Welcome to middle-aged dad hell or, as it better known, the Treetop Trek Ariel Adventure.
As part of our annual summer trip to the Lakes my eight-year-old insists that I drag my creaking bones round the tough ariel obstacles – all 35 of them – situated 60 feet in the air next to the deceptively tranquil Brockhole Visitor Centre on the shores of Windermere.
The idea is simple: you hook your safety rope onto the continuous wire that stretches round the course, taking on a range of challenging obstacles that test your physical reserves and mental resolve as you walk across bits of wood between treetops with only that thin rope for company.
I tried the course last year. It was one of the most physically demanding and bloody scary things I have ever done, and I hate heights. I was so exhausted by the end I actually fell off the last two obstacles and simply dangled in mid-air.
But pester power won out so here I am again, mildly comforted by the bloke on the phone who, when I booked, told me they had changed the course after old gits like me had moaned about hard it was.
The experience starts off with a very thorough safety briefing before a last minute check of the straps and rope that prevent you turning into a bloody mess on the forest floor.
Then we’re off round the lower green course that, at only 13 feet off terra firma, is designed to acclimatise you to some of the techniques you need to tackle the higher and much tougher blue course. My style is nervous shuffling. As Madeline bounds across each obstacle without a care in the world, I battle against 40 extra years of life experience telling me to be sensible, accept I am 48 and get the pipe and slippers out. But I stumble though the nets, shuffle across the wobbly log and finally zip wire my way over the car park back to the safety of the control tower.
Half way there now. But the big test is yet to come and I really, really want to say enough. However, a combination of testosterone and not wanting to ruin Madeline’s day forces me on up the stairs to the top level.
After another safety chat we’re off. Hell’s teeth, the first three obstacles require me to trust some flimsy bits of wood and wire with only my safety rope to keep me balanced. My legs are liquidised as I step into space clutching my rope and try not to puke, but somehow I have got round to the relative safety of a series of net based tests. I’m beginning to relax and for the first time I am enjoying the day as we battle our way across the nets to the first of the zip wires. A quick shortening of the rope and we are flying through the air as a group of Japanese tourists gawp at our daring.
Somehow I have made it back to the tower and, despite the course seemingly much easier than last year’s debacle, the feeling of having conquered my fears is worth all the emotional and physical effort expanded.
The best bit when you finish is that there is a final reward for the brave hearted. The course concludes with an utterly exhilarating 250 metre zip wire ride from the top of the tower that is blissfully relaxing as you sit back to enjoy the view all the way down.
In a world where risk is something seen as a no, no, Treetop Trek allows you to test your nerve with a company rightly obsessed with your safety. As a paranoid older dad, I was happy for my child to take part because at every point she was attached to the safety line and apparently our safety rope can hold a 4×4.
You know you’re had a good time when you can decide whether your biggest achievement was conquering your fear of heights or simply feeling young again after a couple of hours clambering through the trees.
Review by Paul Clarke
Photos by Paul Clarke
What: Treetop Trek at Brockhole Visitor Centre
Where: Windermere, the Lake District
More info: £27 for adults and £16 for children. The full trek takes about 2 and a half hours and the blue course is open to kids aged five plus with the blue suitable for seven-year old plus. To book go to www.treetoptrek.co.uk or ring 01539 447186.