If you thought Go Ape was just for grown-ups think again! Last Saturday we had the best time at Go Ape on the Tree Top Junior course at Leeds Castle. Our team ranged in age from 3 (Wilfred and Ellie) to 5 (Winston and Charlie) to 39 and to take part the three year olds had to be 1m tall and the adults needed to be prepared to go up on the course with all under 6s. (The ratio is one-to-one up to the age of 6, after that an adult is needed to supervise from the ground for up to 8 children over 6). Sturdy footwear is a must and gloves are advised to be worn; on the coldest day of 2019 so far gloves were definitely needed. Our bags were kept safe at HQ.
After reading aloud the safety briefing to the whole team (including how many people to an obstacle/platform) we set off to be harnessed up (maximum weight is 130kg) and attend our brief lesson in using the equipment. This was followed by a tentative practice course; at only 2-3 metres or so off the ground it is a good confidence test and a good practice on moving the equipment around the course. In around 15 mins we were ready to Go Ape.
The Tree Top Junior course is about 5-6 metres from the ground, with the highest platform at 6m high. The initial ‘easy’ course is a circular route between the trees comprising various static crossings such as ladders and a large net and a few simple moving crossings such as hanging platforms. You have 1 hour (after completing the practice course) to complete as many laps of the easy or more difficult course. At £18 each this is excellent value as some older children can complete the course up to 5 times in that hour. The more difficult course has more ‘moving’ crossings and is not for the faint-hearted: I have completed the adult Tree Top Adventures course at Leeds Castle, and the Junior difficult course challenged me in much the same way. Both routes comprise 292 metres of tree top fun.
My 5 year old took to it very quickly, and only needed to be reminded to look ahead not down a few times! He completed the initial course quickly. I was more concerned about my 3.5 year old who has balked at playground climbing frames in the past – especially the net type ones where you can see the ground below. However, although he started tentatively, he improved across the course and even completed a few crossings on his own, without holding onto Daddy’s hand. Ellie did not enjoy the course and voiced her fear throughout but she gamely carried on and completed the course much to everyone’s surprise. Worth noting, however, there is not much choice once you are up there; it is circular route that must be completed before you can come down. And coming down is fun! To come down you must ride the zip wire: it is an exhilarating 61.3 m silent glide through the trees to the floor (with an inelegant ‘dragging’ landing for the ‘heavier’ adults). The kids faces were mostly a picture of enjoyment crossed with slight fear!
My 5 year old was keen to challenge himself on the difficult course, whilst the others stayed on the easy course and even got a bonus extra go on the zip wire. Winston (my 5 year old) was really brave but became more hesitant as the course neared its end. The final obstacle is a series of ‘swings’ that you need to step across. Here he really struggled but was coached brilliantly by one instructor from the ground and one on the platform opposite. They talked him through the technique calmly and with enthusiasm and I was so grateful to them as I was also struggling behind him. The kids got a certificate to colour in which Winston was so proud of and he has already asked for a Go Ape party (available from age 6 up).
My final praise has to be for the instructors, who even though it was the end of a cold long day explained each stage with the same focus, passion, good humour and enthusiasm as I am sure they do at the beginning and throughout the day. They never failed to give the same safety briefing for the zip wire, even at our third time. Their attention to detail for safety as well as their want for everyone to enjoy and complete the course was so professional and made for a safe enjoyable atmosphere. This was a really fun way to spend an afternoon because we all got to challenge ourselves together. We will definitely go again.