The beginnings of Go Ape
The idea for Go Ape began in France in 2001 when husband and wife Tristram and Rebecca Mayhew were on holiday in France with their six-month old baby. “While staying in the Auvergne,” Tristram told Money Week in 2009, “we came across this tree-top adventure course.” He describes seeing a family of four were running through the trees, using ladders, walkways and tunnels made of wood and rope. The ten-year-old was having a great time, the 15-year-old was, too, but trying not to show it, but it was the parents who made the biggest impression on Mayhew they “were like 15-year-olds on a first date”. It was obvious, he says, that they were having the time of their lives.
Already thinking about stepping off the corporate ladder, Tristran and Rebecca saw an opportunity to start a business moulded by their own values. So they took a leap of faith, quit their London jobs and began their Go Ape adventure. Convinced it could work in Britain, Mayhew contacted the Forestry Commission, which at the time was suffering from a drop in timber prices: “We were the big idea they didn’t know they were looking for.” After viewing a home video of the French course and a Powerpoint presentation, the Commission offered Mayhew a 26-year deal for the whole of England, as long as he opened six sites in six years.
The first Go Ape launches
In 2002, employing the French from the Auvergne course, the company set up 35 different kinds of wobbly bridges, lines through trees, plus harnesses over an established play area in Thetford Forest on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. It took just six weeks.
On 28th March 2002, the first ever Go Ape site opened at High Lodge, Thetford Forest, Norfolk. “We were mobbed by parents on the first day, as they’d seen us building it over the previous weeks. So we didn’t have to do any real marketing. If we were sufficiently cool and amazing, we knew they would tell everyone,” Tristram explains.
20 years of Go Ape
From those early days, Tristan and Rebecca wanted to build a company everyone could be proud of, with a clear vision, mission and values with adventure at its heart. These values are keeping the “adventure” in adventure, be socially and environmentally responsible and to do the right thing.
Now, 20 years later, they’ve built one of the fastest growing companies in the country. There are 35 sites in the UK and Go Ape is in 16 states in the USA. As Tristan says: “My military training was ‘fortune favours the bold’ so we decided to push hard and see how much we could achieve. We now have 35 locations across Britain and are in 16 states in America. It’s been a huge team effort, driven by a shared passion for adventure, and shared values.”
Go Ape's future
The future for Go Ape is exciting and Go Ape Dalkeith is excited to be a part of it all. In 2021, Go Ape continued onto its next stage of development and became Employee Owned. Former directors and owners transferred 90% of their shares into an Employee Ownership Trust to benefit all current and future employees. Founders Tristram and Rebecca Mayhew retain the remaining 10% of the business.
“Go Ape has always felt like part of our family. We knew deep down we would never be comfortable selling the business to investors.” Rebecca Mayhew
Come enjoy Go Ape Dalkeith
Why not celebrate Go Ape’s 20 years with a trip to Go Ape Dalkeith. Choose whichever course suits you and your fellow adventurers – Treetop Challenge, Treetop Adventure and Treetop Adventure Plus.