Probably one of the most exciting things you can do in your own wood, as well as one of the simplest, is to put up a rope swing. All you need is:
1. A suitable tree branch
3. A ball of string
The tree branch must be strong, and high enough. Ensure that it is definitely alive, as shown by its having good healthy leaves at its extremities. Never use a dead or dying branch. You will need a clear space to swing in. The very best swings are hanging from a branch that lies across a steep slope, or along the edge of a ravine. Then when you swing out, you have the sensation of flying in space. And obviously the branch must be high enough from the ground, and not so high that you are unable to get the rope over it … but see below:
The rope: This comes in nylon, polypropylene, or sisal. The one benefit of the sisal is that it is rope-coloured, and unobtrusive; the others are almost always bright blue, or occasionally light green or white. The disadvantages of sisal are that it is very rough to the skin, and as a natural fibre it may eventually degenerate, which the others will not.
Thin rope, say 6cm diameter, is quite strong enough, and very cheap, but it cuts into the hands. A thicker one, say 10cm, is much pleasanter to hold. The thin one can be cut with kitchen scissors, but for the thicker one you need a small hacksaw. Do this on the ground; try never to get into a position where you have to cut it in mid-air.
All these ropes unravel where they are cut. The quickest way to prevent this is to bind the end with selotape. A more permanent seal can be made by holding the end in the fire for a few seconds until it begins to melt – if it catches fire, just blow out the flame. The melted end is very, very hot, and to prevent accidents you should pop it before letting go into a waiting can of cold water. In the absence of a camp fire you can do the job with a lighted candle. This is also a handy way of dividing the rope in two. Just put the place for the divide in the flame, and pull on either side gently.
The string: You weren’t thinking of using a ladder, were you? What you need is a suitable missile - small, heavy, smooth, and unlikely to cause injury. An elderly cricket ball would be ideal. Fix one end of the string securely to the missile, and unravel lots and lots of the rest loosely on the ground, not letting it tangle. Now all you have to do is throw the missile up higher than the branch, at such an angle that it comes down on the other side of it. Okay, it’s not as easy as it sounds, but you can have lots of tries, and you only need one success.
When your string is draped over the branch, keep control of both its ends carefully. Have a good look at its position, not too near the trunk and not too near the tip. If you are happy with this, unstick the missile, and instead tie the end of the rope, which we will call the head, to the string. Slowly and carefully, draw the head of the rope up and over the branch, then down the other side. Be sure to keep control of both ends of the rope. If the tail end is in danger of disappearing, cut another length of string, and attach that to the tail.
Now, you can choose whether to have a simple loop swing, a Tarzan rope, or a swing with a seat.
A simple loop swing involves tying the two ends of the rope together near ground level, and then standing in the loop to spin round, or swing out. It’s good fun but unpredictable. If very long it can get into a dangerous spin which traps your feet so be sure it is very near the ground in case of emergency landing. The good thing about this swing is that at the end of the day, you can untie the knot and remove the rope entirely—unlike the others here:
A Tarzan rope: uses the shortest possible length of rope. Before pulling the rope up over the branch, be sure to tie a second string to the tail. Then pull the head right over the branch and down again to ground level, where you will tie a loop in its end. Thread the second string through this loop, and use it to pull the tail through - it passes through the loop (with a little judicious jiggling from yourself) and eureka! your rope is fixed round the branch, firmly, securely, and, if your knots are efficient, for all time. You may like to tie the middle of a short piece of a wood to the tail, to give your feet some purchase, or just make a large enough knot at the bottom.
A swing with a seat: Now you know how to fix one rope you can figure out how to fix two – with perhaps only one successful throw of the missile. Each rope should reach the ground, and if still too long can be suitably trimmed, as above. The most primitive seat is just a short pole, with the rope tied round each end. It works fine, but isn’t very comfortable! A better seat can be made from an off-cut from a plank, well curved at the corners, and with four holes, each near a corner. The holes will probably not be big enough for the rope to pass through. Use short lengths of thinner rope. Each one should be knotted immediately under the hole it passes through, to keep the seat from tipping, and then the ends of each tied together in a loop. To this you fix the tails of the rope from the branch. The tricky bit is making sure the seat stays level so that it swings freely.
If you are concerned about leaving the swing up permanently, you could run an extra double length of string through the loop while it is still at ground level. The at a later date you could (in theory, at any rate) pull on these strings to loosen the loop and draw the rope down again.