“ Callow Hill / Bewdley / Worcestershire / DY14 9XQ / England „
Go Ape is not some kind of monkey zoo, but an attraction based around a jungle-gym style assault course taking place in the canopies of forests around the UK and one of the newest venues is at Wyre Forest, Worcestershire, local to me.
Go Ape describe itself as: a 'high-wire forest adventure'. It is a set of several assault courses (five at Wyre Forest) taking place 40 feet up in the woodland canopy and comprising of tunnels, stepping stones, ladders, walking wires, flying foxes and a leap of faith.
*Your day out*
It is best to book for Go Ape and the booking system on their website (goape.co.uk) is simple to use, but if not their phone booking system is equally good. Times are available at half hour intervals. We met at their cabin ten minutes before our start time and adults are asked to sign to be responsible for younger group members (under 18s). You will be in a group of around 8-10 people (maximum 14) to be briefed and go round the course.
You then climb into your (moderately uncomfortable camel-toe effect) harnesses and are given an extremely thorough briefing on how to use your safety wires on a practice wire and then a practice course which involves climbing a ladder, walking across a bridge and going down a small flying fox. This initial course is not as high off the ground and your guide is at hand all the way through.
You then begin the course, going round at your own pace (letting other families go ahead if necessary). At the end of each course is a flying fox and when you finish each course you have the option to go in a different order if one family member wants to race ahead (i.e. my brother). At the end of the course, your guide will take your harnesses and have a chat with you about your experience (they are very friendly).
At Wyre Forest there are technically five courses but this includes the mini briefing course at the beginning. These generally increase in length, difficulty and height(!) as they progress.
The obstacles are varied, though some (such as stepping stones) are repeated throughout the course, but sometimes with an extra twist - like being further apart!- to add to the challenge. On the last two courses there is a choice of direction in which two easier or harder obstacles can be crossed. These are rated by a difficulty system to help with the decision, but none of the obstacles are impossible for anyone as you can always opt to hang from your harness and pull yourself along the wire if you really get stuck.
I really enjoyed this course, particularly the "leap of faith", in which you had to jump from a platform and fall a way before swinging into a cargo net. The flying foxes were exhilarating and a great length, and the view from the tops of the trees was beautiful. I thought that the build up through the courses was very good, as I personally was quite scared at first - I hate the stomach-dropping feeling of rollercoasters - but still enjoyed myself thoroughly.
*Safety and fear-factor*
The briefing you get before beginning the course is extremely thorough and repetitive and lasts about three quarters of an hour including the first mini assault course. You have two safety lines (reassuringly thick wires) attached by big red and blue karabiners (heavy duty climbing clips) and your harness to attach, but they give you simple ways to remember the order, and as long as you attach them all you will be safe. Adults are asked to supervise and check children before they move away from the platforms, but most children aged 12+ would be capable of getting it right first time anyway.
I found the first course (especially the zip wire) a little scary, as it is falling from a height which I have difficulty with. If you don't like rollercoasters, you should be fine. If you're scared of heights, however, it may be more difficult, as you find yourself on wooden platforms attached 40ft up a (albeit very stable) tree trunk, as even though you are completely safe this irrational fear may be hard to fight. For everyone else, there are a few 'dizzy' moments where you realise how high you are - especially when walking between platforms - but the view is amazing and the adrenaline adds to the experience.
Wyre Forest (and Go Ape's other forest locations, I'm sure) is a beautiful situation for this attraction, hidden away amongst the forest which walkers don't inhabit. This utilizes unused areas of the forest very well, taking advantage of its natural features (i.e. massive tree trunks!) and preserving much of the foliage, and is a great excuse to spend time exercising outdoors. I was very pleased with the use of the natural landscape and natural materials - wood, rope- unlike with theme parks and other manmade attractions which use massive steel pillars and obliterate land into a concrete jungle: Go Ape is much more of a natural high, so to speak.
Costs are £25 for adults ("Gorillas"), £20 for 10-17-year-olds (Baboons). These prices can be higher (e.g. £27.50 for adults) at peak times.
One of the only attractions to offer a child's price to all under 18-year-olds (unlike most cinemas, public transport services etc. it seems) these prices are quite reasonable. Though more expensive than your average day out, and so more of a once or twice in a lifetime day out, it provides good safety equipment and briefing, good care from the guides who are around to assist you through the whole course and essentially an unlimited amount of time going through the course at your own pace (most likely about 3 hours).
Participants must be 10 years or over, minimum height 4"7, maximum weight 20.5 stone.
Maximum waist size for harness is 110cm, and thigh size is 70cm.
Only a very minimal level of fitness is required for the course, equivalent to a brisk walk I'd say, so only those with serious health problems would have an issue. I am usually intimidated by "sporty" abseiling, rock-climbing, adventure-holiday stuff but I loved it and didn't feel under pressure.
Friendliness of staff: 9/10
Duration of attraction: 8/10 (I'd like the course to be longer)
Family appeal: 7/10 (May be scary for some, and under-10s aren't allowed)
Value for money: 8/10
Facilities: 7/10 (The Wyre Forest centre shop, cafe and toilets are available but close quite early and there are no toilets in the Go Ape hut itself)
+ Bonus points for the Using the Natural Environment, and adding Exercise to the mix!
If you are able to go (despite the age restrictions etc. and price), this is definitely something you should do in your lifetime, a perfect addition to your holiday plans or if you live locally to Wyre Forest, an exciting addition to the usual walk in the forest.
High wire forest adventure.