After last year’s fantabulous once-in-a-lifetime holiday in the Caribbean, this year we decided to keep our carbon footprint low and go camping. It was a bit of a mixed bag of unplannedness and camp-impromptu – ie – destination wherever and accommodation largely unknown.
And it so happened that Grizdale Forest benefited from our presence at one point because that’s where Go Ape is located. If you’ve never heard of Go Ape, it’s basically a tree-top assault course involving stupidly high-altitudes and lot’s of crazy tree-swinging. (If you thought I was a tree hugger before, you should have seen how I clung to those trees in Grizedale!!).
Grizedale Forest is a lovely area with enchanting sculpture trails and several mountain bike routes but it’s a bit too manufactured for our off-the-beaten-track tastes so we don’t visit often. They also hold two motor rally’s each year which I find a bit odd. I mean they spend all year preserving and maintaining its beauty and promoting eco-values yet they allow rally cars to fly around the place twice a year which must surely have a substantial environmental impact. Can’t quite get my head round that one. I did argue with myself about my own possible hypocrisy in that I’ve just taken part in a tourist attraction there involving hair-raising zip-wires and metal ropes wrapped around trees and loony humans swinging from them but there’s really no comparison. GoApe is as carbon-neutral an activity as it gets and it’s got to be less of an impact than all those highly-polluting, energy-guzzling over-populated, corporate theme parks that appear on every spare bit of land the Western world has left – if Walmart didn’t get there first.
Anyway, that’s the whys and the wherefores out of the way, the activity – I was terrified all the way, not least because they leave you – the instructors – they leave you to do the courses alone – all five of them! After a forty minute training session they just leave you. I couldn’t believe it. They give you a whistle and tell you to blow it hard five times in an emergency and that’s it. They stay on the ground while you’re climbing up huge trees and swinging over huge forests. But they tell me that’s the point, that it’s all about personal responsibility skills, safety, building self-confidence, conquering fears etc.. Hmm.
Well I survived. I don’t remember when I stopped trying to guess how many feet above sea level we were and I don’t know at what point it was that my legs stopped pretending to be jelly. It just seemed easier after a while to simply numb my mind and throw myself into it in a ‘what-the-hell’ all or nothing kind of way.
And I can say with some relief and a not-so-small smidging of personal pride, that we completed all five courses. We even opted for the ‘extreme’ extreme route on the final leg. Well to be honest, I was all set to ignore the ‘extreme’ extreme route and turn the other other way towards relative safety. I’d just about had enough hair-raising adventure by then and no longer wanted to play Jane. But they wouldn’t let me. My family, they turned against me, said something about me coming this far and regretting it if I chickened out now. So I was press-ganged onto the final cliff-edge experience. Well it was just a Tarzan swing really but with a huge drop. And it was brilliant. Totally exhilarating.
But I will just whisper (quietly, between you and me) that the cocky, arrogant fella in the group behind us, the one who tutted impatiently when I froze on the first baby Tarzan swing and sighed patronisingly when I got my boot stuck in the net – yes, him . . . he took the easy route.
One enlightening and slightly disconcerting thing I discovered is that my kids have no fear whatsoever. Gulp.
In all honesty, although I loved the whole experience, I’m still not sure how I feel about GoApe in terms of its impact on nature. The trees must surely take some bashing. And the wildlife – the birds, the squirrels, the bats – I’d hate to think they’d been forced to flee from their own habitat for the sake of us humans and our endless search for bigger and crazier kicks.
So I’m going to have to do some research . . . in the hope of appeasing my conscience of course.