White Knuckle Adventures
There’s something about summer that makes us embrace all kinds of wild adrenalin sports. We send our very own macho man, Ren Deakin, for a day of white knuckle adventures
White water rafting
White water rafting either conjures images of traversing currents on the mighty Zambezi or being in an action film, battling the waves to rescue your beloved damsel in distress. The River Tay lacks the mighty stoppers of the Zambezi and is fairly low on the beautiful damsel count, but it does have Grade Three rapids and guides who know how to get the most out of them.
I meet with my guides and am issued with a heavy duty wetsuit, buoyancy-aid and helmet. I am then handed a paddle and hoarded onto a bus. It’s a fair drive from the centre to the raft launching point and I quickly work out that the majority of my fellow rafters are stag parties who are all well up for it.
Once at the departure point, just outside Aberfeldy, the group is divided up into teams to man the three rafts. I am put into a boat with one of the stags and his mate and a big Kiwi guide called Callum - a friendly chap with plenty of tales about working on rivers in New Zealand and Japan.
The first half of the trip is pretty plain sailing, as we drift past some of Perthshire’s finest scenery. I am taught how to paddle in rhythm, what to do when we hit the rapids and how to rescue a fellow rafter should we capsize. I even get a sneaky peek at one of J.K. Rowling’s homes, on the banks of the river. It’s all going swimmingly, but rafting wouldn’t be rafting without totally going hell for leather and so, despite the cold, I am soon standing on the front of the boat while paddling furiously in circles.
But I don’t stay standing for long, because in no time we are all well and truly dunked in the Tay with a big gargantuan plonk. For a group of chaps in skin tight wetsuits, the effect of the cold is pretty obvious and we bashfully clamber back in to the raft.
It isn’t long before we hit the first major challenge; ‘Spinning Rapids’. It does exactly what it says on the tin and by paddling in the opposite directions we manage to 360 degree turn the raft through the bubbling white water and come out the other side with a big grin. Next up is ‘Fisherman’s Wave’, a stopper that needs to be surfed hard. We hit it straight on and style our way through with everyone still on board, but the boat behind us isn’t as lucky. We pick up the spluttering crew as they float past, doing our best not to appear too smug.
In no time we can see the ‘Grantully Slalom’ and the aptly named ‘Magnetic Rock’. Everyone agrees that we cruise through like professionals and when we hit the ‘Fourth Fall’ I’m feeling pretty invincible - which is the exact moment I receive my final soaking. But no matter how much of a beating I take, white water rafting is an experience that I shall definitely be repeating.
I remember watching The Avengers as a child. During one episode, the heroes, Purdie and Steed, escaped their pursuers by running across a lake in clear, plastic spheres. They were walking on water, and it looked amazing.
Many years later and I get the opportunity to go Spehering®; so naturally I jump at it. I won’t be running across water escaping bad guys, but I will be rolling down a hill in a big red 80-foot plastic ball and, in my mind, there will be baddies with eye patches and hook arms on my tail. Yes, I have a vivid imagination.
I am greeted at the site by one of the guides, Roddy, an all-round action hero, who spends his winters teaching Telemark skiing in the Alps and his summers chucking punters down a hill in Perthshire. First up is the disclaimer and I assure the guys that I am tall enough, that I’m not pregnant and that - to the best of my knowledge - I’m not about to have a heart attack.
Roddy straps me into a serious-looking harness and the next thing is to get into the Sphere. The Sphere is made up of a ball-within-a-ball and the only way in is to squeeze through a tiny hole on the side. Once in, it’s remarkably roomy and I am attached by my harnesses, velcroed at my feet and handed two straps to cling on to. Before disappearing out of the tight aperture, Roddy reminds me to keep my chin tucked into my chest. It is a two-man Sphere and my companion is a 16-year-old boy who is celebrating his birthday in hair-raising style. We wish each other luck and we’re off.
Things are very quiet to begin with. Paul, my birthday-boy companion, smiles nervously and very gently we begin to roll. Strapped to opposite walls of the sphere, we flip over each other, our blood and vital organs travelling from one extremity to the other. We aren’t going as fast as I’d imagined but there is a feeling of unstoppable momentum. The speed builds up, and I began to think that the hay-bail wall at the bottom of the course might not stop us. But then, sooner than I’d imagined, the speed of our rotation begins to slow and we come to a plodding stop.
Once we are freed from our straps the only challenge left is to get out of the Sphere. I can only imagine that this is the closest thing to experiencing a re-birth: from being spun around in a big gloomy womb, then exiting into the bright daylight into the arms of a loving family (well, my doting girlfriend).
I hang around to watch the next couple go down; a young guy and his girlfriend. She doesn’t stop screaming from the moment the ball starts until it stops. This is one of those love-it-or-hate-it experiences, but if you get a thrill from the rides at amusement parks then this is like that but multiplied. It’s way freakier than any rollercoaster and definitely one to boast about down the pub.