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July 25th, 2013

A day at Head4Heights may mean you’ll be relieved to return to flat ground. But is your home in a level place? Some residential districts are so steep, a walk in the garden is a hill-climb, and the lawn is under the upstairs back window-ledge.

The MIRA automotive testing facility expects new cars to keep themselves in place on a one-in-three gradient under handbrake alone, but which of us would trust our wheels on slopes like these?

Said to be the steepest road in Europe, Vale Street in Bristol is a serious challenge for brakes, gears and pedestrians’ bodies. It’s surprising the postman hasn’t applied for a stair-lift.

The Victorians knew how to save themselves the trouble of a steep walk, and their solutions are often as much a part of the view as the scenery which required them, as here at Saltburn-by-the-Sea.

But when does a walk become a climb? Maybe when hands and feet are needed, or is it in the mind of the person ascending? Famous fell-walker Alfred Wainwright was careful and contemplative but his beloved Lake District hills attract crazier types too.

The strange and fascinating Dune de Pyla stands 110meters high between the Atlantic and the forests of France’s Aquitaine region, and the million visitors per year need to be fit to climb it. Being sixty-million tonnes of sand, it isn’t fixed but is gradually creeping inland, covering forests, houses and roads.

But what’s the real thrill in high places – going up, or coming back down? Leo Houlding’s much-watched two-hour Provencal cliff-climb, followed by a 20-second base-jump suggest it’s fun both ways, but Leo is keen to promote entry-level climbing for everyone.

July 25th, 2013

Funny how some of the most beautifully scenic rural landscapes aren’t actually natural at all. The Cotswold Water Park is like the Norfolk Broads: fabulously pretty, peaceful and habitable – yet it only exists because of gravel-extraction for road-building.

Gravel was dug from 147 sites in the region, and when these pits flooded, (it’s close to the source of the Thames) the lakes formed a vast watery district, forty wonderful square miles in all.

The region is criss-crossed with over ninety miles of footpaths, cycle-ways and bridleways but very few roads, so it’s ideal for fresh-air activities and safe ‘green’ modes of transport between nearby accommodation and the features of the park.

The local wildlife enjoys this unusual watery habitat just as much as the visitors. Various nature-reserves provide protection for rare species of bats, dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, birds, mammals and fish.

Naturally, this much water sees plenty of activity afloat. There’s sailing and windsurfing, raft-building, waterskiing and kayaking, wake-boarding, even snorkelling. The water is clear, clean and generally shallow with sandy beaches ideal for family swimming, paddling and boat hire.

Ashore, adventure playgrounds, archery, angling, bird watching and picnic sites make the area a varied and welcoming one with space for ball-games and a wide choice of campsites, comfortable inns, luxurious lakeside chalets, plus top restaurants and hotels in historic nearby towns.

Plus the clincher: if you needed another reason on top of guaranteed happy kids exhausted by constant fun, rising high above the beauty of the Water Park is the thrilling Head4Heights.

If you’re wondering where to spend a weekend or a week of this summer holiday, click here for an easy answer.

July 8th, 2013

The Gadget Show brings us a fairly practical flying car, apartments at the top of The Shard are valued at £50 million, and only the weather kept Nick Hancock from two comfortless months atop the wave-swept, guano-grimed islet of Rockall. Heights are as great as ever!

A young man in Southampton, (technically a trespasser) has climbed past the gates and defences of a 300’ tower crane to film himself dangling below the jib, with docks and building sites below.

But this wilful appetite for extreme danger is no rare thing, nor the result of youthful daftness. Dorothy Custer lately celebrated her 102nd birthday with a base jump off the extraordinarily scenic 500ft high Perrine Bridge in Idaho, USA.

The dazzling 630ft high stainless steel Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri (here being polished during construction) has attracted stunts. A parachutist landed on the arch, planning to base-jump with his reserve chute; but he slid down one side, to his death.

It seems odd that so many want to risk their necks climbing without permission, when there’s plenty of high-paid, high-level work in the world, and so few people who dare do it.

But it’s not just crazies who are fixated by structures’ height; it’s in architects’ blood, of course. The half-mile-high Burj Khalifa already dwarfs New York’s skyscrapers, but the planned Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia would leave every existing building far, far below.

The financial downturn has put many lofty projects on hold…but buildings over 3000ft high are now regarded possible. Interesting, that both our highest architectural achievements and our popular fantasies ultimately reflect marvels of the natural world, seen here in southern China.

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