I can’t imagine a more outdoorsy man than my dad.
Ever since I was little, he’s dragged me up hills, through marshes, into a kayak and towards trig points. He is that guy who — at fifty-two — still insists on donning his foul weather gear to head up the mountains, regardless of the weather or his dodgy hips. So, when I was organising my trip to Go Ape Aberfoyle, I knew exactly who to take.
Aberfoyle is a small town about an hour from Glasgow, Scotland.
It’s tiny, twee and tree-lined, and also boasts the stunning Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. Weave the wheels up the narrow road and you’ll hit the park at the peak of the hill. There, we hear the rain slapping the grass and — not far away — the whizz of metal on metal as somebody takes to the zip wire.
This is where Go Ape starts: high above the forest.
Our friendly guide Scott takes us over to the preparation area, where our harnesses are adjusted and we undergo practice tests on lower wires. The rain thumps down; we are in a group with another couple and a dozen young ‘hens’. They are already shivering in their leggings. We collectively sigh goodbye to the elusive Scottish summer.
Before I know it, my dad is at the head of the queue and is fastened, clipped on, waiting at the start of the wire. It reaches far across to the opposite side of the forest; the landing area is a faded brown dot in the distance… And he’s gone. I watch him get smaller and the nerves build in my chest.
But Scott is there to make sure we’re all enjoying ourselves. He looks at me as I attach my carabiner and shake it, worrying. ‘You’re sure I’m attached properly?’ I question. He looks at me, amused. ‘That’s my job!’ And I take a breath, pushing the ground and it falls beneath me. Then it’s just me and the forest.
Is there a more organic way to see nature?
From this high up, I feel free. I’m not strapped into a helicopter; I’m not looking at photographs I’ve taken from a drone. It’s just me, looking down on the forest, feeling the rain hit my face in a fog. Apart from the whizz of the wire, it’s quiet. I am high above the canopy and breathing such fresh forest air, adrenaline rushing as I make a fairly dignified landing on the bark below.
‘Woohoo!’ my dad shouts. ‘It’s great, isn’t it?!’ He is totally in his element as we grasp the rungs of the first ladder, beginning the next stage of the assault course.
‘I thought I’d just be climbing some trees!’ a woman says behind us. Well… not quite. From the ladder, we progress on to wooden bridges, tarzan swings, tightropes and more zip slides, all deep within the beautiful forest setting. We move our carabiners from wire to wire — attached at all times — and negotiate the obstacles, some hilariously easy, and others infuriatingly difficult (one word: stirrups).
But the climax of the whole course is the massive tarzan swing.
From a platform high in a tree, you attach yourself, you double check you’re attached (of course!) and then — you jump. Down into the forest you fall, swinging towards and then slapping into the cargo net before you pull yourself up to the next platform. Yes, you’ll probably be terrified and scream like a softie, but the adrenaline rush and pride you’ll feel afterwards more than makes up for it. Plus, the views from the treetop podiums are something else!
To finish our terrific and tiring two hours high in the Trossachs treetops, Dad and I shoot back across the forest on the long zip wire. He takes off, waving his arms in elation as he becomes smaller and smaller, blurring into the rain. After the initial fear of the zip, I can’t wait to be back over the forest: the canopy below, the cliffs surrounding me and the clouds above. This — that incredible feeling of floating high above the Scottish landscape — is what makes Go Ape so special. And as my dad, the Scottish outdoor enthusiast, remarked, ‘if you manage to enjoy yourself even when it’s peeing down, you know it’s good.’