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Go Ape Swinley Forest (Berkshire)

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High-wire forest adventure course near Bracknell, Berkshire.

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      01.12.2011 17:05
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      An amazing place to hang around

      7 million years ago, ape-like creatures began to move away from the trees to walk on two feet on the African plains. Skipping just a few stages in the evolutionary chain, we now find ourselves as Homo Sapiens and all thoughts of dwelling in trees have vanished - but there is the perfect way to reconnect with our ancestral roots and that is to Go Ape. Go Ape is a company that offers "tree top experiences" in the form of climbing up trees via ladders, walking over rope bridges and getting back down to terra firma via zip wires with some 27 locations across the UK and the one I braved was at the Look Out in Swinley Forest, Bracknell.


      ==Things you need to know before Going Ape==

      * There are 14 participants maximum allowed for a Go Ape session, so you will have to share the session with other members of society, or if you're booking a larger party you will have to book more than one session.

      * The minimum age of a participant is 10 years old and under 18s must be supervised by a participating adult. An adult is considered capable of supervising two under 16 year olds or up to five 16-17 year olds.

      * The minimum height of a participant is 4ft7 (1.4m).

      * The maximum weight of a participant is 20.5 stone (130kg).

      * The whole experience should take a maximum of 3 hours.


      ==Prices (2011)==

      Adults (Gorillas) 18+ - £30
      Children (Baboons) 10-17 - £20


      ==Booking==

      You must book in advance to take part in Go Ape which is really rather easy to do online. You simply need to select your Go Ape experience (there is a choice of just Go Ape, Go Ape Forest Biking, Go Ape Explorer and Go Ape Forest Segway), select your chosen location, select the number for each age bracket and what day you want to attend. The next stage asks for the time slot you want, your personal details, any discount details and your payment details and you end up with a booking confirmation and itinerary to take with you on the day.


      ==A zippy experience for wired people==

      The first thing you get when you arrive is an individual form to fill out with your autograph on and some standard safety instructions with such information as tying long hair back, not smoking cigarettes, making sure there's only ever 1 person a time on each obstacle, the not bringing of pet monkeys to pass off as a super child etc. Then your allocated guide will firmly affix a harness to you which does simulate the actions of a boa constrictor but naturally is there for your protection. You are then treated to a 30 minute or so training session by your guide to show you the ropes (boom boom) which outlines all the crucial safety rules, what to do in an emergency and you get to run Stage 1 in front of your guide to allow you to practice your newly found skills so you feel confident for tackling the remaining 4 stages without constant supervision. I personally found my guide to be excellent in this role as she was very clear about how everything works and explaining all potential mishaps to make you fully aware of how your safety was actually in your own hands as well as throwing in a few jokes to relax people and keep the mood light thus preventing nervous fears creeping in for anyone that may have an issue with heights.

      There were 5 people in my own party and the others taking part in the session were all mostly under the age of 18 so thankfully our guide allowed us to go first assuming, rightly or wrongly, that due to our obvious mature and responsible natures that we would be quicker. To gain entry to each stage you need to enter a key sequence into a keypad at each gate (which naturally went wrong for us first time) but as with every step of the way there is always a guide never far away to assist in the event of any hitch. So stage 2 is at first a little daunting at first as you're worrying whether you can remember all the instructions and what will lie before you, but once you get up that ladder onto the first platform and into the trees the only way is forward.

      It starts simply enough with a nice and stable walkway that is a doddle to stroll across, and you feel completely safe despite being a fair old distance above ground. It gets a bit trickier as you go along with the next one being more of a rope bridge with individual planks and big gaps in between to up the fear levels just a notch. Then you are confronted with your first Tarzan swing which ends up with you face planting a cargo net before you have to drag your body up to the next platform. This was a good learning phase as I really struggled to get towards the platform with no mobility until my friend shouted at me to go higher where I found more purchase from the pulley system that was keeping me from falling to my death and was able to move with much more liberty. With a few more obstacles to cross you finally get to your first zip wire which marks the completion of the stage and once you know it's safe to go you just say to hell with it and launch yourself into the open air before hurtling rapidly towards the ground. My first attempt was going so well as I was facing the right way, enjoying the breeze on my face until about halfway when I found myself twisted backwards and had to prepare for a graceless posterior landing rather than the graceful remaining upright one I was going for. With my landing technique there was no avoiding woodchips in your underpants.

      There is a sense of accomplishment when you complete the Stage 2, but also a slight sense of dread as you know it's only going to get harder, and to be honest I was already starting to feel a bit sore after just that stage as I was obviously using muscles that had thus remained dormant my whole life. Stage 3 introduces a new feature which is having either an extreme or an easy route to take. Not wanting to look wimpy in front of my friends I totally opted for the extreme route which required walking through stirrups, but for someone as uncoordinated as me it didn't work out so well so I was forced to dangle in my harness and pull myself across to the platform utilising the ropes the stirrups hung from which was a total cheat and actually really hurt my arms. So, if you doubt your abilities, don't buckle under peer pressure like me and just go for the easy option. Once again, once you've battled your way through the obstacles you get to another zip wire with an even bigger drop than the last one. Determined to do better this time I tried to employ a balancing technique as I was speeding down the wire, but alas the same outcome occurred - woodchips in my underpants.

      Stage 4 again seemed much harder than the preceding stages again with the extreme and easy routes to follow and some genuinely tricky walkways to negotiate with dangling planks to traverse that seemed to repel each other and more cargo nets to drag yourself across that really saps your energy, not to mention trying to cross a twisted bridge and spinning tunnels - it was all satisfyingly challenging, but I have to confess by this stage my muscles were really starting to protest. To complete the stage yet again was the zip wire and sadly for me this was a carbon copy of my last two attempts. Stage 5 had the most exciting prospect of the largest Tarzan swing into a massive cargo net and as you launch yourself off into mid-air there is quite a drop before you go flying haphazardly at the net and you will either catch it skilfully or rebound back out into mid-air before your momentum takes you back to the net at a much more manageable pace. This swing definitely gets the adrenaline pumping, but then with your tired arms you then have to drag your protesting body up to the platform which is as the Cockneys might say Cream Crackering. Then there is one final chance to get the zip wire right and land with the nonchalance of a cat right back where you started in front of all the latest arrivals. So, with a cry of Geronimo you fly off the platform and zooming down the wire you use every ounce of skill you have and yes, finally, you do it and land on your feet to an eruption of cheers. So that's the plan...sadly, the reality results in your underpants increasing their woodchip quota plus a few barely stifled guffaws from your so called friends.

      So, at the end of Go Ape you will probably end up utterly exhausted in quite a lot of pain with woodchips where you never thought they'd go (so you might not want to wear your best gear) but having had one hell of a time and having gained a real sense of achievement, not to mention the gnarly certificate they give you to congratulate you for making it through alive. It is very expensive at £20-£30, but I actually think for spending somewhere between 2½ -3 hours there and for the enjoyment factor it isn't actually bad value for money at all. They do say it is quite high risk so I definitely wouldn't recommend it for people with a genuine fear of heights (although I never once felt any kind of vertigo and always felt safe in my harness) or people with health problems, but kids and adults with a sense of adventure will love it alike (though I wouldn't fancy being an adult having to supervise a load of hyperactive children). I don't know what any of the other 26 locations are like, but the Go Ape in Bracknell certainly puts the whole experience in a good light. Recommended.

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