Described as the “little brother of canyoning”, gorge walking is an exciting and adrenaline-fuelled activity, as Gayle discovers
Crouched in a cave behind a waterfall, it’s as if I’ve been magicked into a Famous Five novel.
The roar of cascading water is deafening and the water which splashes my face and body is ice cold.
I’m just minutes into a morning of gorge walking with Ballinluig-based adventure centre Nae Limits and I’m having an absolute blast.
The aim is to swim, jump, slide and scramble your way through a series of waterfall systems and today I’m doing this at stunning Falls of Bruar near Blair Atholl.
My instructor for the session is head guide Drew Gallacher, and I’ve joined a family on holiday from London – Rob, Kate and their four kids, ranging in age from eight years old to 11.
After kitting us out in wetsuits, helmets, harnesses and buoyancy aids, Drew drives us to House of Bruar where we park up and walk to the start point.
Following a quick safety briefing, we march up a shaded woodland path and pose for photos on a scenic arched stone bridge.
Then we clip our harnesses to a rope which Drew, 24, has fixed to a line of trees, and descend steeply into the gorge.
Slipping into the water, I’m surprised by how chilly it is (Drew reckons it’s about 12C, tops).
Having done quite a bit of wild swimming this summer and found other rivers to be quite “warm”, the Bruar is definitely not. But it’s permanently shaded here, so I guess that explains it.
Swimming around in a deep pool, some of us shrieking more than others, Drew instructs us to head to the waterfall for a “power shower” and into the natural cave behind it.
This is where it all gets a bit Famous Five-y; I’m sure Enid Blyton would’ve been proud!
When we’ve had our fill of waterfall fun, we head for our first white water slide, which Drew describes as a “natural log flume”. It’s a short and easy drop, but enough to get our heads dunked and our adrenaline levels boosted.
Next, we crawl and scramble our way up and over slippery slabs until we come to a spot where Drew tells us to perform a “freestyle jump”.
For someone not that keen on heights, it’s a tad daunting, but I close my eyes and leap into the abyss. I land with a splash and a smile – it’s impossible not to!
Our next treat is a pamper session in “Bruar Spa”. Sliding into the “jacuzzi pool”, which Drew reveals has “failed to pay its heating bill”, it’s more like an ice bath than a hot tub.
However, it boasts bubbles galore and powerful jets of water shoot from under rocks onto our backs and bums, which feels rather nice.
As we enjoy our chilly hydro massage, Drew gives us a mini geography lesson.
“This is actually a kettle hole,” he says. “It’s been formed by a little pebble getting stuck in a crack, forming a hole and as water swirls round, it wears away the stone and the hole gets bigger. One day it’ll collapse, but let’s hope that’s not for thousands of years.”
Plopping out of the “spa” into shallow pools below, we come to a “dive platform”.
Here, Drew gives us a demo of a “penguin dive” and invites us to copy him. It feels rather silly but is nonetheless invigorating and incites laughter all round.
Then we come to the grand finale – the biggest jump of the day, at around 15ft.
Scaling a natural “staircase”, we take it in turns to take a leap of faith. Some of us are less willing than others; legs tremble, knees shake and the temptation to run away takes over…until we all finally grab the bull by the burns and just do it.
What a fantastic and liberating feeling that is – to feel the fear and do it anyway!
Buoyed up by our braveness, we scramble back to dry land and walk on air back to Drew’s van.
Back at Nae Limits HQ, I catch up with my group over coffee and discuss our thoughts on the morning’s activities.
The conclusion is that everyone had a whale of a time and in fact, all of us are thinking of signing up for canyoning next.
For those who don’t know the difference between gorge walking and canyoning, Drew explains canyoning generally has bigger jumps and slides, more “handlines” (ropes you can hang onto while climbing up or down steep or slick sections), and abseiling.
While our biggest jump today was 15ft, some Nae Limits canyoning courses invite you to take on jumps as big as 27ft – eek!
However, the fantastic thing about both gorge walking and canyoning is that at no point are you made to feel you absolutely must do the jump or tackle the obstacle because there’s always another way up, over or around it.
“Yes, we can be pretty persuasive because it’s great to see people conquer their fears, but at the end of the day, it’s up to you,” says Drew. “You can push yourself as little or as much as you want. But the most important thing is to have fun!”
Gorge walking with Nae Limits is the perfect family adventure, suitable for children aged eight and over, with natural water slides, lagoon pools and small cliff jumps.
Wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets are supplied. Just bring swim wear, towel and an old pair of trainers. All activities start at Nae Limits HQ is at Ballinluig, Perthshire, PH9 0LG. www.naelimits.co.uk