We brave the heights (and swear in front of small children) at Dalkeith Country Park's new branch of Go Ape
He’s standing on a bouncy plank, up in the canopy of trees, when he drops the F-bomb.
“Uncle Rolf swore, HE SWORE!”, said my nieces, so thrilled to see their poor relative, pale-faced, sweaty and vowing to never undergo this torture again.
This was just one of the memorable moments on our trip to Dalkeith Country Park, to try their brand new Go Ape site.
It’s their forth Scottish location, to join Glentress, Aberfoyle and Aberdeen, and this one has three increasingly advanced levels: Treetop Adventure, Treetop Adventure Plus and Treetop Challenge. We’re trying out the easiest one, Treetop Adventure. It’s most suitable for kids of six and up, and over one metre in height. My nieces are eight and 10, and pretty tall for their ages. As Go Ape newbies, it sounded like a cinch. For babies.
We started to get a bit less confident from our vantage point of the lawn, just beyond Dalkeith’s Fort Douglas and the Restoration Yard.
I lost interest in our picnic, as I watched people skiting through the treetops on zip wires, and others high up in structures that look like Ewok villages. There were screams. (It turned out this is the hardest Treetop Challenge part of the adventure).
Still, despite minor wobbles, we forge onwards. Once you’ve signed in, you go to your spot to be tightly harnessed up. I checked every buckle and strap for wear and tear, in case this would be my Final Destination moment.
Then there’s a safety briefing, where, among other things, you’re shown how to use the trolley, which slots onto the sinuous steel line that follows the route’s course, and the carabiner, which clips on in front of this, as a belt and braces measure.
My cortisol is already pumping, as we do the miniature training course. It’s about half a metre off the ground, and features a Lilliputian zip wire. Anyone who’s over five and a half foot, ends up dragging their legs off the ground. Still, it gets you used to clipping on your carabiner, and twisting the trolley off the ends of circuits.
“This isn’t IT though, is it?”, says the eldest niece.
No, definitely not. Soon we’re winding up into the trees. The staircase for route one (there are three, as part of Treetop Adventure) keeps getting higher. I wonder what the local birds think about this invasion of their air and tree space. Maybe they’ll peck our eyes out. I add that to my list of fears.
I’m first in line, so I can keep checking that the girls are clipped in, in a neurotic manner.
It’s way harder than I imagined. There are platforms, wrapped around trees, where only a maximum of three people can stand, then obstacles, which may involve a couple of wobbly planks, “stepping stones”, or a net, which sags with every step. There’s even one that involves crawling, which my gammy old knees aren’t happy about. Some people aren’t as good with heights as they’d imagine.
“Mummy, I can’t do it,” we hear one small boy say, and hope that his hysteria isn’t infectious. But he makes the crossing, then looks chuffed.
The staff here have walkie-talkies, and stage a few rescues every day. Some participants freeze, and refuse to go any further, so have to be talked through the course, step by step. I develop a strategy. Look straight ahead. Pretend the platforms are on the ground. It works. The girls are loving it too, though I have to stop the eldest from taking selfies. The uncle at the back looks like he wants to cry. Poor Tarzan.
Anyway, he does love the zip wire, which punctuates each route.
Strangely, I find this the scariest bit. We’ve been told to run if you’re facing the front on your flying fox descent, or dig your heels in if you’re going backwards. I overthink it, and try to do both. It’s not the most elegant landing, with wood chips flying into the air. I’m like an obese fledgling, belly-flopping out of the nest.
Our session runs for one hour, and the first route passes in a blur. We’re onto the second one, and it seems to get incrementally harder. There’s also a bottleneck of slow-mos, which uses up a bit of our time. Thus, we don’t get to do route three. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my husband look so joyous.
We step out of our harnesses, and get our certificates. I insist on one, even though they're only for kids and I am 46.
The girls are sad that it’s over, as am I, but there’s the distraction of ice cream from The Larder. We all lie on the grass, our adrenaline spent.
I’ll make sure to wash his mouth out with soap when we get home.
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