It was a father and daughter road-trip. During February half-term, we said goodbye to the rest of the family and pointed the car at Cumbria, as my daughter Matilda - 12 years old - had suggested we should check out the localGo Ape! Tree Top Adventure.
Our base was the unspoilt Newlands Valley, which Alfred Wainwright labelled “the finest centre for a walking holiday” in the north-west Lake District.
The location for our adventure was the Forestry Commission’s Whinlatter Forest Park, just west of Keswick. Whinlatter is England’s only mountain forest and the Go Ape! based there is the highest in Britain. Ospreys and red squirrels are two of the species which families can learn about at the excellent visitors’ centre. The forest’s mountain biking and walking routes are also popular.
Go Ape!’s website and call centre had been notably efficient and the safety briefing was no different. Becky carefully instructed us how to use the various buckles and pulleys attached to our harnesses, before leading us to stage one, the first of five stages of increasing difficulty across the Go Ape! site.
In no time, we were scaling a rope ladder, easing our way across a high wire and launching ourselves down the first of several zip wires. Satisfied we were no danger to ourselves (or others), Becky let us loose to simulate simians to our hearts’ content.
Matilda proved as agile and nimble as a chimp, while I felt akin to a lumbering gorilla. Neither of us felt too much trepidation about operating up at 35ft, and we relaxed and let our harnesses take the strain. The canopy walks are inventive, the Tarzan-style rope swings are dramatic, and the zip wires give a true sense of speed. Our three hours flashed past. Matilda announced it great fun: “I can’t wait to come back. I loved the Tarzans.”
Out on the fells, we did pretty well too. We conquered one 2,400ft peak in a snow storm but were forced to abandon another by severe hail and rain. Not that this mattered – it seemed a special treat to be out in wildest Cumbria, battling the elements with one’s eldest daughter.
Matilda had a ball at Go Ape!, we both revelled in the scenery, and I quickly found the ideal way of settling my nerves after such high-altitude antics. I’d grab an armchair by the guesthouse fire, reach for the wine list, and luxuriate in deciding how best to Go Grape.
The Chalet’s beautiful dining room, which makes full use of Cumbrian wood and slate in a clever, modern and airy way, is a great setting for the kitchen’s thoughtful and inventive lunch and evening menus. From sandwiches and afternoon teas to evening meals, The Chalet’s fresh food is made with locally-sourced ingredients and will please both parents and children. We liked the lunchtime Portinscale Pockets, the delicious local lamb and the indulgent chocolate torte. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
For hearty pub food, try The Farmer’s Arms in Portinscale or The Royal Oak in Braithwaite (which also has rooms).
My wife had booked us in to the Littletown Farm Guesthouse which proved superb. It is not only surrounded by some very pretty and impressive (but achievable) peaks, but offers cosy, modern rooms, classic breakfasts and delicious suppers.
Comfortable rooms, friendly, personal service from owners Sarah and Rob Moir, and top notch home cooking. There is a guest lounge with TV and board games, and the well-stocked bar carries a fine selection of malts.
Alternatively, stay in recently renovated rooms attached to The Swinside Inn, the Newlands Valley’s most traditional pub; or for a wider selection of accommodation in the Lake District, try the lakeland-cottage-company.co.uk website.
How to get there: Head north, straight up the M6, and turn left on to the A66 until just past Keswick. Then take the B5292 through Braithwaite until you reach Whinlatter Forest Park.