Escape rooms have become a popular attraction in Cumbria with enthusiasts travelling from all over the country to try them out

For many holidaymakers, coming to Cumbria is all about escaping to the outdoors.

However, over the last six years more and more attractions have sprung up where the whole aim is purely to break out of one room.

There are now at least seven different escape room venues in the county, following a national trend which has seen their number grow over the last 10 years.

The county’s most extensive escape room business is Lakes Escapes, in Workington, founded by Carol and John Watson in 2017.

Before starting the business Carol worked as a mystery shopper while John was an area manager for a finance company.

However, the couple also enjoyed playing escape rooms and decided to ditch their day jobs to start their own business.

Even now Carol says she is careful about describing themselves as “enthusiasts” as the escape room community has quite strict rules about how many you have to play in order to qualify for the name.

The pair began formulating the idea for the business in 2015 and finally opened their first premises with three rooms on Peart Road, Workington.

They soon ran out of space and moved into their current home in an industrial unit in Stanley Street, which they opened in February 2019.

The complex has five different escape rooms, set around themes varying from casinos to shipwrecks, as well as its Diamond Mine section which contains 12 challenges in a Crystal Maze style format.

John and Carol devise all the puzzles themselves, making the props and preparing the rooms by hand.

Lakes Escapes has proved popular with local people, as well as with visitors from all over the country.

"A lot of tourists come in while they're in the area," says Carol.

"But we also get a lot of people coming specifically for us and then having a holiday here. There's a massive escape room enthusiast community all over the country, so they will come to us and play all six games here for a weekend and stay while they're here.”

Groups who use the attraction include students from the nearby Lakes College, as well as employees from businesses as part of corporate team building exercises.

Each escape room is a result of months of planning, both in putting together the clues and stories and preparing the rooms and props.

"Even when you put a room in you're still making tweaks over the coming weeks because you see how customers interpret things and how their minds work and you might be changing it for months afterwards until you're 100 per cent happy," says Carol.

"Every room is different. There's got to be new ideas for every single one. John won't actually play other people's games anymore because he wants his games to be unique, he doesn't want to be influenced by other people.”

A bit further south Wayne Riches runs Cliffhanger Escape Rooms, in Backbarrow.

Wayne and wife Ann run the set of three rooms alongside two other businesses, Lakeland Segway - which runs segway tours in the area - and Lakes Laser Tag at the YMCA in Lakeside.

They opened the escape rooms in 2016.

"Being in the Lake District, we wanted something indoors to hedge against the weather," says Wayne.

“I’d never even heard of them until I started to do research within different locations and then we went to sample a few.”

The rooms’ themes take in bank robberies, a haunted pirate ship and vampires, although in the interests of making things family friendly these particular nosferatus are vegan and relatively unthreatening.

Wayne and Ann’s research has taken them across the globe to Canada, as well as to Romania - the home of the vampire myth - where they have found puzzle designers who helped them put the rooms together.

"We do tap into expertise in different countries as well as using our own expertise gained over the last six years in the UK market," says Wayne.

"The more people you can get involved in designing the puzzles within escape rooms, the better.

"It's not just about coming up with good puzzles. It's coming up with the flow. It's a bit like a book; you need to have a start, a middle and an ending.”