By Yvette Caster, Freelance journalist and podcaster
Sunday 11 Nov 2018 8:00 am
Like snogging a boy in the year above on a pile of coats at a house party, camping, Ive always thought, is fine for teenagers but not something that has any place outside of adolescence.
Yet, because I clearly have masochistic tendencies, I volunteered for a camping experience more extreme than any other: dangling over the side of a Gloucestershire cliff, 10 storeys high.
This is an experience from buyagift.co.uk – you can pay £450 for dinner for two and a night on a hanging tent – a portaledge – in winter.
Once youve got past wondering why anyone would do this, theres the how.
I meet Kevin Roet, 38, of Rise And Summit on a bright, clear day at Stroud station by his blue van, with its climbing pick logo.
As he drives me over the old Severn Bridge, he tells me how he started climbing aged 12 then, as an adult, ditched his office job to set up this business.
I love climbing, he says. I feel guilty sometimes because it doesnt feel like work.
We park then walk to Offas Dyke – a path that will lead us up to Wintours Leap near Woodcroft.
Kevin says it will be a nice walk. The Wye Valley countryside is beautiful, but walk is an understatement. The path is thin and very steep, and most of the time Im clinging to Kevins outstretched hand.
Once we are at the top of the cliff though, I look out at the River Wye and the Forest Of Dean and its not too shabby.
I peer over the limestone cliff, called Fly Wall. Im not afraid of heights but Id also rather not fall and be smashed to pieces.
Once the gear is on – harness, helmet, ropes, metal loops called carabinas and Grigri, which you use to let the rope out – its time to abseil down.
It takes five minutes of reassuring from Kevin before I move. My logical brain is having issues re: whether or not this will lead to my immediate death.
Trust the system, says Kevin, and for some reason this phrase, and my assessment of the ropes attached to huge rocks, sways me.
When I get to the bottom I feel pleased with myself but surprisingly tired. Its easier on the second try.
Kevin assembles the portaledge aka my bed. Its basically just a bit of canvas stretched across a few metal poles, held up by ropes.
Three lady ramblers stop by.
Two of them wont even look over the edge. The third takes my picture, in case I dont make it.
This is absolutely ridiculous, she exclaims. I think youre mad. Why are you doing this?
Her shock bolsters me – I start to feel like less like a worried blob and more like Lara Croft.
Until she continues, I remember watching the ambulances come for people when I was younger.
I put on my night time layers – a long-sleeved top, t-shirt, leggings, jeans, hoodie, woolly jumper, two pairs of socks, a thick coat and gloves.
I use the portable loo (a plastic cube with a hole in it) and decide to deliberately dehydrate myself because theres no way Ill risk potentially pissing myself as Kevin hauls me up a cliff side for a bathroom break in the middle of the night.
I abseil down to the portaledge. When I land and lie on it, flat on my back, I feel fine. After the exertions of climbing and abseiling its a blessed relief. It feels a bit like lying on a trampoline, which is in my top 10 sensations.
By now, Im not too bothered by the drop either. Theres a strong rope connecting my harness to a rock at the top, so even if I roll off in my sleep Ill still be alive – just dangling against a cliff face in the middle of the night.
Theres enough slack in the rope for me to sit up and move around the red canvas rectangle, which is about the size of a small single bed.
Every time I move the portaledge moves a bit, with a creak, which is a little disconcerting.
Kevin comes to my bedroom for dinner, and we eat beef jerky, boil in the bag chicken tikka and tinned peaches. He also gives me a small bar of Green & Blacks, which I save for later.
Night falls around 7.30pm, so Kevin heads off to sleep on his rock above and I shuffle into my sleeping bag.
I stare at the view for a while, then drop off at around 8pm. Not literally.
The first time I wake its a few hours later. I admire the stars and wish I knew more about the constellations. Owls are hooting and ducks are quaking. I eat the Green & Blacks. Its all pretty nice.
The second time I wake up Im freezing my face off. I dig out my cloak and hat and pull my hoodie tight rough my face.
The third time I wake up theres incredibly beautiful mist below me. I would appreciate this more if I wasnt aching so much.
The fourth time I wake I remember why I dont do camping. How had I forgotten this agony? My back is in so much pain. This is, I assume, because Im sleeping on a flimsy bit of canvas stretched across poles hung from a cliff top, not a lovely mattress. I turn onto my side.
The fifth time I wake up my side and my hips hurt. My gloved hands are freezing. Also, wild pigs in the Forest Of Dean are making aggressively loud grunting noises.
The sixth time I wake up theres a lovely sunrise, which I dont give a crap about because Im cold and achey and camping is hell.
Still, I go back to sleep one last time before Kevin greets me, peering over the edge at 7.45am, which is too early on the weekend, even if your bed is hanging over a cliff.
He lowers down a chamomile tea. Im so achy that everything is difficult – reaching for the cup, getting out the sleeping bag, even getting my shoes on.
Kevin throws down a rope and I hook myself on. He pulls me up using a system where hes carrying a third of my weight. I feel like a cow being airlifted.
Eventually, ungracefully, Im crawling over the edge.
After a boil in the bag breakfast of beans and sausages, we start the descent.
Its very steep, and Kevin kindly holds my hand for most of it. The hardest bit is when we scramble over loose rocks and boulders using our hands and feet like monkeys.
Finally were back at the van, then the station.
I bid farewell to Kevin and think about my night of extreme camping.
I dont feel the need to do it again but I did enjoy some aspects.
Sleeping out under the stars was a first. Being that high up was a novelty. And at times (when I wasnt griping about the cold or my aches) I felt strangely emotional.
The sky, the Wye, being right in the middle of nature was something special – a room with a view like no other.
If only there was a portaledge made of memory foam.
How to plan your own cliff camping trip:
Cliff camping for two in the Wye Valley, with breakfast and dinner, costs £450 from buyagift.co.uk.
You can also sleep hanging over the Atlantic Ocean, on a portaledge attached to a Devon cliff for £500.
Trains from London Paddington to Stroud take about an hour and a half. Tickets cost from £48.40 return.
(Top picture: Yvette Caster)