Hav­ing a ball on the hill­side

Jonny Beard­sall’s fam­ily are crazy – about rolling down slopes in a sphere

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Outdoors -

Wrapped in black gaffer tape, the plas­tic ex­er­cise ball in which our fam­ily ham­ster tears across the kitchen has seen so many re­pairs that it rolls in near-dark­ness. Well, now its two keep­ers are about to ap­pre­ci­ate what their hy­per­ac­tive pet is sub­jected to when they climb in­side a gi­ant-size, blacked-out ver­sion and roll down a steep hill at Heaton House Farm, 14 miles south of Manch­ester.

If you have yet to try it, this is Eclipse Sphere­ing. It is the lat­est vari­ant of SphereMa­nia, the com­pany that has been rolling peo­ple of all ages, shapes and sizes down hills for a decade at 11 sites across the coun­try, from Paign­ton to Perth.

Al­though it is less sane to go in win­ter, hill rolling is pretty much an all-year­round ac­tiv­ity. Ea­ger to try it, my all-weather chil­dren, Hebe, 15, and Ruby, 12, are here on the Stafford­shire bor­ders in the driv­ing rain to see what they think of this faintly ridicu­lous wheeze, which emerged in New Zealand in the Eight­ies.

They are fit­ted with har­nesses and led to where the spheres are parked at the top of a slope. They gig­gle as, one at a time, they dive through an im­pos­si­bly tight hole in the side of a wait­ing 12ft di­am­e­ter dou­ble-skinned PVC ball.

In­side, the girls bal­ance op­po­site each other while a nim­ble mem­ber of the crew at­taches them to the walls with kara­bin­ers and straps.

“Just hang on, en­joy your­self and scream as loud as you like,” says Sam Dailly, 20, a stu­dent at Keele Uni­ver­sity, who man­ages the site at week­ends.

The girls are now help­less. Once se­cure, the as­sis­tant slips back through the hole and seals it with an in­flat­able bung and a few blasts from an air­line. They are en­tombed in to­tal dark­ness. As they are ma­noeu­vred to the lip of the run, one of them rolls head­over-heels while the other is go­ing heels-over-head.

With a de­ter­mined shove their ball is sent off. It be­gins to gather pace as it makes its own way, rolling and zigzag­ging down the 125m hol­lowed slope, which has banks ei­ther side to pre­vent the beast from es­cap­ing. It doesn’t seem to be mov­ing very fast – there is a head­wind to­day – but it can reach speeds of 30mph be­fore, 45 sec­onds later, it comes to an abrupt halt in a safety net at the bot­tom.

“That was so much fun,” gasps Ruby. A puce-faced Hebe is laugh­ing like a hyena. “Can’t wait to see the video,” she blurts (for an ex­tra £10, cam­eras were fixed to the fronts of their harness to record their de­scent).

There is more. If you have ever won­dered what it would feel like to be in­side a gi­ant in­dus­trial wash­ing ma­chine, you can try the Aqua Sphere. This, as you would guess, means get­ting wet – and cold – as you roll without a harness while 30 litres of wa­ter freshen you up.

The Aqua Sphere is seethrough. It takes up to three peo­ple at a time, so we squeeze through the hole and drop head-first into the sploshy, wa­ter-filled bot­tom of the sphere, which, on a day like to­day, you’d rather avoid.

With wry grins, Dailly and his min­ions fill more buck­ets from a very cold hosepipe and top up our squelch-fest with a few more litres. They give a fi­nal wave be­fore the bung is set in place and our globe is sent off.

Im­me­di­ately, a stu­pe­fy­ing wall of wa­ter sloshes from one side of the ball to the other. Do we just sit in the freez­ing wa­ter, or try to stand up? We don’t have any choice. It is so slip­pery that we all fall into the cen­tre of this mael­strom, and that is where we stay all the way down. Gath­er­ing mo­men­tum, wave af­ter wave breaks over us un­til we crash into the nets when, for a few mo­ments, the wa­ter con­tin­ues to drown us.

Hill rolling is pretty fath­om­less; it is not ex­treme or scary or par­tic­u­larly adren­a­line-fu­elled, but it will have you laugh­ing your socks off. In fact, as we have a hilly field at home, we might even save up to buy one and en­joy hours of good, clean, healthy fun for years to come. Now we know why our rowdy rolling ro­dent is so manic.

On a roll: Ruby en­joys Aqua Sphere­ing, above

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