A weekend of high drama on a rock climbing course in the Lake District

A leisurely hike in the Lake District does wonders for the soul, but with some of Britain's most rugged, mountainous peaks rising out of the lakes and valleys of Cumbria, it's a shame not to take a more vertical approach.

In the hills and crags surrounding the Ullswater valley, the Distant Horizons team run rock-climbing courses for small groups, combining a painstaking attitude to safety with an emphasis on fun.

Course director Jason Beverley aims to make courses as cosy as possible to ensure his charges get the most out of the day. 'We prefer small groups so things don't get crowded and there isn't too much standing around,' he says. 'It's best to have just a few people who get along very well.'

On the up: A member of the Distant Horizons climbing course in the Lake District

On the up: A member of the Distant Horizons climbing course in the Lake District

But while the atmosphere may be convivial, aims are, naturally enough, high.

'It's best that people get the chance to try the sport under supervised, controlled conditions, using the best gear available so that they learn fast,' says Jason. 'The aim is to get people to the stage where they could comfortably lead a climb themselves.'

Participants generally arrive on a Friday night and settle in for the action-packed weekend ahead. The following morning, Jason and his staff kit out their groups with shoes, waterproofs, harnesses, helmets and even thermal gear at chillier times of the year.

'We begin with lots of variety,' says Jason. 'It's best to start off with a gentle, easier climb, then move on to something a bit more challenging as the day progresses.'

Gina Parkin, 33, from Wakefield, Yorkshire, and son Sam, 14, booked a Distant Horizons weekend after Sam took a shine to climbing on an indoor wall. 'I'm a single parent so some friends in the same situation and I decided to take the kids with us,' says Gina. 'Being in small group made it more fun.'

The group of six came into the trip with varying degrees of experience, but being among friends and blessed with the gentle encouragement of the Distant Horizons instructors, they soon found that climbing wasn't all uphill, except of course in the obvious way.

'It was relaxed and they think outside the box to find ways to encourage you,' says Gina.

With awe-inspiring landscapes revealing themselves through occasional drifts of fog, the group found themselves scrambling, winching and hanging in one of Britain's true areas of outstanding natural beauty.

'The scenery was absolutely fantastic, especially around the Ullswater lake and some of the rugged terrain in the hills,' says Gina.

Visual delight: Lake Buttermere in the Lake District, Cumbria

Scenic delight: Lake Buttermere in the Lake District, Cumbria

A warm, comfy bed is essential after a hard day climbing rock faces and Distant Horizons' newly refurbished lodge accommodation is not to be sniffed at.

'It had just been completed and had a really luxurious feel, with a big garden for the kids,' adds Gina.

Distant Horizons can also recommend one of the dozens of charming local B&Bs or hotels. Gina says: 'I'd go back at the drop of a hat. By the end of the weekend, we'd learned a fair bit and we'll look to do more difficult climbs because that's what it's all about.'

She wasn't kidding. Gina has already arranged to hike to Everest base camp next year. For Jason, Gina's story shows a Distant Horizons-course meeting its highest expectations. It has given her the confidence to turn the experience of a weekend into a lifetime passion.

Travel facts

Distant Horizons (01768 486465, www.distant-horizons.co.uk) also offers courses for more advanced climbers and other outdoor activities, such as abseiling, river rafting and navigation.

The rock-climbing course costs from £86.25 per person per day, based on two people. Two nights' B&B with one evening meal costs from £57.50 per person based on six people.

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