Updated: Sep 25, 2019
A couple of weeks ago I received a call from Julie Whitton the fundraiser at Over and Above Charity. It was about a lady called Gail Stoneman who was signed up to do The Berry Beast Abseil in March, which we at Skern Lodge help with. The Beast from the East then hit North Devon and the event was postponed. Julie rang and explained that Gail was unable to participate in the rescheduled date and asked if there was any thing we could do to help their “Golden Girl”. After some thoughts, discussions and re-jiggling of the programme we set the date for Sunday 27th May.
As I wasn’t sure if Gail would have anyone there to support her and take photos of her abseiling down the cliff so decided to go along on the Sunday to cheer her on. As it turned out that Gail’s husband and parents were there to watch her but I was pleased I had gone along as it gave me a chance to get to know Gail.
Leaving the rain behind in Appledore, we arrived to beautiful sunshine in Hartland. Walking down to the abseil site Gail and I had a good old natter. She told me she has been receiving chemotherapy for the past 7 years and decided to mark the occasion by setting herself 7 different challenges to raise funds for the new Cancer and Wellbeing Support Centre. To date she has raised an astonishing £12,000 for the appeal.
After living in Hartland for several years I had never stood at the top of Berry cliff – you hear 180 feet but don’t quite comprehend how high it is until you are stood at the top. I am sure Gail won’t mind me telling you she looked a little nervous – and who could blame her! It was as Gail was getting harnessed up that the mutterings and questions started from our lovely instructors, Ed and Simon. Are you going to have a go Flav? Being petrified of heights the answer was an emphatic NO! The lads then promised giving some sponsor money for the charity of my choice but it was still a no. After giving a brief at the top of the cliff, Simon then went down to the beach to be there ready for Gail. It was then that Gail asked if I was going to do it. I don’t think that I actually gave her an answer – just subtly changed the subject!
Gail then started her abseil and after taking photos of her going down the cliff I then walked down to the beach to meet and congratulate her. Looking up at the cliff from the bottom is stomach churning and I was pleased I hadn’t agreed to going over. We began the long climb up the steps and it was then that I was asked again by Gail if I was going to do the abseil. With Gail’s parents and husband encouraging me how could I say no to Gail? So I took her harness and helmet and marched up to Ed to let him know I was doing the abseil.
I was shaking like a leaf and on the verge of tears. I remember Ed radioing Simon to let him know I was going to do it. I remember Ed telling me to step back when there was nothing there. I remember my language being slightly ripe and nothing my parents would be proud of me saying. I remember looking down once and freezing in terror. I remember Ed telling me to smile as he took a photo of me(?!) The rest is a bit of a blur. The face of the cliff became my main focus. When I thought I was nearly at the bottom I looked down towards Simon, realised I was still a long way up so didn’t dare to a peek down again.
After what seemed like an eternity I was at the bottom of the cliff and receiving a lovely “Trigger hug”. After a sit down on a rock to steady myself we then made the climb back up to the top – to cheers from Gail and her family. On the climb back up I kept thinking I can’t believe I’ve done that, I can’t believe I’ve done that.
Most of us have bucket lists of what we want to achieve in our lives – mine normally involves bridges and places I’d like to visit, however I added abseiling down a cliff to the list just so I can cross it off! For those of you who have never done it or have been too scared to contemplate it I would highly recommend it. The sense of achievement is indescribable. Ed & Simon obviously made me feel very safe, for which I thank them both. But bigger thanks goes to Gail – if it hadn’t have been for her I would never have considered the abseil and summoned up enough strength to do it.
Now for a quick plug…….Over & Above have another couple of dates planned for The Berry Beast Charity Abseil on 14th July and 29th September. There are spaces still available for both dates and details can be found at their website: http://overandabove.org.uk/events/berry-beast-abseil-2 Don’t think about it – just do it!