my life, and £1.5 million' - inside St Albans' newest visitor attraction
- Credit: Locked Escape
Sweating with fear as we try vainly to find the combination for the final lock, the Ulsterman warns us over the radio: “You need to get at least a million, otherwise I’ll have to shoot one of yas.”
I began to wonder how I had gotten myself into this situation – nobody robs trains anymore; this isn’t the Wild West, and we’re not Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. “£1.5 million is almost yours,” the voice of the anonymous Irishman’s thick accent hums through the radio.
In a stroke of luck, my girlfriend, Lucy, deciphers the code on the first try, just as “30 seconds left” rings out – but we still needed to get the money into the bag and stop the train. As the seconds tick down, we scramble through the train carriage towards the driving trailer and pull the brake – breathing a sigh of relief as we hear the train screech to a halt.
This isn’t a confession of my criminal activities, but the ‘Great Train Robbery’ escape experience at St Albans' Locked Escapes.
A few hours earlier, on a damp Thursday evening (all Saturday bookings at Locked Escapes’ St Albans store are full until mid-March), I had headed to St Albans with my girlfriend in tow.
There is an overwhelming feeling when I enter the escape room (convincingly designed as a train carriage), where to begin? There are locks everywhere, but not a key in sight. Within minutes of locating our first clue, the sense of urgency begins to set in – without a clock in the first room, the fear of running out of time begins to consume us, and every red-herring makes the process increasingly frustrating.
Every so often, the tense race against time is punctuated by the exhilarating click as you solve the combination for another padlock, and the “Cha-ching” you hear over the radio as you add another bag of money to your collection.
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But each of these small victories were quickly dampened by the sight of the multiple other money bags we still had to unlock, hanging mockingly in locked cages.
With every step towards freedom, we are required to solve some sort of cipher, or find a clue hidden in plain sight – anything that will eventually lead us to the right combination for any one of the vast number of padlocks.
To say that this experience is comparable to that of the real train robbers may be an over statement, but the room is undeniably immersive; a screen at the front of the room shows us eating up the tracks as the train continues its journey – its persistent rattle constantly permeates the carriage, interrupted only by the odd hint proffered by the ever-helpful Irishman. By the 30-minute mark, I was intent upon taking every penny from aboard this train, even down to the wire – it was all or nothing.
"Well done, well done, at the last second, you’ve stolen it all!” came the voice of Kieran, our very non-Irish accented game master, as we exited the escape room.
Kieran tells us that the Great Train Robbery is their most popular game: “It’s an absolute classic” he declares, “the wonderful thing about the train robbery being score-based is that most people will get out, people come here because they want to escape – but most people don’t get the full amount of money, it’s very rare for people to get the full £1.5 million.”
After an hour of high-adrenalin heist action, Lucy and I were thoroughly exhausted, but ecstatic after our triumphant outing as would-be train robbers.
A feeling that was likely visible as we posed for a photo holding our sack of money, Lucy sporting a fetching train conductors’ hat, as if she were Francis Bourgeois. Having achieved some replication of the intensity of committing a heinous crime, without any of the real jeopardy, we left intoxicated by the adrenaline – “We’ll have to come back,” Lucy declares as we wander to the car.
‘The Great Train Robbery’, was conceived at Locked Escapes' original store in Dunstable – not far from where the real robbery took place. The intention of Locked Escapes is that each site will have a room based on something close to them.
As such, the St Albans store’s newest creation, The Dig, harks back to the city’s distinguished history. The new room, which launched today (February 14), lets participants hunt mysterious ruins for a relic – the cloak of St Alban – before the ruins close forever.
According to Kieran: “The Dig is the most ambitious room we’ve built, it looks phenomenal”. Locked Escapes St Albans is currently running five times the number of games as the Dunstable and Luton stores put together.
Locked Escapes is located in The Maltings Shopping Centre, and their three escape rooms are available to book online at https://lockedescapes.com/, with prices starting at £22 per person.