When Rik and Debbie from the Newlands Activity Centre got in touch and asked if we would like to come and visit them and experience some of the wildest adventures in the Lake District we jumped at the chance. They were fans of Tony’s travel books… so having read about how clumsy and accident prone he is I’m surprised they thought abseiling and kayaking was a good idea!
Getting 300 miles from Somerset to the Lake District was quite a trip, especially as we did it in the Slater family’s spare car – a twenty-year-old, red-faded-to-pink banger that looks just like Postman Pat’s van – if he left it out in the sun for two decades.
It was worth it though. Nestled amidst the peaks surrounding Derwentwater, the Newlands Activity Centre is slap bang in the middle of one of the most beautiful areas in England. Coming from Western Australia, where the countryside is quite dry, the soil is red, and we’re always short of water, the rolling green hills and vast, picture-perfect lakes looking like paradise.
The summer holiday weekend traffic, on the other hand… not so much!
We arrived in the evening and were given a very warm welcome by Rik and Deb. They showed us around the old mill building dating from the 1900s, which is now a fully-equipped accommodation block for over 100. It was kind of eerie, us being the only ones there.
The walls of the lounge/games room are lined with framed photos of people hiking the mountains in full Victorian dress. Tony immediately decided we should do exactly this, as a tribute to the fortitude of those previous generations. Or possibly because he wanted to wear a big hat and a corset. I convinced him to add this to the ‘To Do In The Future’ file, and reminded him that in spite of their impressive spirit, most of the people in those photographs would have been dead by the time they were thirty. There are definite advantages to our more relaxing lifestyle!
Our first evening was spent drinking and chatting in the local pub – an ancient building with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. Tony was in full flow, spinning out story after story. Unfortunately, our hosts had already read most of them, and couldn’t get a word in edgeways to tell him…
Up early the next morning for our first experience, Rock-climbing with our guide Andy. Breakfast was again a surreal experience, with two just places perfectly set, dead-centre in the dining hall capable of holding 100. It was a bit like being celebrities, booking out an entire restaurant so we could dine in peace! We found Corn flakes and toast waiting, and filled up on those… before discovering we were also getting a full cooked breakfast each.
So when it came time to hike uphill to the climbing spot, we had plenty of extra ballast on board to make it more of a challenge. The same goes for fastening our climbing harnesses!
Andy set up a pair of climbs, and we got stuck in – much to the amusement of a local goat, who popped up from behind a rock above us like a freakish glove puppet. As we climbed, every hand or foot placement we made was accompanied by a judgemental “Baaa!”, as though the goat was saying, “There? Ha! I wouldn’t!”
The afternoon activity was the one we were most looking forward to… although we did have to google what on earth ‘Ghyll Scrambling’ was. It’s basically scrambling down a Ghyll (river) using natural slides, climbing and jumping over waterfalls to make your way downstream. It was a scorching hot day – the hottest in the UK since records began, as it happened – but full immersion in the icy-cold water of the Ghyll kept us from overheating. Sitting atop the first waterfall and launching myself down it was more than a bit intimidating!
Once I’d learned to let go, it was fantastic fun.
Though Tony struggled a little bit… his ability to retain instructions is practically zero. I generally have to give him jobs one at a time, or he’ll get confused and I’ll find him standing in the garden, wondering how to ‘make’ it, having just finished watering the bed…
So it was a miracle Tony survived Ghyll scrambling. Andy’s instructions went something like: “Slide your left leg over this rock and then straddle it as you slide down the waterfall, when you get to the bottom bend your knees and cross your arms as you land in the pool, then flip over onto your front and slide down to the right past the next rock!”
Here’s a little video of us getting sloshed 😉
Day Two started with an EPIC thunderstorm – at 3am. I’d left our shoes outside to dry after the Ghyll Scrambling, which was a bit of a mistake.
This time we headed to the Keswick Climbing Wall, an indoor centre that Rik and Debbie have expanded way past climbing. Everywhere we looked there were things they’d built – nature discovery walks, massive Go Ape-style high ropes courses and their latest project: the Tower of Terror (Note, that’s not actually its name.) This giant abseiling tower has recently been fitted with a 170 metre zip line, which we screamed along, causing a slight stampede amongst the sheep below us.
Then we had a go at abseiling – always slightly nerve-wracking – and then another go at abseiling.
This was, it’s fair to say, brown trouser time. Luckily I was wearing the right colour, though I came the closest I’ve come to actually peeing myself in fright for quite some time. Trusting to Andy’s steady hands I stepped out, finding myself facing the ground a good thirty metres below me. With my life now literally in my own hands, I tried to stroll casually down the face of the tower.
The best I could manage was a kind of duck-footed waddle, my agility hampered by the fact that my whole body was shaking in fear, and that my harness was giving me the world’s most gigantic wedgie. Pictures were taken of me by Rik and Debbie down below – I’m just not sharing them because… well, just because 😉
I did stop for a selfie – I’d promised to try, and had my phone on a lanyard inside my t-shirt. But it was incredibly hard to pry it out of the harness, especially whilst keeping a death-grip on my descent rope with the other hand… by the time I got it out the phone was dripping with sweat, plastered with chest hairs, and had been taking extreme close-up selfies of my left nipple continuously for the last five minutes.
I reached the ground close to the point of testicular torsion, and wobbled off to the bathroom at top speed. By the time I got back, Roo was already down; she’d taken one look over the edge and decided to take the ladder.
I’d always assumed ‘Field Archery’ meant standing in a field shooting at those big straw targets. In fact, it’s something way more fun… stalking through the woods with bow and arrow, in search of animal-shaped targets made of self healing ballistic foam! It’s how all hunting should be – a real test of skill, with no animals harmed in the process. Although we had to pass through the kids’ woodland discovery course on the way, with Tony making jokes about how small and fast all the targets in there were…
He proved to be a spectacularly bad shot though. He’s often told me about being the worst shot in the Territorial Army, and the hilarity that ensued when he asked to do the ‘sniper’ course, but this was impressive – from a potential score of over 200, he didn’t even make double digits!
Rik was our guide for the archery, and he managed to outdo himself, breaking the current high score record with 95 – but then, he had created the course… I didn’t do quite as well, but I nailed this shifty-looking heron right in the eye! If only I’d been aiming for it…
As our time at the Newlands Centre drew to a close, we headed out for a spot of Kayaking on Derwentwater. The crazy storm had taken its toll, raising the water level dramatically.
“I normally take people to this island,” said Adam, our guide, “but it’s gone!”
My kayak banged against a submerged rock.
“Oh, that’s where it is!” said Adam.
We battled impressive waves that drenched us with spray, before taking a more leisurely drift back past the various houses of Beatrix Potter’s estate.
“Not a bad life, being an author,” Andy commented, as we passed her third rambling mansion.
I decided to keep quiet about that.
Just before coming in we scanned a small stretch of beach, hoping for a glimpse of something truly unusual. “Lama-walking,” Adam explained. “Seriously! People rent a lama from the farm up there, and just sort of… walk them. Like a big dog. I think it’s therapeutic.”
Therapeutic? Awesome is what it is! Lama-walking is DEFINITELY on my list for the next time we visit Keswick!
Thanks so much to Rik and Debbie of the Newlands Adventure Centre for inviting us, plying us with copious amounts of booze, and then having us thrown off waterfalls! We had a fantastic time. For anyone interested in trying any of the activities above, or many, many more (free-fall jump coming soon!) – or if you’re needing an awesome place to stay in the Lake District – drop Rik and Debbie a line on: 01768 778463
or visit the Newlands Adventure Centre website HERE