I think the most dreaded of our #GoProAdventures was the Rock Climbing and Abseiling in Dorset – only two of us were excited about the morning with Appetite for Adventure. The rest of us were quietly fearful!
We couldn’t have hoped for better weather, though – the walk down to Dancing Ledge was utterly spectacular with sweeping blue skies meeting the sea on the horizon and barely a wisp of cloud.
We all loved the walk so much (and were so nervous about what was to come) that I think we would have been happy in our comfort zone and to just keep on hiking!
But we were obedient, and turned off the coastal path to head out onto Dancing Ledge. Which was spectacular (we’ve never taken the children, for some reason, and it’s been many years since we visited ourselves), and again we were tempted to just sit back and enjoy. As No. 1 commented
“When most people get weather like this by the beach, they settle down on a blanket with a good book or go for a swim. Strange that not everyone else looks at it and thinks “Let’s go jump off a cliff!”.
But that’s exactly what we did.”
The cliff in question was pretty high (to us…), and has a slight lip/overhang, so not the easiest climbing/abseiling experience; especially for a few members of the family who aren’t keen on heights (for ‘not keen’ read ‘terrified and starting to sweat and hyperventilate just standing on the top and looking down’).
Jason, our instructor for the morning, set up all the ropes while we amused ourselves clambering oh-so-elegantly into our harnesses (he made it look so easy).
No.1 was the first to take the treacherous descent, guided with patience and humour by Jason (seriously we could not have asked for better). Walking backwards off the edge? That does NOT come naturally to a brain which is keen to keep its body nice and steady on the ground. But if you can override that fear… there is something stupidly exhilarating about denying all of your human instincts and doing exactly what common sense tells you NOT to do.
We started with three willing volunteers, one silent-and-terrified 11yr old, and one father-and-son team point-blank refusing.
No.1 zipped down with a big smile, swiftly followed by Captain Fearless – her 7yr old arms just didn’t seem strong enough to take her weight on the rope, but she breezed it, landing safely beside big brother with a hop and a skip.
Next down was Boy – who was tremblingly frightened. He had tried it before on a school trip and had to have an instructor rescue him and take him down – he was determined to not allow that to happen again. I wouldn’t say he enjoyed the descent, but the look of pride and triumph on his face when he made it down was probably only beaten by the one on his parents’ faces as we watched him.
Jolly was silent and sick-looking – and once on the edge of the cliff no amount of gentle encouragement and persuasion would tip him over. He simply couldn’t do it. His terror made his body freeze, his hands couldn’t open their knuckle-white grip on the rope, and he just couldn’t make it off the edge. After 5 tense minutes, he clambered back up with a sob and a sigh of relief. I thought it would be me next, having watched the man-who-is-afraid-of-heights get more and more nervous, pacing up and down as he tried to watch his children descend without getting too close to the edge himself.
But he suddenly blurted out “can I go next?”
I was genuinely staggered.
But I saw the look of determination in his face… and having mouthed “he may not manage this” to Jason I watched as he listened to the instruction, resolutely didn’t look down… and he nipped off the edge! I saw him take a huge breath… and down he want. Just like that.
His proud beam rivalled Boy’s when he got to the bottom!
I managed without mishap to ungainly stagger down, and then we all cheered Jolly came down in tandem with Jason, meaning he did the descent AND found his confidence too.
We had a short pause to look at the next activity (this one was climbing up. The bit I presumed I would be properly useless at..)
Whilst on the ground, Jason opened up his backpack and laid out Tea, Coffee, Water and possibly the Best Flapjacks Ever Tasted. Either he adds some serious secret ingredient, or it’s the effect of having the best time ever… we didn’t care. We were too busy eating them.
After the much-appreciated tea break we did some straight up climbing. Again, everybody had a turn at climbing the “less-sheer” part of the cliff – fantastic fun (no really, it actually was!) and this time everybody made it to the top.
Our final activity was to clamber back up to the very top of the cliff, and attempt the biggest abseil down – an overhang off a cliff which gives way to a shallow cave, leaving you hanging in mid-air. It was twice as high as we had already attempted, and Boy, Jolly and I decided that maybe we’d quit while we were ahead. But No.1 and Captain Fearless didn’t bat an eyelid (in fact, she got the Rage Face on when I suggested that maybe 7 wasn’t big enough for this particular drop. Luckily Jason was on her side and said of course she could do it). The freak that was my husband then decided he might just go and have a look at it from the top, and make his mind up while he was up there…
Then Jason took No.1, Bear, and Dad scrambling (this time without a harness – and they enjoyed it even more that way!) up the cliff again to go further along to the overhang while we three sane ones stayed underneath.
Apparently, it looked scary as hell from the top (no kidding!). Mr Laura decided he wasn’t ready for that much of a height yet, and so No.1 and Captain Fearless were the only souls brave enough to take the challenge (it sounds dramatic – clearly this is ridiculously easy abseiling for total novices, but for us it was such a brave adventure!). We watched No.1 abseil as normal from the top, then about 2 metres down, there is no more rock. He was hanging over the abyss with waves crashing beneath him.
The part he loved best was that he was in complete control of his descent and speed. Nobody else has a hand in it, so he got a real sense of achievement from reaching the bottom!
Bear followed hot on his heels – though she dangled for an age before calling out “I’m not going down?!”. She’d forgotten she had to feed the rope to lower herself, instead being quite content to just sit and swing and enjoy the view!
What a simply fantastic morning; we couldn’t have asked for better weather or a more perfect location than Dancing Ledge. And Jason was brilliant – calm, patient, fun and encouraging. We were all buzzing as we packed up and headed back to the car – and the chatter and comparisons and did-you-see’s went on for ages after we’d left. Another absolutely fantastic experience that none of us will ever forget. And none of us wants to wait too long before we go back and do some more – only a half day just isn’t long enough. We want the full day – and maybe add in some coasteering too, if we can guarantee the same weather!
We tried Appetite for Adventure’s ½ Day Taster Climbing and Abseiling Sessions
“This is a half-day designed to give your family a taster of two exciting and fun activities. With qualified instructors you will visit Dorset’s beautiful Jurassic Coast and try your hand at climbing and abseiling. There is a big focus on fun during these sessions with chances to race each other, find the treasure in the rocks and see who can climb the highest!! Can you beat Mum or Dad??!!
The session is an ideal way to do something different as a family and get outside, with prices of £35 per adult and £25 per under 12’s.