Days Out: Go Ape, Tilgate Park, Crawley

When was the last time you did something for yourself whilst also taking on one of your biggest fears? No. I’m not talking about the under-stair cupboard or the bathroom. I’m talking about doing something REALLY exciting and adventurous. Something you’ve never dreamt of doing. For me and Sharon, we did exactly this last weekend at Go Ape, Crawley.

Although I’ve done abseiling before, and Sharon a number of aerial slides in her time, neither of us have ever done a Go Ape course before – although we’d heard lots about it! Located in the midst of the gorgeous Tilgate Park, West Sussex – half an hour away from Brighton – it’s one of over 30 locations across the country.

When we’ve talked about Go Ape before or heard that friends had done it, it always sounded like fun. But there was always something that put us off. Whether it was our fitness or the fact that it was COMPLETELY out of our comfort range. It’s not so much the height that we were apprehensive about, it’s the falling that made us wuss out!

Go Ape

Go Ape gives people the opportunity to climb rope ladders and complete a variety of courses and obstacles through stunning woodland. Most challenges are in the form of a walk way, but there’s also the occasional Tarzan swing or tunnel to climb through. All whilst you’re at a maximum height of 11 meters off the ground. Of course you’re heavily supported with a harness and safety equipment, and of course suitable training prior, but you complete the course on your own – ie. with no instructor. Making you in control of how it plays out.

Arriving before Go Ape had officially opened, we got ourselves changed into suitable attire and then took a slow walk to the reception. Upon arrival, we checked in and were given a laminated A4 sheet that contained the rules and a number of warnings.

Despite reading these, I was still really excited. Sharon not so much, but this was thanks to her work colleagues who had successfully freaked her out that week!

As we were early, we took our time and decided to also purchase some gloves for Sharon and a Wooly hat for me – it was really chilly! When it got close to our allotted time of 11:30am, we then signed a waiver and went and got our harnesses fitted. In our group were also another two couples as well as a Hen Party where the Bride-To-Be did not look happy to be there! I thought having such a large group would result in a lot of waiting around, however we soon found that some people were more confident than others, meaning that they often overtook the more nervous ones – leaving plenty of room behind them.

Our harnesses being fitted is probably the moment when the nerves started to kick in, however we didn’t have time to think about it as it was time to learn about our safety equipment – including our emergency whistles – and learn to ALWAYS STAY ATTACHED!

Harness Fitting

After our safety briefing, we were then taken on a small walk into the woods by our instructor. Our instructor, Brad, made me feel at ease immediately and had a nice way of distracting people from the obstacles ahead (in an effort to calm some), whilst also being quite direct about what they needed to do to not, y’know, die. He was really knowledgable, full of  confidence, and made the whole experience a pleasure.

After the short walk, we arrived at technically our first challenge, however this was more of a practise run in comparison to what was ahead of us! Here we practised hooking and unhooking our carabiners and pulleys to the safety wire as well as how to properly ride a zip wire. There’s three zip wires in total (not including this baby one!) at the end of each course. These act as an amazing reward for completing each course.

Once each person completed their ‘training’ we were allowed to go on our way and start our first obstacle. This is probably where I was most surprised. Although I knew you completed all obstacles on your own, I assumed Brad would be lingering down below. To be honest, he may have been, but I didn’t notice him during our session – I was probably concentrating on not looking down!

Each new course is protected by a locked security gate. Every time we entered a new course we had to enter the code to gain access. Once you’re inside, you’re presented with a bench and the option to have a cup of water if you needed it. This was really good to take advantage of, as once you’re inside there’s no eating/drinking or going to the toilet!

When you’re ready, you’re invited up a rope ladder to begin the next challenge. Each course became more intense as it went on, although this is based on personal preference. There were challenges that Sharon enjoyed more or found easier than I did, for example, and via versa. There’s even a variety of crossroads where you can choose the ‘extreme’ route or the ‘moderate’ route. Where ‘moderate’ would be the one swinging log, the ‘extreme’ would be a number of metal rings to travel across. I chose the ‘moderate’ route every time (although I noticed some of the earlier ‘extreme’ options would soon find their way on the ‘moderate’ route later down the line). Sharon, however, gave ‘Extreme’ a go a few times. Impressive!

Each course offers clear instructions as to what you need to do to complete it as well as reminders to always stay attached, although I soon found myself getting into a rhythm of detaching and attaching without even thinking – it’s amazing what the thought of falling does to you.

As we travelled through the walkways we quickly realised there is absolutely ZERO CHANCE of danger as long as you keep yourself attached at all times. Even if you fall off an obstacle, you’re immediately saved by your safety wire and just dangle there for a few minutes whilst you get yourself back up. If you get really stuck, however, there’s a safety whistle on your harness. I only slipped off the once (typically, the second to last obstacle) and was able to scramble back on. I didn’t feel scared at all. Sharon’s RSI kicked in on her last challenge and had to ask for assistance getting up the rope net (as did I with the net that was placed at the start – how embarrassing!).

Hurrah!

We completed the course in around 2 hours. The expected completion time is between two and three hours – although there is absolutely no rush at all. They want you to enjoy your experience and take your time. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and found the whole experience exhilarating (although there were 2-3 obstacles I could have done without! I hate rope nets).

After arriving at the finish sign we felt an immense sense of achievement. Not only did we realise that we were fitter than we thought, but we were ecstatic about conquering our fears. It felt fantastic – although our arms and legs did not feel fantastic! It’s incredible the amount of upper body strength you really need (although not essential). Whilst you do do a lot of balance work with your legs, it’s your arms that take the real hit whilst they keep you steady. I found that my arms took a huge beating when I was holding onto ropes and ladders, as well as pulling myself up onto platforms. I seriously need to do some work on those arms – although you don’t have to be an athlete to complete this, trust me! I now have a new found respect for trapeze artists!

Once completed, you’re advised to head back to reception where an instructor will help you take off your harness as well as present you with your certificate! I’m not sure whether I made much sense at this point as I was still on a high. Once calm though, we grabbed some well deserved lunch at Smith & Westerns and then headed home.

I’ve created a little video showing what we got up to whilst at Go Ape, but don’t take my word for it – book yourself on now and give it a try. It’s an experience like no other and one you really need to try at least once in your life!

If you’re not too sure, Go Ape, Crawley also offer junior courses for all ages or from 1 meter in height. The highest platform for this course is 5.8 meters (the main ‘Tree Top Adventure’ is 11 meters) and takes on a more gentle approach, whilst still having several challenging obstacles to get stuck into. You can find full details here.

If you’re thinking of planning your next adventure, here are a few tips:

Tips

Before you start your adventure, it’s advised to wear sensible clothing and footwear. No slip-on shoes, for example, and it’s advised that you wear trousers as opposed to shorts as it’s unlikely you will land on your feet after riding the zip wire – resulting in bark going everywhere! I decided to wear trainers with a decent tread. I was going to wear my boots, but there’s no way they would have fitted in the nets or hoops! I also wore a long sleeved top and a fleece on my top half and jeans on my bottom half – any more layers and I would have roasted.

It’s also advisable to bring or buy a decent pair of gloves that have some form of grip on them. I bought my weightlifting gloves with me, which was perfect for gripping the damp wood and wire. During the courses you WILL have to hold onto a number of different textures from wire to rope, and although you have the support of your safety wire, there will be times when all your might will be put into getting yourself across a walkway. Not having gloves will quite frankly give you some bad blisters or burns on your hands – ruining your experience entirely!

If you’re thinking of taking pictures or recording a video, it’s advisable to attach any phones to lanyards or keep them in a secure pocket. I took my GoPro and attached this to a chest harness or headband at all times.

Go Ape also sell a number of reasonably priced accessories if you forget yours!

Find Go Ape Online.

Their website detail the full list of locations available, but you can also find them on Instagram and Facebook! #JoinTheTribe

We were invited to try out the Tree Top Adventure for the purpose of an honest review, however all thoughts, opinions, and imagery are our own.

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