#7 – Do the Spice Rack: The Big Abseil with Spice Bristol
Adventure activities are not my usual choice of Spice events. I’m normally found doing the social stuff – balls, party nights, dinners, cinema, theatre and perhaps a bit of walking. In the past, I’ve tended to leave the adrenalin stuff to others! For the Spice rack challenge however, I wanted to complete events across the whole spectrum offered by SPICE. And that means Adventure – Social – Leisure. I also especially wanted to do events which were unique to that particular location where possible. So, for my Spice Bristol event, the obvious choice was their Avon Gorge abseil. 200ft, straight down.
I say obvious. It seemed like a good idea when I booked it about four months ago but as the day drew closer I started to get a bit nervous. I’m fine with heights as long as I can’t see through the floor, so I knew I’d be OK at the top of the cliff but I was anticipating having a bit of difficulty going over the edge…
The day dawned misty, but it was happening whatever the weather so I hopped in the car and made the trip to Bristol to meet a friend for lunch beforehand. The day brightened up as it wore on and luckily the sun came out so by the time we made our way to the Portway we had great views of the River Avon and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I was expecting a permanent abseil platform to be set up on the Gorge, so I was a little surprised to discover that there was no permanent installation. Instead we would simply be in the hands of a bloke with a rope!
After getting kitted up in a harness and helmet, we climbed a steep track up the Gorge and sat, somewhat nervously, whilst our guide tied ropes to trees, and other ropes, and clipped things to other things before announcing he was happy and we could commence our practise abseil. 90ft. And so it began. Getting clipped onto various ropes, then backing slowly towards a cliff edge. I was so desperate not to look down that I made it a lot more difficult than it needed to be by trying to feel around with my feet for footholds and all the time maintaining as many points of contact with the rock as possible (hands, feet, knees…). Kyle (the guide) kept reassuring me that the harness was taking the weight and I should stand up. Every preservation instinct you have, at this point, is telling you this is a really silly idea. But, I kept determinedly not looking down, and Kyle kept encouraging me to take another step, and another step, and another step. When I was about 3 metres below him I suddenly realised that I’d done it, I’d gone over the edge and I was technically abseiling – albeit very slowly.
My first descent was at a snail’s pace. I was watching only my feet, moving one then the other to get a good brace on the rockface and (not entirely trusting my harness) taking far too much weight on my arms. I didn’t so much as bounce down the cliff as take a stroll down it, nervously singing a bit of Go West to myself: “Don’t look down girl, don’t look down”! I reached the bottom in one piece – but my arms ached a bit!
Once all five of us were down it was time to take the steep track to the top again, scrambling higher up this time and again waiting whilst Kyle attached the ropes. Eventually it was time for me to attempt The Big One. Extra coaching on technique done (hold your right hand under your bum – ensures the harness takes the weight not your arms), and again it was the ‘step back, step back’ routine. Steeling myself again and not looking down again, I made my way slowly over the edge once more. This time I decided to enjoy it. I dropped part of the distance and stopped to admire the views of the sun shining on the suspension bridge. Sadly, as I needed both hands on the ropes at the time there are no photos of that view – it’s one that will have to remain in my memory.
My technique vastly improved on this second abseil. It was feeling pretty good so as I approached the bottom third of the cliff I decided to get brave and give the ‘slide and bounce’ technique a go. This is what you think of when you think of abseiling. It was great. By the time I reached the bottom, I was enjoying it so much I wanted the cliff face to go on a bit longer. No aching arms this time either.
And, that was that. Spice Bristol event completed, halfway through the Spice rack now. Overall, although I enjoyed the descent I really didn’t enjoy the feeling of stepping back into a sheer drop, no matter how many ropes I was attached to. It’s just plain wrong! But once that bit was done it was great. That’s not to say I’ll ever do abseiling again – once may well be enough, but I did it: 200ft, straight down!