It's hard to believe that Edinburgh just experienced its hottest day ever with the rain pounding down as I write. For denizens of these parts, flick-of-the-switch weather changes are nothing new, but rarely seen in such extremes. Even as the mercury climbed to 31.6C at Gogarburn on Thursday, 0.2C higher than the previous high set at Edinburgh Airport on 4 August, 1975, the not-so-distant thunder clouds were gathering.
With such weather variability, planning day trips can be a tricky business. There are obvious beach destinations for short family escapes within close range of Edinburgh: Portobello, rediscovering some of its allure as a Victorian beach resort in these climate-warmed times; the picturesque fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife; the sandy beaches of East Lothian down the road, such as Gullane and North Berwick.
But the appeal wanes when the haar and drizzle move in. Also, you just might have kids looking for more physically challenging, or alternative, outdoor pursuits than strolls on the beach or scouring for crabs in seaside rock pools.
Foxlake Adventures is one such destination that might fit the bill. Located near Dunbar, 25 miles out of Edinburgh, Foxlake Adventures doesn’t fall neatly into any biking, boating, windsurfing category. The centre provides a number of off-beat sporting activities using cable, rope and wood, both on the 180-metre loch itself and in the neighbouring forest area.
These include cable wakeboarding, which is akin to water-skiing but where you skim across the water on a board propelled by means of an overhead cable. Similar, are the Ringo Rides, where two or three people are dragged by cable across the water on a large rubber inflatable ring. There’s also zipline courses where pairs of participants can fly up to 30 feet above the forest floor. Another unusual offering is off-road segway riding in the nearby forests.
Today, we (myself, my brother, and our two eldest kids) were trying out the Foxfall, the centre’s watercourse comprising of various obstacles of differing degrees of difficulty. To do it you have to be 6 years old and 1.2 metres tall. The height restriction is because you need to be that size to reach certain obstacles.
Setting off from a platform at the edge of a large pond, participants negotiate rope bridges and slide around logs, cross increasingly tricky obstacles, trying to avoid falling into the pool of water below. In the final stage of the course, you climb up to a high deck with two zip lines and then finish with a celebratory zip down and drop into the water, before starting again.
On arrival, the centre kitted us each with a wetsuit, helmet and life-jacket. The main piece of kit you have to bring yourself is a pair of close-toed shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. You don’t wear a harness and there is no safety net, just the water below.
After sliding into the damp wet suit in the changing rooms, it’s off to start the session on the course itself.
The course was smaller than I expected, especially when considering up to 24 people could be negotiating the obstacles at the same time for each 50 minute session. Once we got going, it did seem at times that the ropes were a little congested, especially when a Foxfaller got stuck on a trickier obstacle. People do make way though and we couldn’t resist the temptation of egging each other on to either find a way past the obstacle, or fall into the water below. Either way, problem solved!
The course offers participants three different routes, each of varying levels of difficulty, so if one area looks busy you can adapt your route. The two kids were happy going the easier way and us dads took the trickier route which was less busy today.
Among the obstacles are rope bridges, a climbing wall, swinging tires, and a spider web. I liked the pivot bridge where you have to cross a gap by way of what looks like a log seesaw. You shuffle along the log until after passing the midway point it tips the other way allowing you to step or leap onto the next platform. Slip and you’re in the drink.
The zip lines into the water were, of course, also memorable, as was the tight-rope crossing, mainly because despite several attempts I always ended up losing my balance and getting a soaking.
All in all, good, wet fun and more tiring than you realise at the time. It was a quiet drive home.
An added attraction of Foxlake is that it is adjacent to the John Muir Country Park, a haven for birds, and the seaside town of Dunbar with its sandy beach. If the sun’s out you can make more of a day of it in the area.
PRICE: Foxfall costs £19 for an adult, £16 for a child. Check Foxlake Adventures web site for other activity prices.
CAR: Getting to Fox Lake by car takes around 50 minutes from Edinburgh, depending on traffic. Foxlake Adventures is open from March until 30 November for wet activities and all year round for dry activities. 7 days a week, 9am until dusk.
TRAIN: Trains to Dunbar run from Edinburgh Waverley throughout the day (around every hour) and take 25 minutes. Off-peak day-return tickets are £12.30 (anytime day return is £15.60). It’s an hour and 20 minutes walk from the railway station at Dunbar to Foxlake, so not practical for most. But if you take a bike on the train it takes 15-20 minutes to cycle to the Foxlake from the station.