When I started the Healthy Edinburgh blog, I pictured myself running around the glorious streets of Edinburgh – going for lots of massages, chilling out in spas, going to dance classes and yet here I am, harnessed up, heart-racing, ready(?) to leap 100ft in the air after being invited to the re-launch of the AERIAL ASSAULT course at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena. And, when I think of a ‘mind/body’ experience, I normally think of Yoga or Tai Chi but I think this may be one of the biggest challenges my mind has ever faced! Embrace The Fear. That is the slogan. That is what I needed to do, but………………………
Looking at the full arena from the cafe brought me straight back to reality. This place is HUGE! And that’s when I spotted it. The orange sign that looked quite small since it was SO HIGH UP! The dangling logs of the Aerial Assault course were only just visible.
Spoiler Alert!! Safety harness and positive encouragement from the staff weren’t enough to get me to take that leap, yes LEAP off of the 100 ft high platform that would have sent me zip-lining across the abyss, which is the only way to actually get to the start of the assault course. But, don’t let this chicken scare you off. The facility is brilliant, the setting is gorge-ous (pun intended – as it is actually set into a gorge!) and the indoor Aerial Assault course is the highest in the UK! Luckily I always come prepared and brought along someone that is far more adventurous than I am – my niece Emma. And, after all, someone had to stay behind on the 100ft platform and take the pics!
So, let’s set the scene. To get to the Assault course we had to go up to the 5th floor where we were greeted by a door to the spiral staircase that took us even higher up to the prep area and starting point. Just in case you’re feeling a bit nervous, there is a welcoming sign…
As we reached the top of the spiral staircase we found ourselves in the roof of the facility – higher than all the climbing walls! You get a great view from here!
We were greeted by EICA staff who helped us harness up, and gave us a crate for our belongings – which would be securely locked for us.
So far so good. Next came the helmet.
Then the shoe check. From my previous attempt at rock climbing, I assumed we would be given special shoes but there is no actual ‘climbing’ so normal trainers are fine BUT you must be able to tie them really, really tight. I just had elastic slip-ons. There are rope nets to clamber over and it’s possible for your shoes to get caught and come off. The people walking about 100 ft below wouldn’t be too pleased if smelly trainer hit them on the head!
So, not too sure of my choice of footwear, and a little nervous about the height – I asked a few questions:
(Q)‘What if I start off and don’t like it. Can I turn back?
(A)’Actually most people find the jump off at the start is the hardest so once you do that, the rest should be fine’
(Q) The ‘JUMP’???
As we were standing on the platform, I did notice we were quite a ways from the ropes, ladders and logs dangling from the steel structures just below the roof. To one side there was a very long gangway that eventually led to the logs. I assumed we walked along that to get to the start. I WAS WRONG! Once harnessed up, we would be clipped to ropes hanging from pulleys along a LONG zip track that traversed the abyss over the climbing arena and would dump us at the start of the dangling logs. So, there I was. Helmet on, harness on, peering over the edge, waiting my turn. My heart rate was higher than it’s ever gotten in even the hardest Spin class. Even seeing the two young girls ahead of us confidently taking to the sky wasn’t enough to shame me into going. This is where I said ‘hello‘ to my fear and ‘Cheerio’ to Emma. ‘You Zip and I’ll take pics’. The perfect solution.
And what exactly is this Zip-line start? (Adrenal junkies, start salivating now) ….
It was with great pride (and relief) that I watched Emma get ready to take her leap of faith.
After getting stuck for a few seconds, feet dangling over the abyss, she snaked her way across to the first log, smiling all the way.
Another staff member was waiting at the start of the assault course to give her some last minute tips. Then she was off! Emma scampered gracefully from log to log, rope to rope, challenge to challenge; always feeling secure in the harness.
After heading from one end of the arena to the other, Emma had to cross over to a parallel circuit and make her way back the start for a shorter zip back to the side walkway.
It can take around 30 to 45 minutes to work your way around the assault course and make the final ‘zip’ back to base. And what did Emma think of her action filled adventure? ‘I was a wee bit petrified at first but it was BRILLIANT – as soon as I finished I wanted to go and do it all again!
Wear fingerless gloves, like for cycling, as the ropes can be a bit rough, thick trousers and long sleeves as the harness is tight and ‘digs in’ and it gets a bit chilly up in the clouds! And don’t worry if you’re not super fit. You can always use the harness for support and pull yourself across using the pulleys above. So, you’ll never really get stuck out on the course, or if you do feel like you can’t progress, there is always one member of staff out on the course that can get you moving again.
As for me, I’d love to try a near-ground level assault course first and try a zip line that’s not so high above the ground. If I manage these then yes, I’ll definitely head back to EICA and Embrace my Fear!!! All in all, it was an amazing day out; the two of us had a blast but it would also be fun with a bigger group – maybe even a team building day for work.
Best reached by car, EICA in Ratho, is set in the base of a rock gorge – the natural stone even forms the outer walls of the climbing area creating the perfect setting for all the various climbing and bouldering challenges. There are changing rooms, showers and a small, basic spa area (a hot tub and sauna). A large cafe area has huge windows giving a great view to the largest climbing (and bouldering) arena in Europe and 100ft high Aerial Assault course.
This is an Edinburgh Leisure facility so there is also a gym with lots of fitness classes, areas for kiddie parties and a shop for all your mountaineering gear and gadgets. This place is state of the art! It is the largest climbing arena in Europe and we are so lucky to have it here in Edinburgh. People reading from other cities: be jealous, very jealous.
Head over to the EICA website for more info and current prices.