Joanna Davis faces her fear of heights and heads to rock climbing hot spot Portland to give the sport a go

IT was the literal definition of being roped in.

Clinging to a rock face, desperately trying to get a foothold into Portland's Westcliff and scrambling for a hand hold that didn't appear to exist and trying not to look down, I had one of those 'how did I get here?' moments.

I was 'roped in' to rock climbing with this group of Portland rock climbers after my editor came running out of his office to check I'd received an email from him. With a sinking feeling that this was one of those instances where he wanted to see my reaction upon opening said missive, I clicked on it with a heavy heart. And that heart gave a little flutter when I saw that I was invited rock climbing. Or actually my boss was. But such is the power of delegation.

A keen tree climber as a child, it has only been in recent years that height hasn't exactly been my forte. A visit earlier this year to what used to be the world's tallest building in Chicago left me with butterflies in my stomach when I saw children lying down and rolling around on the floor of the glass boxes jutting out from the building 1,353ft above ground level.

After arranging to join the club on a Thursday summer evening and getting cold feet that week about going on my own, two colleagues agreeing to join me gave me the moral support I needed to stand at the foot of that cliff and face my fear!

The three of us met husband and wife Adam and Sarah Perrett in Southwell, Portland.

The couple, who live in Weymouth, walked us down onto the coast path and then Sarah seemingly disappeared over the edge of a cliff. At this stage trying to stop my knees knocking together, we followed her down a very steep descent of steps built into the rock by climbers with a rope bannister to steady us. This had to the scariest part of the whole experience, surely?

These newly made access steps, nicknamed St. Marti’s Steps were built by volunteers after the old descent path slid away during the storms in the winter of 2014. They're named after Marti Hallett who organised the building of them.

IT manager by day, action man by night, Adam has been climbing for 25 years. He introduced Sarah to the sport about 13 years ago.

They took us to a crag along Westcliff called Battleship Edge. Climbers use different spots all along the cliff, we were told.

We were issued with harnesses and a pair of rock shoes - snazzy grip-heavy footwear that once put on made me feel like one of those fellows in a deodorant advert who hangs on to a rockface and still smells great. We met fellow first time climber Marta who, unnervingly, shot up the cliff face while I was still velcroing my shoes on.

My younger, much braver colleagues Lottie and Jennie took the lead, each steadily making their way up the cliff. 'The folly of youth,' I thought, while I took photographs, already thinking up an excuse in my head to duck out of the climbing and remain as the session's photographer.

But I'd got myself this far, I reprimanded myself. I stood at the bottom of the cliff while Adam tied my climber's knot, something which every climber has to go on to do themselves. Paul Hicks was my 'belayer', holding the rope.

One of the hardest bits (I'll come to my near-Waterloo moment shortly) was just getting myself off the ground onto the first 'ledge'. I add inverted commas because we were making our way up what seemed to be a sheer piece of rock, with very few lumps and bumps for our feet and hands.

But the the thrill of the climb for me came through the thinking and puzzle solving as I went on.

Amazingly, my brain and body got it together at the same time. I was thinking so hard about what I was doing that I didn't realise I was making my way up that cliff higher and higher. The thrill of finding a fissure or a carbuncle to leverage myself onto as I progressed brought on a little cheer in my head each time, and the support and encouragement of the established climbers down below spurred me on no end. Adam wasn't wrong when he said all the climbers support and encourage each other.

Before I knew it I had made it to the top of the rope, where each climber metaphorically 'rings that bell' by touching the top bracket 25ft up. And now here comes the tricky part (for me). I couldn't get down.

You have to 'stick your bum out' and 'keep your legs straight' to descend. The rope takes your weight and down you come. Simple, right? No, not for me. Like a wreathing fish on a hook I wobbled from side to side, trying to let gravity do its thing but finding myself going nowhere. A slight panic set in but thanks to the calm reassurance from the climbers below, I eventually mastered that pesky derriere manoeuvre and managed to get myself at the right angle to descend. Back on terra firma, my legs felt like jelly, my heart was racing from the exhilaration and I felt sated from the adrenaline, but I felt good - really good! It was like all the endorphins I get after running but ten fold. I'd conquered my fear of the height and of something going wrong and I could see, as Adam has told me, how many first time climbers get 'the bug' for climbing after their first ascent.

We later learned we had conquered Misty Monday, an 8m (26ft) long climb following a vertical crack.

And Adam's verdict? "You all got on great. You were all supporting each other which is a key thing. There are easier climbs you could have taken but they wouldn't have offered the same climbing experience."

Eleanor Roosevelt said we should do something that scares us every day. With that spectacular sunset and sea behind you, and the exhilaration of that conquerable cliff ahead of you, I would encourage anyone of a reasonable fitness level to have a go at rock climbing.

I felt safe from start to finish and reminded that life is very much for getting out there and living.

*Portland Rock Climbing Club encourages first time climbers. They meet on a Thursday evening and climb outdoors during the summer and use an indoor climbing wall at the sea cadet centre in Weymouth in the winter. Anyone who is interested in learning to climb can contact the group through its Facebook page The Aloft

FACTBOX - Portland climbing

Portland is a hotspot for sport climbing and receives thousands of visitors each year from around the world to climb its cliffs. There are more than 1,000 routes on Portland, each with its own name and difficulty grade (2+ to 8a), ranging in height from 5m (15ft) to a lofty 30m (90ft).

The cliffs are enjoyed by beginner groups, experienced climbers and elite climbing athletes.

Portland began to become popular for climbers in the 1990s when Pete Oxley and friends began using a system of glue-in bolts to protect climbers as much of the stone is too soft for traditional climbing protection.

Climbers work in pairs, with one climbing and the other holding the safety rope (known as belaying). Before leaving the ground, each person does a ‘buddy check’ to ensure all knots are tied correctly and that all equipment is correctly secured. The climber clips the rope to the bolts on the way up so as to minimise any fall and is lowered down once they reach the top.

Popular areas include Blacknor’s huge 30m cliffs and its many sea level climbs on enormous house-sized boulders. The Cuttings, near Church Ope, is also a popular area with beginner level climbs along with some of the island's hardest routes. The climbs have some intriguing names, including Skateboard to Oblivion, Captain Klutz and the Sailors of Fortune, Fear's Younger Brother, Marry Me in Vegas?, Queen of the New Year, Well ‘Ard and For Michèle.