As part of our crap your pants adventure sport special, we sent Ren Deakin for a day swinging from the trees like a monkey
So here I am, standing in front of a group of strangers – a strapping great harness hitched around my nether regions – trying to remember which karabiner attaches on to which safety line and which foot to put where. Welcome to Go Ape, the high-wire assault course slung from the trees in rural Perthshire. Bananas not included.
After a quick briefing, in which the instructor does his best to instill in the group that safety is our responsibility, and should we neglect our responsibilities we will almost certainly fall to our deaths on the forest floor, we’re
readyfor the off.
In order to get on the course we have to demonstrate our ability to remember the safety harness instruction: ‘red to red’ and ‘blue goes through’ in front of the rest of the punters, while standing on a platform about three feet from the ground. It’s a tad embarrassing, especially when, like me first time round, you get just about every instruction wrong.
But before I know it I’m attached to the second longest zip line in the country and am zooming above the forest canopy. If only I could work out how to make the damn thing stay in a straight line. I had watched the instructors zip back and forth with a grace and ease which I am clearly not demonstrating – I’m spinning 360s and, no matter how I wriggle or kick, I know I’m going to land on my bum.
Having traversed the valley, the heaped pile of woodchips make my reverse landing feel as soft as bouncing on a sprung mattress; and once disconnected from the line I’m off on the next adventure, to attack the assault course.
Made up of six separate sections, the course begins with a 20-foot climb up a rope ladder, where, after saying out loud to myself, ‘Red to red, blue goes through,’ I grab the rope, swing out Tarzan-style, crash into a cargo net and haul myself up to a small wooden platform before starting the next section of crossing.
Although at this stage I am still only 20-feet from the floor, the cunning crossings between the trees are clearly designed to concentrate the mind. It’s amazing how quickly I seem to focus on the tiniest of details: the feeling of the sole of my boot against a smooth, round log, the roughness of rope hand-lines, the random debris of fallen logs, their dead branches pointing upwards in high definition focus, waiting to impale me if I fail to remember the safety rules – yes, even you probably know them off by heart by now.
Each of the sections finish with a zip-wire to the ground and the levels of concentration, trust in your gear, and confidence that you did indeed put the red to red and that blue definitely did go through blue, increase as you pass from stage to stage. And a good job too, as the stages get progressively harder and higher. I’d like to see a monkey manage some of these sky-scraping swings.
Some require technical skill, balance and thought; a series of long stirrups strung between the trees which will only accommodate one foot at a time, an Indiana Jones-style broken rope bridge with no hand holds. Other sections test the nerve. The standout for me was the final Tarzan swing. Once strapped on I had to take more than a few deep breaths before stepping off the platform, falling towards the unwelcoming forest floor, being caught by the swing, then hauled at breath-taking speed and slammed into the waiting cargo net.
The final element of the course is the last zip run home. At 426 metres, it’s the longest zip-wire in Britain and a real beauty. As I speed above forest canopy to the finishing point I have ample time to reflect on the challenges I’ve faced and overcome – and all the practice on the zip wires allows me to land that final time on the wood chips with all the skill and grace of a professional. At least, that’s what I’m telling everyone.
For more information, or to book a day at Go Ape, visit www.goape.co.uk