How you can spend time in the Hampshire treetops
PUBLISHED: 12:16 22 May 2017
In a world dominated by technology, Natalie French discovers why more and more people are heading into the canopy for their fun and excitement
Last year, The Great Big Tree Climbing Company took more than 9,000 climbers into tree canopies across England. That’s 9,000 people of all ages climbing trees and getting closer to nature.
“We get quite a few kids,” says managing director Mark Hawes, “but quite often the parents will go up with their kids, which is great.”
While the minimum age is six, there is no maximum, explains Mark: “We’ve had people in their 80s. We also had three generations of the same family go up; a grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter all climbing at the same time, which was wonderful – a memorable day.”
Since its creation in 2008, the company has grown to become the largest provider of recreational tree climbing activities in the country. But why the big surge in interest? “I think there’s been a real rebellion,” says Mark. “Parents are fed up with their kids being stuck in front of the computer. They want to relive their youth and get their kids back in the great outdoors and climbing trees. I think that’s a real change over the last few years.”
Mark believes this mind-set also drip-feeds into schools as well: “We do a lot of work with schools and they are really pushing to get kids outdoors with Forest Schools and dedicated members of staff for outside education.”
As well as providing a full body workout, climbing trees also allows people to overcome fears and push personal boundaries: “We have a lot of kids turn up who are a bit fearful of heights and it’s really nice even if we can get them 3-4ft off the ground. It’s a real achievement. We feel chuffed about it and the kids love it and are really impressed it’s happened,” says Mark.
But it’s not just for kids…most of us grown-ups can remember the pure joy of discovering a low branch to clamber onto. “Adults love it,” says Mark, “although there’s some serious competitiveness sometimes, on the whole it’s a really nice thing for people to do together. It’s an equaliser for all the family. You need to be reasonably fit, but not super-fit to do what we do. And you can spend a lot of time together, outside, having fun.”
“Some kids and grown-ups will get up to the top really quickly and if we see that then we’ll try to get them out branch walking,” says Mark.
As a qualified tree surgeon, Mark ensures the trees used are not damaged in anyway. “We climb the tree by using ropes and a harness. The ropes run through a cambium (or friction) saver to ensure there is no rubbing or damage to the tree branches. We also ensure all wildlife is protected whilst we go about our activities. During the nesting season we take particular care not to disrupt nesting birds.”
“Many of our events are run in conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, SSSI sites and even listed landscapes. We take pride in leaving a site looking how it did before we arrived.”
One such site is National Trust property, The Vyne, in Basingstoke. “The tree we use there is a Cedar of Lebanon – which is an amazing old tree, found close to the café. We have a number of events running there throughout the year, it’s very popular. We will also be doing zip wires at The Vyne in the summer.”
Mark also runs tree climbing days at Hillier Gardens in Romsey and has started to do festivals too.
Hotel highwire adventure
Guests at Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire can enjoy the ultimate tree-top challenge. Hidden amid woodland on the hotel’s Dogmersfield Estate is the Highwire Adventure, a forest challenge featuring high and low rope courses, an adrenaline-pumping zip line and a giant see-saw.
With 24 high and 17 low rope course elements, you will be reaching new heights, balancing across bridges and traversing through the trees at heights of up to 66 feet. If swinging through the trees is not adventurous enough, try the breath-taking 700-foot zip line, or try the ultimate free-fall experience with the Power Fan, a hair raising parachute simulator.
Sleep in the canopy
Splurge: Indulge your childhood fantasies and spend a night suspended 35-feet above the ground within the tree canopy, in one of Chewton Glen’s Tree House suites. These uber-sexy abodes come with their own private terrace and hot tub - mixing nature with full-blown luxury. Hence the price… from £850 per night.
• Steal: Just across the border in heart of the Dorset countryside, you can spend the night in a Floating Tree Sphere, from just £75 per night for two. Equipped with everything you’d need for a simple, secluded getaway amongst the trees.
If you want go beyond the simple art of tree climbing, Go Ape’s Tree Top Adventures offer high rope obstacles, Tarzan Swings and a whole host of zip wires so you can whoosh through the canopy with reckless abandon. Located in 440 acres of beautiful woodland in Itchen Valley Country Park, near Southampton, the award-winning adventure boasts some of the highest platforms and speediest zip wires in the south. Phil Davies, who works at Go Ape in Itchen Valley, says: “I get to help people overcome their fears and achieve things they didn’t think they could. It gives me a real buzz and I work with a great bunch of people who are all motivated by shared values.”
Tree Top Adventure, £33 (16+ years) / £25 (10-15 years); Tree Top Junior, £18 (at least 1m tall) goape.co.uk