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Smitten and smote

Takedown of the Forth Rail Bridge

In 1890 the Prince of Wales banged home the last of the 8 million rivets and declared Scotland's Forth Rail bridge open to traffic. Made of 3 towering cantilever structures and stretching 2.5 kilometers it dominates the landscape. The three cantilever structures are each supported by 4 steel towers anchored into foundations which extend  27 meters below. This mammoth mass of metal glows a brilliant crimson and up close, towering before you, it's bloody intimidating.

Encircled by the elemental chastity belt of the storm, the Forth Rail Bridge mocks our lack of courage. Failed attempt, June 2008.

We'd crawled over the options of how we'd summit the beast and the pylons were unfortunately out. Learned Scotsman Siologen Westminster Jeeves III quickly dismissed the possibility of boating out to them - "you'll be sucked out into the North sea ya wanker". Luckily, we had a plan B.

It's only 300m, what are you waiting for? Failed attempt, June 2008.

The tracks curve gently onto the bridge approach, a steel viaduct under which the ground drops rapidly away. This viaduct extends three hundred meters to a massive stone arch which anchors the first red steel cantilever. Flanking the tracks are two walkways with signs kindly informing those out for a late night stroll there is Minimal Clearance on bridge. Not that you'd ever get caught up on the viaduct while a train was rattling through, since that would be foolish.

QX and I sat at the end of the viaduct hidden behind a small hut triple-checking the jumble of timetables we'd collected for the local trains. The Forth carries roughly 200 per day. They're separated by up to half an hour, giving us ample window to amble across the viaduct. The wildcard entries to this rollingstock steeplechase - the intercity passenger trains and freighters, we had no timetables for.

You might ask why not just wait for after service but the moment the last train passes the orange clad worker ants swarm the bridge and begin work. The only certain way to dodge the workers was snatching the prize during service. Besides trains are easier to dodge than workers. Our plan summarised simply as: charge it. Praeparo vestri testis.

We launched from our hiding space like rapists from a shrub and sprinted out onto the viaduct. The wind picked up as the vegetation dropped further below us and we charged towards the red monster looming larger above us with every stride. As the distance to the arch closed a train headlight beamed over the rise of his gaping maw and shambled out to meet us. Hearts pounding and breathless we ran faster towards the safety of the first stone arch, diving into it moment before the train rattled past. Had the driver seen us? Was he already on the radio? What could be gained by standing waiting to be busted by an angry Scottish policeman anyway. Fuck it, we climbed.

We stood upon the crimson stained beast's back and affirmed our existence. That four-letter-two-vowel-begins-with-L-word the god's messenger postulates as the greatest offering of life, is this it? Is this love? Is this what decades of trite pop songs have been written about? Good things may come to those who wait, but they come much quicker to those who bust their balls and put in the hard yards.

Cross-hatched against perfect a mauve sky we weaved up through the red lattice threads of this giant spider web. Clearly nobody expected climbers, or believed the physical location and nature of the bridge would dissuade them. There was no security, no alarms and no sensors. Blessed with perfect weather we snapped a couple of quick photos then simply kicked back to just enjoy the view. 30 minutes before the last train to Teh 'burg and the arrival of workers we began our descent. In haste we climbed too far and discovered a worker office slung below the tracks. Inside a single figure went about his business oblivious to our antics.

Track level was calm and quiet so we began jogging over the viaduct. Halfway across a train clattered up behind us. This train racing business was becoming fucking tiresome. We kicked back a gear and streaked across the viaduct running on nothing but redbull fumes and adrenaline. The train rolled past as we burst off the viaduct onto the crunchy railway rocks, continuing to run alongside the train right to the platform where fortuitously we found the last train to Edinburgh also pulling in.

Soon the hard as nails Scottish workers arrive, hair bristling with the hue of the bridge built tough as the steel they maintain. Hustle hustle hustle.

Liberally coated in smears of red paint, reeking of sweat and hyperventilating we rode over the bridge for the last time. The Forth had fallen, the loose ends were tied, I could leave the UK content. Elated though we were a smaller but equally serious challenge presented itself, where exactly were we going to sleep?

photo by qx

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