A dozen people pulled a rope, hoisting higher Mrs TL and me, clinging to a wooden plank. The ascent ended and we dangled while ropes were secured, slack taken in. It was quiet and precarious. I made limp efforts to reassure my wife. A count of three was shouted up to me. I reached above and behind and flicked a cord from a knot. Before I could face forward, we hurtled downwards. Then an upswing, which peaked before we described the same arc, but backwards. Then back and forwards for 60 seconds. The quiet as we dangled was chased away by my wife’s scream so gutteral that no.2 son will be impersonating it many years from now.
That was my experience of the Big Swing. The most startling experience – and probably the only one I wouldn’t want to repeat – of our Easter activity holiday. My description omits the harnesses, helmets, the testing and retesting of the buckles and the 16 other mums, dads and kids who had already ridden the Big Swing that afternoon. But, you know, our ride was scarey!
We spent five days of our Easter holiday at Boreatton Park in Shropshire, one of the bases of PGL Holidays. The holiday had been a bit of an impulse buy; one that Mrs TL felt less and less comfortable about as it approached. The Big Swing was early proof (day 2 – the first full day of activities) that her anxiety was well-placed.
The holiday centred on three and a half days of organised physical activities. The range of pursuit, the competence and friendliness of the instructors, the quality of the facilities and the potential to alarm the wary holiday maker were top-notch. Good basic cabin accommodation and hearty food with plenty of options kept you in good nick; evening games and time in the bar were there, too.
What did you do at Easter? Us? Oh, we kayaked, shot rifles, swung, fired arrows, built shelters, climbed, fenced, canoed, zipped along wires and abseiled. Left to our own devices, at home or perhaps in the countryside, we may have managed a few walks and some roller-blading. But under the eager guidance of PGL’s youthful multi-pierced ear instructors we did loads. And (you will understand the significance of this if you have children) we didn’t have the stress of making decisions and negotiating between preferences and vetoes. We did what we were told when we were told. There was barely a complaint.
The younger children – the 1&onlyD and no.2 son – approached every activity with gusto and commitment. The 1&onlyD excelled at the kayak game. Both water sessions ended with a game to get everyone wet. The challenge was to move from sitting, to lying, to standing and ultimately, as only the gymnastically balanced 1&onlyD could manage, walk to the front of the kayak.
Each activity was done jointly with between one and four other families. In our survivor session in the woods, the family from Formby built a shelter in 10 mins from tarpaulin that looked like a stealth bomber. Ours looked like a tarpaulin dropped on a bush. When we worked jointly, our comrades built a shelter that made use of tarpaulin, trees, branches, logs and counter-balancing forces that left me content to collect ‘camouflage’ materials if I could be allowed to be associated with it.
Sporty no.1 son is no adventurer. He opted out of the Big Swing – a courageous act in its own way, when everyone else is doing it. The next day, on his second attempt at the climbing wall, he reached half-way and asked to come down. The instructors, in a way that we as parents couldn’t have done without nagging, coaxed and convinced him to carry on. He made his way to the top. In the same way he was helped to complete two abseils down a 12 metre high tower.
Our stay culminated with the high ropes challenge. 10 metres up, you complete a circuit involving walking along wires, a beam, clinging to ropes and swinging on a barrel. No.2 son started, then refused. But he climbed back up to complete the course. Mrs TL confronted her fears with heights. I was happiest when at the end of my circuit. Finally, no.1 son, despite being very scared, took on the high ropes and managed to get around.
Again, I’ve not mentioned the harness, the safety buckles and the metal runners you are tied to as you tackle the circuit. The 1&onlyD was one of the children happy to swing in their harness, comfortable with its security, while most of us clung to the ropes, fearful of a fall that would be checked within inches.
And that’s the delicious balance of the heights and climbing activities: they are made to look frightening, but they are so well constructed and managed that any real risk is removed. The draw is the danger, yet the instructors spend their time reassuring us of their absolute safety. The thrill is psychological and no less fulfilling for that.
It was a memorable holiday, taken as a family and spent together as a family. Each of us having little triumphs that we shared. The weather was bright throughout, although I doubt that affected the cheerfulness of the instructors who walked us around the 250 acres chanting songs.
Fresh air, physical activity, psychological challenges, new experiences and over 100 hours without watching, or even asking about, television. We reached home mid-evening on Good Friday. Within minutes the television and Playstation were on and I was being asked, “Dad, can you play football outside.”
Disclaimer: I have received no payment or benefit for this article and all opinions expressed are my own.