Zorbing: Fancy a roll in a huge inflatable ball?

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There can be few more peaceful places – standing atop Hillend, the city sprawled out far below with the Forth glinting in the ­distance.

You could sit there for hours and just gaze at the beauty surrounding you . . .

Our girl Kaye Nicolson hurtles down the slope at Hillend.

Our girl Kaye Nicolson hurtles down the slope at Hillend.

Or then again you could hurtle downwards at 30mph in a giant inflatable ball.

Yes, having a go at the latest adrenaline-fuelled stomach-churning attraction in the Lothians is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

But in the name of research, the Evening News was given the chance to send the city’s first “zorbonauts” – yes, that’s what they are called – and (just about) survived to tell the tale.

Zorbing, which is defined as “a sport in which one is secured inside a large transparent ball which is then rolled down hills” – has well and truly arrived.

The team at the new Rolling Haggis zorbing experience believe Hillend is the perfect location for the venture and have ploughed £100,000 into what they claim will be the country’s best and fastest facility, drawing thrill-seekers from far and wide. The firm is headed by James Clayton-Jones – known to most as Clayton – and Colin McNeill, who have a decade-long lease on the ten-hectare site.

They hope to host nearly 5000 zorbing rolls in the first year to customers, including corporate groups, hen and stag parties, tourists, birthday parties, adventure sports enthusiasts and schools and colleges.

As we prepare for our trip, Clayton perhaps senses trepidation. He says: “It’s an extreme sport so it’s meant to be a bit scary – but it’s a thrilling ride.”

And then adds for reassurance . . . “Plus we have got a pub at the end of the hill.”

We – that’s me and my partner – are strapped in to the cushioned sides of the sphere facing each other and bracing ourselves. A few quick words of encouragement and before we knew it we were plummeting down the 200-metre slope, land and sky merging as we picked up the pace, flipping upside down time after time.

We have the weird sensation that we were going to fall on top of each other because we were moving so fast.

It seemed to last forever but in fact the whole thing was over in a hilarious blink of the eye. We regain our composure, Clayton talks business and outlines why he believes he’s on to winner.

He says: “Nearly all of the current zorbing sites in the UK are in rural areas, making access difficult.

“Our location sets us apart being close to Edinburgh with access to 750,000 potential customers within a 30-minute drive.

“We will also benefit from a thriving tourism market.

“Edinburgh attracts more overseas visits and spend and more holiday visits than any other UK city.”

Clayton is a development manager who has raised funds for a number of arts and heritage projects in the UK, including the Royal Museum of Scotland and, most recently at the University of Edinburgh where he helped to generate £6.5 million of investment for the redevelopment of Saint Cecilia’s Hall in the Cowgate.

He and Colin have spent the past three years gaining planning permission for the site at Hillend, developing the brand and raising cash for the ­business.

As well as investing £75,000 of their own funds, they received a £25,000 boost from the East of Scotland Investment Fund.

They are now looking for an additional £35,000 of investment through Glasgow-based crowdfunding platform Squareknot to develop the business.

“We are seeking a further £35,000 in return for 12 per cent of equity to allow the company to complete some of the landscaping and for working capital to drive the Rolling Haggis brand during the first three months of operation.”

The crowdfunding scheme is managed by Squareknot, a Glasgow-based firm owned by a group of entrepreneurial investors who offer selected businesses the opportunity to seek small amounts of investment from a large number of people.

Derek Bond, the firm’s managing director, says he immediately spotted the potential of Rolling Haggis.

“It is an ambitious start-up with an exciting business proposition, taking advantage of a niche within the Scottish adventure experience market.

“They have done their homework, researching the market thoroughly and putting in place all of the elements necessary to create a thriving ­business.”

Back on the hillside, we are dishevelled and disorientated but still laughing.

It is difficult to imagine a more bizarre experience, until you hear about the Rolling Haggis plans for the future.

Next on the agenda is “Hydro Haggis”, where 30 litres of water is first pumped into the zorbing ball . . . maybe next time.

The new complex is open at weekends at the moment, but the team is considering opening on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

New Zealand origins

ZORBING – or sphering – began as a minority interest for thrill-seekers in New Zealand in the 1990s.

David and Andrew Akers are believed to have been the first to set up a downhill zorbing site, in Rotorua, the Bay of Plenty, in 1994.

The craze has gradually spread around the world, and there are several sites across the UK, including in Cumbernauld and Perthshire.

Rolling Haggis works with German zorbing equipment specialists Downhill Revolution to source its zorbs, which are made of an engineering plastic using welding technology.

The double-sectioned spheres have one ball inside the other, with a 60-centimetre layer between which acts as a shock absorber.

The sturdy two-person zorbs are transparent, flexible and can withstand temperatures down to -40C.

The Harness Haggis is £25 for one person or £50 for two, but there is an opening offer of £65 for two Harness Haggis rides – either two goes each or for four people.