Thursday, 13 August 2015

Go Ape review

ANYONE with young kids will know how much energy they have – they are like dogs, they need to run and bound about. They are also for the most part pretty fearless.
So, what to do when you’ve exhausted all the parks, adventure playgrounds and soft play areas?
Well, help is at hand in the form of Go Ape. For those not familiar, Go Ape is one of the country’s leading forest adventure companies where days out are about having fun and living life at full throttle with family and friends.
There are 28 Go Ape adventures dotted around the country all set in one of Britain’s many and spectacular forests.
They consist of assault courses complete with zip wires, rope ladders, wobbly crossings, bridges, tunnels and swings and all about 10m off the ground.
No two courses are the same, they can vary between an hour and three hours long and all have height and age restrictions. What they all promise though is the wow factor and an adrenaline rush unlike anything else.
The Go Ape adventure began in 2001 when founders Tris and Becs Mayhew were on holiday in France with their six-month old baby. They came across a French family swinging through the trees and from the looks on their faces, it was clear all of them were having the time of their lives.
It inspired Tris and Becs enough to quit the London rat race and Go Ape was born. Now, 28 locations later they are still adding adventures including Forest Segway Experience safaris, Zip Trekking Adventure and Tree Top Junior courses for kids.
It was this last activity that I thought might be good to try out and so last weekend husband Martin and I took our two kids, Lucy aged 10 and Tom aged six to Bedgebury Forest near Tunbridge Wells to see if we could entice them up into the trees for an hour.
The Tree Top Junior course takes kids on the same kind of adventure as the adult version but specially tailored to their abilities.
First up we had to read the safety instructions very carefully – we were tested by one of the instructors before we were allowed up the steps – and then we were given harnesses. Onto this was fastened a wire with a metal trolley which ran along the zip wire - that was our safety net.
Then, when we were ready to be let loose, we were allowed up the steps and into the trees to begin our adventure.
There were two routes to go round - the first was designed to be short enough to ease us in and get us used to it, the second a bit longer and slightly more challenging.
Looking from the ground up it didn’t seem too bad – indeed it looked like a piece of cake. What could be difficult about stepping off the small circular platform that surrounded the tree and onto a series of planks that seemed an alarming distance apart from one another before reaching the next tree and its circular platform?
As it happens, in my case, quite a bit. I made the fatal mistake of looking down and had a really bad case of vertigo.
Knees quaking, hands sweating and practically frozen to the spot, I ended up retracing my steps and spending most of the rest of the hour on terra firma - much to my embarrassment and annoyance.
Lucy was also very nervous at first and almost followed me down the steps. However, to her credit, she was coaxed round the course after a pep talk by Tess, one of the brilliant instructors. Before long she was up and around both the routes like a pro.
Despite Tess’s valiant efforts, she couldn’t persuade me to take my foot off the platform and although I did try again, it just wasn’t to be.
Tom however had no such problems. He may be small but he was very agile, like a young gazelle, nimbly negotiating his way round both routes. The first was a short route to get to grips with the wobbly nature of the crossings. Most consisted of planks of wood attached to wires although one was made up of just a net – had that been the first one I’d come across I might just have had more confidence to give it a go. The final leap into the unknown was the zip wire which looked a lot of fun and the kids gave it a great big thumbs up.
The second route was a bit more challenging and included a single wire much like a tightrope between the trees which you had to walk across. To help you do that, grab ropes were suspended from another wire at regular intervals - it was by far the most tricky to negotiate and wasn't for the faint hearted!
This route was about double the length of the first and also finished with the zip wire.
Tom was a natural and he raced through in no time at all. Indeed I lost count of the amount of times he went round both routes.
Martin was initially a bit unsure and nervous but he too got round both routes although he admitted the tightrope wa a bit hairy.
Most of the kids there were having a great time – and the amount of laughter and squealing with delight, particularly when they’d got round was great to hear.
One mum told me that she comes fairly regularly because she wanted to get over her own fear of heights and not pass it on to her children.
And although I was not brave enough to do it - for which I'm somewhat embarrassed about - it was a great day out nonetheless and I would heartily recommend it. The hour zipped by all too quickly but there was no reason to rush off because Bedgebury Forest offers so much else to do so you can make a whole day of it.
There are plenty of walks for various abilities, bikes can be hired to ride on specific routes and there are two adventure playground areas as well as a lovely cafe.
As for the Go Ape challenge, I am determined to conquer the fear and one day hope to do the adult course which is also at Bedgebury and which appeared to have plenty of happy customers.
And as for the kids, at the end of the hour both Lucy and Tom got a certificate to show they’d conquered the course, and both immediately said they wanted to do it again. Praise indeed.

Go Ape has adventures all over the country. Visit for full listings and prices.

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