High wire adventures at TreeRunners, Andover

I was browsing Trip Advisor for something to do at the weekend and came across TreeRunners, which offers courses similar to Go Ape. I was pleased to find they were suitable for 6+ years (subject to a height restriction), and as they’re based in Andover, Hampshire only an hours drive from home.

Ten minutes later and I’d booked us onto the TreeRunners Junior Adventure for the following day. This course is aimed at the under 10’s, although older children and adults are welcome as well.

Next morning found us driving along a dusty farm track which eventually took us into Harewood Forest. It’s certainly not a place you’d just stumble upon. We parked and then went through the registration process, signing away all liability. It also involved confirming that our children weren’t pregnant!

The session started with a short safety briefing and then we were shown how to put on our harnesses. TreeRunners use a special clip on system so once you’re clipped in at the start you don’t need to keep re-attaching yourself as you do at Go Ape.  I was rather glad of this as it meant I didn’t need to keep checking the kids were safely secured.

Clipped on and ready to go
Clipped on and ready to go

We started with the white course, which is the easiest one, at around 3 metres off the ground. Youngest son has always been pretty fearless so I was rather surprised when he decided he couldn’t do the first obstacle. Older sister had whizzed across the balancing logs without a thought but it took a lot of encouragement to get my son over.

Eyeing up the next obstacle
Eyeing up the next obstacle

Once past the balancing logs he picked up confidence and the next couple of obstacles were very straightforward.  We reached the first zip wire and again there were a few wobbles about launching from the safety of the platform (ah, OK that was just me).  After you jump though you realise that you just have to trust your harness and go for it!

End of the zip wire
End of the zip wire

There is another zip wire at the end of the white course, and by the time we reached this we jumped off without hesitation. I think the smiling face in the photo says it all!

The start of the yellow course at TreeRunners
The start of the yellow course at TreeRunners

We moved on to the yellow course, which is higher and a little harder.  It starts with a climb up a rope tube and moves onto a rather tricky zigzag plank walk.   I could feel my legs trembling on this one, so was glad to get to the other side.  It was much harder than the photo below suggests!

Zigzags at TreeRunners, harder than they look!
Zigzags at TreeRunners, harder than they look!

The zigzags were followed by a  rope net and balancing wire obstacles.

Rope net at TreeRunners
Rope net at TreeRunners

The kids both enjoyed the rope swing, where you have to sit on the rope and swing over to the wooden platform opposite.  We did somehow manage to get a bit caught up in the ropes and wires though, which took a little sorting out.

We managed to go round the courses a couple more times before our time was up. Due to safety restrictions, we did find there were a few bottlenecks whilst we waited for those in front to complete obstacles but nothing too major.

The courses for 10+ looked exciting with levels ranging from green, red and blue to the extreme black. These were much higher, and with some rather unique obstacles, including a bicycle and a snowboard. I’d loved to have gone on the zip wires, but I think I’d have been pretty scared on the black run.

So, what’s my verdict?  The kids had a great time and after a few initial nerves found that they could step out into the unknown and survive! The white and yellow courses are very much designed for children, and as an adult I found the supporting wires were at the wrong height which meant I had to rearrange myself on some of the platforms.  Whilst TreeRunners state that adults don’t need to go on with the children, I do think the younger ones need a parent on hand to help the first time if necessary.

Kids view:

It was brilliant, I recommend it to everyone.  The zip wire was best because it was fast.

More info:

  • The toilet facilities are very basic, in part of an old paintball course. Whilst the rest of the site has had a lot of money spent on it can I just say that leaking toilets and slugs on toilet seats do not create a good impression!
  • The kiosk sells drinks and some snacks. You can also bring your own picnic.
  • Further details at www.treerunners.com

Costs:

  •  The Junior Adventure costs £15 for 1.5 hours.  Older children (10+) pay £20 and adults £25 for the harder courses, although this is for 2.5 hours.
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Five family walks on Guernsey

Guernsey is great for family walks and picnics. The terrain is relatively gentle and you can vary walks along the coastline with those inland along green lanes. Visit in early summer and you’ll be treated to fabulous wildflower displays.

The walks below were enjoyed by our family, with the aid of a Perry’s map of Guernsey and lots of cake.

Picnic before heading over to Lihou Island
Picnic before heading over to Lihou Island

1) Lihou Island

Getting to this island is half the adventure!  Lihou island, off the west coast of Guernsey, is accessed by a causeway at low tide.  You’ll need to time your visit carefully and check the causeway opening times beforehand.  As low tide approaches groups of people gather ready to make the crossing.  Rock pools are revealed either side of the walkway, and the first walkers tentatively make their way over.  Some parts of the track remain wet and covered with seaweed so sensible footwear is a must.

Walk over to Lihou Island
Walk over to Lihou Island

The island is pretty small, and takes no more than an hour to walk around.  Although there is a house on the island (which is available to rent) there are no toilet or other facilities for visitors.

Lihou is an important nature site and during nesting season you must respect the fenced off areas.  If you’re lucky you’ll see lots of gulls with fluffy chicks, but be aware they’re protective parents. We saw a couple of people being dive bombed by the birds!

2) Icart Point to Petit Bot

Near Icart Point, Guernsey
Near Icart Point, Guernsey

Probably my favourite walk of the week, this route has fantastic coastal views and colourful cliffside flowers.  It’s a straightforward trail but there are a few ups and downs along the way.

We parked at Icart point, where we started the day with a drink at the cafe, before following the cliff path right towards Petit Bot. It’s possible to climb down the beach ladder at Le Jaonnet Bay (low tide only) but we bypassed this and continued straight on to Petit Bot. There are toilet facilities and another cafe at Petit Bot.

After basking in the sun for a while on the pebbly beach, we walked back to Icart Point along the same path.  You can concoct an alternative route along inland paths if you wish, but we had no great desire to leave the coast.  Allow for 2 hours walking, plus cafe and beach stops.

3) St Saviour reservoir

Whilst the most spectacular walks are along the coast, this inland walk around St Saviour’s reservoir is a gentle alternative and a relaxing way to spend an hour or so.

The 2 mile route, known as the Millenium Walk,  follows the edge of the reservoir for most of the way, with a short quiet road section towards the end.  You can pick up a leaflet with a map and points of interest from the Tourist Office in St Peter Port.

4) Jerbourg point to Fermain Bay

St Martins Point, near Jerbourg
St Martins Point, near Jerbourg

This is another cliff walk with great views of the coast and neighbouring islands.  Park in the car park next to Hotel Jerbourg and take the track down from the eastern corner.  Follow this all the way to Fermain Bay, ignoring the paths leading off the main route. There are a couple of diversions off, but continue following the signs to Fermain.

It takes about 45 minutes to walk to Fermain Bay.  We coincided our walk with the arrival of a huge cruise ship to Guernsey, which the kids enjoyed watching.  There’s a great viewpoint not long before you reach the bay, with seats if you’re in need of a rest.

We ate lunch in the cafe overlooking the beach. It was a great spot but we didn’t linger as bad weather was heading our way. We returned via a much quicker inland path back (for which you’ll need a map) or you can retrace your route.

5) Portelet to the Fairy Ring

This is a short walk, with the advantage that it’s on tarmac so is also suitable for kids on scooters or bikes.  It takes you out to the Fairy Ring, a sunken ring in the ground with a raised central area.  The kids can sit in here and pretend they’re eating lunch with fairies.  There’s an information board next to the Fairy Ring with the actual history, but if your kids are similar to ours they’ll probably prefer their own made up stories.

If you enjoy walking on Guernsey you’ll probably love Herm Island. Read more about our day trip to Herm.

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Top tips for walking with kids

Before children we used to spend much of our free time walking. We were members of a local club, and every month we’d head to the mountains, exploring Snowdonia or the Lake District. We knew things would change when the kids came along but naively assumed that after a few years they’d be accompanying us on our trips.

boots

How little we knew! As our children have grown, they’ve developed their own likes and dislikes. Walking has never featured strongly on the ‘like’ list, but as I’m keen for the children get out and enjoy the countryside, we’ve worked out ways to keep the whole family happy. Our top tips for walking with children are below, if you have any other suggestions please do leave a comment.

1. Food works wonders

Pack a picnic, take plenty of water and snacks and finish your walk at a tea room. This last suggestion is for my benefit, rather than the kids, but everyone deserves a slice of cake after a walk!

2. Choose child friendly routes

Woods and streams offer paddling, tree climbing, den building, log balancing and stick collecting fun. Long treks through featureless fields or along the edge of main roads should be avoided.

3. Incorporate a challenge

Try geocaching, practise map reading skills or have a race up a hill. Any distraction away from the act of walking works well for us.

4. Know your limits

You’ll know how far your kids can walk, and how fast (or slow) they’re likely to be. On average, adults walk around 3 miles per hour on flat ground but this will reduce substantially if you’re walking with a toddler! Similarly, if you’re heading out into mountainous or moorland areas ensure you are confident in your map reading and route finding abilities.

5. Take a camera

I always enjoy seeing the photographs my daughter takes. Whereas I’m the one taking classic landscape photos she’ll be snapping away at a bug, or more usually, herself whilst pulling a funny face.

6. Plan an expedition

As the children have got older, we’ve been on a couple of  ‘expeditions’ with them and both times they’ve gained a great sense of achievement. We walked up Snowdon (the highest mountain in Wales) a couple of years ago.

snowdonia
Misty view from Snowdon

Last year we took them to Black Sail Youth Hostel in the Lake District for an overnight visit, made more exciting because it’s only accessible by foot.

7. Escape routes

When planning your walk, work out how you could shorten it if the weather takes a turn for the worse, or it ends up being too difficult or long for the children.

8. Let the kids plan the walk

I can still vividly remember route planning for my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. Whilst our kids aren’t at the stage yet of planning full scale walks, they’re certainly old enough to learn how to use maps, and help with decisions on route choices.

9. Get friendly with nature

Take an I-spy or Usborne nature spotters book with you and see what wildlife you can find. If there are no obvious large animals or birds to identify, look at flowers, mosses or small bugs instead. The Woodland Trust Nature Detectives website is also a fabulous resource with lots of suggestions for activities in the great outdoors.

10.  Get the gear

Plan for the weather and conditions you’ll be walking in. All in one waterproof suits and wellies are great for young children out for a walk in the woods. If you’re taking older kids into more remote areas they’ll need decent waterproofs and walking boots. Remember hats and gloves too!

11. Walk with friends

Your kids will be too busy playing and talking to the other kids to notice that they’re walking as well. As a bonus you’ll also get to spend time with friends.

And lastly…..

12. Don’t mention you’re going for a walk

Just about any other terminology is preferable. If we tell our kids we’re going for a walk they’ll often groan. Tell them you’re going on an adventure instead.

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Uptonogood 2013

For our review of the 2014 event read here. Otherwise read on to find out what we thought of the 2013 one.

I’m not a fan of heavy rain. After running Reading Half Marathon in atrocious conditions earlier this year I’m firmly of the opinion that my enjoyment of outdoor activities is weather dependent.

When the other half decided to enter a local mountain biking event, Uptonogood, I held off making a decision until the day beforehand so I could check the weather forecast first. Despite very windy conditions there was no rain predicted so I signed up too.

The event was family friendly, with 5 and 12 mile off-road rides alongside 25 and 45 mile routes for adults.  Eldest daughter and other half entered the 12 mile ride with a mid-morning start time. My son had other activities early on so we opted for the 5 mile ride starting at 1.30pm

Fast forward to the morning of the event and the Met Office had sneakily updated their forecast to one showing an 80% chance of heavy rain, hail and thunder at 1pm. Aargh!

On the way to Uptonogood
On the way to Uptonogood

My son and I left at noon to cycle to Upton, where the event was being held. Despite setting off in sunshine there were some ominous clouds in the direction we were heading, and I was glad we’d brought waterproofs.  We arrived in time for a BBQ lunch and homemade cakes, and met up with the other half of the family who’d just finished the 12 miler.

Burger before the start
BBQ lunch

The rain started a few minutes before we set off. It was pretty light to begin with, but soon progressed to a torrential downpour.

Ready for the start
Start of the 5 mile family ride at Uptonogood

The first part of the ride took us out of the village towards the Ridgeway.  After a short road stretch, we soon headed upwards onto the Downs.  I know the area well, and it’s a lovely cycle ride, but the downpour did spoil things a little!  We tried hiding under trees for a few minutes, in the hope that it would pass over, but we’d have been waiting quite a while.

The route was well signposted, and on good tracks.  A short section through a field was incredibly slippy, resulting in a few of the kids parting from their bicycles.  The rain was unrelenting, and all of the riders were soaked through with mud streaks up our backs; we looked like proper mountain bikers!

Still smiling, despite the rain
Still smiling, despite the rain

The last part of the ride was on tarmac, albeit most of this had disappeared under streams.  We cycled through deep puddles as we were already so wet it didn’t seem like it would make a difference.

As we rode down the track back into Upton the rain started to ease and by the time we finished blue sky and sun had reappeared. Still, getting off our bikes was a very uncomfortable experience as we were soaked to the skin and had squelchy shoes. Despite the weather, we had a fun time.  I’d certainly enter again, hopefully on a longer dry ride next year!

More info: http://www.uptonogood.org.uk

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