Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, in south west England, is Britain's largest gorge. It is often referred to as Britain's equivalent of the Grand canyon, though on a much smaller scale.

The gorge is also famous for being the place where Cheddar Cheese is made, and where Britain's earliest complete human skeleton, 9000 years old, was found.

And for one tightrope walker, the gorge provided a terrifying experience....

Pictured: The terrifying moment a tightrope walker lost his footing over a 500ft gorge

By Daily Mail Reporter
25th June 2008
Daily Mail

Cheddar Gorge in Somerset is Britain's largest gorge

Daredevil Jon Ritson tiptoes precariously along an inch-wide strip of ribbon strung across a 500ft drop.

The 27-year battled high winds and heavy rain along with gravity as he attempted to set a new record by walking across the 95ft line stretched over Cheddar Gorge in Somerset.

But he left spectators gasping as he slipped on his first go and plunged off the line less than a minute after starting.

Fearless: Jon Ritson attempts to 'slack-line' across Cheddar Gorge over a 500ft drop

Only a rock-climbing harness and a centimetre-wide safety line prevented him from plummeting to the ground below.

Eventually after three hours of trying to cross, he abandoned his attempt as the winds got stronger.

Mr Ritson, one of the world's most accomplished slackliners, said: "I had never attempted to cross a line as long as this before.

Whoops: Ritson suddenly loses his footing and tumbles through the air

"I've done slacklines all over the world but this was the longest. I started off feeling pretty scared, which is entirely natural because it is quite nerve-wracking.

"It was so high, the people on the road underneath looked like ants."

Slacklining, a form of tightrope walking, was invented in the 1980s by two American rock climbers in Yosemite National Park, California.

Enthusiasts stretch a section of narrow nylon webbing between two points. Unlike a circular tightrope, a slackline is always flat - keeping the 'slacker's' footing from rolling off.

That's better: He gets the hand of it after climbing back up

Mr Ritson, from Kendal, Cumbria, took up slacklining seven years ago after an injury ended his days as a rock climber.

He has completed a number of death-defying slacklines, including the 'Ilkley Class Gap' - a smaller but still difficult walk at Ilkley Moor in Yorkshire, and across Lower Falls above the River Nevis in Scotland.

He said: "I saw someone in a park walking along a line between two trees, and I ran over and asked if I could have a go.

"The next day I bought one and just quietly practised. Then I went on to bigger walks."

Balance: Ritson wobbles due to high winds

Mr Ritson, who is engaged to partner Jill Foster, 36, is the current holder for both British slacklining records.

He set the height record of 150ft (50m) at Gordale Scar in North Yorkshire, and the length record of 60ft at a slate quarry in North Wales.

But on Monday afternoon, Jon's attempt to set Britain's longest and highest slackline record came crashing down as a result of bad weather and strong winds.

He said: "I must have taken a tumble about 30 times. I was OK mentally, but by that point I had reached a physical block so I decided to call it off and take a break."

Defiance: The daredevil spent three hours trying to cross the gorge before throwing in the towel

Despite the set-back, Jon - who runs 'Slackgear', a new company selling slacklines on the internet - has vowed to return to Cheddar and complete the challenge.

He will attempt the record next month, with the help of American friend and the current world slacklining record holder, Damian Cooksey.

Mr Ritson, who has a seven-year-old step-daughter Lelia, said: "This is the most spectacular walk in the country, and I am really excited about completing it.

"I'm desperate to finish the task I set myself months ago. It's become something of a personal challenge."

The highest slackline world record took place in 2006 when Christian Schou completed a 3,000ft high challenge in Norway.

A year later, the longest slackline record was set in Germany by Damian Cooksey who balanced his way across a 506ft line.

Breathtaking: The red circle shows Ritson crossing amid the stunning scenery