We test out a tree-top adventure that brave grandchildren will love
What they say...
Set in the heart of Britain’s largest lowland pine forest, our first ever course is centred around 30 miles of bike and walking trails from which to explore 50,000 acres of forest. And the mother of all our courses features our classic Tree Top Adventure course, Forest Segways and Tree Top Junior.
What our tester thought...
Go Ape is essentially a park up in the sky, featuring various obstacles you need to swing, balance and hurl yourself across, all surrounded by a backdrop of lush, green trees and bewildered squirrels.
Arriving I had two thoughts:
1. Gosh, Thetford Forest is beautiful
2. What have I let myself in for?
My friends and I joined a group of intrepid explorers (a mixture of adults and children) for our climbing slot (5pm, which was a lovely time to go in the summer, as the weather was cooling nicely) and were each fitted with special harnesses, that came with a bewildering array of clips and toggles. Luckily there followed a thorough briefing on what to clip where (the main rule, which would come to make much more sense when we were many feet off the ground, was 'always stay attached' to a cable or tree) and it all started to seem much more simple. We then had a quick demonstration of the harness in action, and a little go on phase one of the course (five phases in total, each getting higher and more challenging as they go.)
The first cable crossing didn't look all that intimidating until I had climbed up to it, when something primitive kicked in in my brain, making me feel quite uneasy as I wobbled my way accross like a drunk tightrope walker. Then - even more daunting - was a (tiny) zipline down to the ground. Stepping off the ledge went against all my better judgement, but I did it... and was rewarded by landing on my back in a pile of bark!
I was feeling really quite anxious by the time we moved on to phase two, but then something strange happened - I relaxed. Climbing wobbly rope ladders, balancing my way across wooden bridges and crawling through gently swinging tunnels in the sky I felt, if not in my element exactly, pretty happy. I learnt to love the thrill of a zipline (each phase ends with one - and they only get longer as you go on) - my top tip is to squat before you take off, letting your harness support your weight, which gets rid of that stomach-swirling feeling that you're falling through the sky.
On a couple of occasions there are 'easy' and 'hard' options. I went easy initially (the metal ring challenge looked fiendish) but went full-on Action Woman for the terrifying Tarzan Swing - a dangling rope that sees you freefall for an adrenaline-pumping moment, before smashing you into a cargo net. More fun than it sounds, trust me. I couldn't stop giggling afterwards.
While you're not accompanied by a staff member there are clear instructions on each tree, plus you'll most likely be following another group. Occasionally you'll need to wait a while for the group ahead to move on, but sitting on a wooden bench getting your breath back is fine in such pretty surroundings, and there's even water supplied. Plus staff are never far away - embarassingly I got stuck in the middle of a zipline which didn't want to budge, and was immediately helped along with the aid of a rope. Not my finest moment.
It's surprisingly physical, and you need some upper body strength to deal with the rope ladders and cargo nets, plus you will almost certainly land inelegantly at least once, leading to tiny bits of bark in all of your clothes (top tip - wear tight trousers or even sports leggings to avoid wood chips in your knickers! Also take a pair of gloves to protect your hands from all the rope climbing, as they get a little sore after a while). On the plus side, you'll feel like you've had the most fun workout of your life - my arms still feel a little achy two days later. And that's without mentioning how proud you'll feel - the Tarzan Swing alone will make you feel completely invincible for days afterwards, and you even get a certificate to show off afterwards.
If you're fairly fit and confident with heights you will love it. If it all seems a bit daunting you can always choose to wander the grounds instead (where dogs are also welcome) and watch others trembling their way to the Tarzan swings! Just keep in mind though that under 16s must be accompanied on the course, so you can't just send little ones off without a brave adult.
It's worth noting there's a hefty car parking fee (£6.50) and with adult tickets £33 and children for £25 it's not the cheapest outing. Keep an eye out online for vouchers and discount codes.
Go Ape locations
Other Go Ape centres can be found at:
- Scotland: Aberfoyle, Crathes and Peebles
- North: Dalby, Delamere, Grizedale, Matfen, Rivington, Whinlatter
- Midlands: Buxton, Cannock, Sherwood, Wyre
- Wales: Margam
- South East: Alice Holt, Bedgebury, Bracknell, Chessington, Crawley, Leeds Castle, Moors Valley, Southampton, Thetford, Wendover, Woburn
- London: Alexandra Palace, Battersea Park, Black Park, Trent Park
- South West: Forest of Dean and Haldon