18 THE LIST 18 Mar~1 Apr 2004 I


Statistics on how often men think about sex vary but I really don't think about my willy all that often. Things are a bit different when you put a climbing harness on. It may just be nerves about climbing a bloody great wall (with knobs on) but I feel uncomfortable with my meat and two veg trussed up into a small pouch, like some posing baboon.

Indoor climbing is a weird activity to start off with. Half the excuses for mountaineering the view. the fresh air. the chance to eat lots of pies in the car on the way back don't apply. You climb until the holds dry up. And then you go down again. But even a sceptic would admit that Ratho's National Climbing Arena is groovy. The space yawns around you, like the set of TV fitness cabaret Gladiators. Anyone who saw the recent Climbing World Cup Finals. though, will attest that there's nothing pantomime about this arena. Then, athletes scaled fearsome overhangs befOre pausing to ‘rest'. one foot jammed into the narrowest of cracks. two fingers wrapped round a thimble-sized hold.

Now. our instructor Neil wants someone to go first up the 30 foot route 63. one of the easiest climbs Ratho has to offer. I raise my hand. There's something primeval about setting yourself against gravity. clinging to a horizontal face with fingers and toes and the light rubber of hired climbing shoes. Route 63 really isn’t hard although some of its neighbours look pretty tricky. Climbing is more about strategy than strength. and more about trust than heroism. Get to the top. and you need faith in the man at the bottom: to abseil, you put your weight back. until the only thing between you and spinal injury is the rope around your waist. It's great I feel like Batman essaying a moonwalk and the solid ground of the arena floor arrives with a mix of relief and regret. (James Smart)

I For information on how to participate, see Getting Started.


We're standing on a platform a few metres wide, on the edge of a shiny new building. It's about 140 feet down to the muddy earth below, where someone has helpfully stretched out a large tarpaulin. An orange rope is tethered to the building. via two instructors. The plan, apparently, is to step into thin air. at which point a raised rope takes the strain, bringing you round in a smooth arc. in a cross between your common garden swing and a bungee jump.

Now, I'm actually fine with this I'm one of those irritating people who really rather enjoys heights. particularly if I've got a rope round my waist. So when my time comes I stand aloft on the edge. arms raised and spine straight. feeling proudly messianic. ‘When you’re ready,‘ says instructor Nick. and I suddenly realise that throwing yourself into an abyss is not necessarily easy. Somehow, I step off - it‘s one of those instantaneous. almost subconscious things. like those rare days when your rhythms click and you're out of bed with the first chime of your alarm clock. I aim for a heroic yodel, but my heart goes into my mouth. my other internal organs slide, tense and gibbering. to fill the gap it's left, and I squawk like a puppy in a vice. Then. the adrenaline roars. the globe shifts from side to side beneath my swaying body and my face pulls itself into an impossibly broad grin. That wasn't so bad. after all . . .

(James Smart) I The King Swing costs £7 for adults and £5.50 for kids and concessions. Booking essential: phone 0 737 333 6333 for details.


‘You OK with heights?’ my editor asks. ‘Yeah.’ I reply with a shrug. but I don't feel so strong when I'm craning my neck to view the suspended assault course. and by the time I reach the take off point. rather than feeling like a death-defying acrobat. the circus has just broken into full swing inside my stomach. The click of the carabena (the clip which attaches me to my harness) sounds like the clank of jail bars as l edge towards the platform. and suddenly, swinging from a rope 120 feet above the ground feels more like a death sentence than the ultimate thrill.

This aerial assault course is built not only for fun. but also to get climbers used to finding themselves in tricky situations at great height. Nothing is stable, and every six inch gap might as well be a 20 foot gorge. However much I remind myself that the harness is failsafe. there's a blockage between my brain and my feet that won't move.

Seeing my quandary. Andy Townsend, one of the instructors, swings easily from the other direction, hooks me up and suddenly I‘m speeding along across trunks and ropes and ladders and within seconds we reach the half-way mark - a solid wall! I hug it enthusiastically. By the time we reach the next platform, I have regained my nerve and. swelling with pride. I discover with disappointment that I am only a death-slide away from terra firma. I was just getting into it and I almost feel I could do it all over again. That said. assessing the height of the Sky Ride from the safety of my seat in the bar. the acrobat does a last little flip, and I hear the crowd roar in my ears. I may not be somersaulting on the ropes yet but it was an impressive performance even so. (Susannah McMicking)

I The Sky Ride costs £7 for adults and £5.50 for kids and concessions. Booking is recommended: phone 0737 333 6333 for details.