At an impressive 361ft high, the Forth Bridge might be the smallest of the 3 Forth Bridges (Forth Road Bridge, 512ft and Queensferry Crossing, 679ft) but it’s surely the most charismatic and iconic of the 3 crossings. That’s why, despite having been up there twice before when the charity Barnardos made tickets available for a trip to the top as part of a fund raising weekend, I was happy to chip in the £35 or so to stand up there again.
The weekend was split into 2 days of 30 minute visits to the top, roughly 5 minutes to get up, 5 to get down and 20 on the bridge viewing platforms. I tried for the Sunday evening sunset slot but had to settle for the 6pm - 6.30pm slot, which was fine, all I needed was some ok weather, or at least it not to do what Scottish Weather does best and rain!
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It rained. Oh it rained. I was sitting in the car on Battery Road watching the water bouncing off the windscreen, the Forth Road Bridge hardly visible to my right with thoughts like “oh dear, that’s unfortunate” or words to that effect but the rain radar apps all said, have faith, there’s a gap coming.
There was a gap, and it did come and lo and behold, the rain did stop, even better, as proceedings were running slightly behind, it stopped as we took our turn to go to the top. Of course, you don’t just wander in and they stick you up the top, it’s a working industrial site and has all the rules and regulations that go with such things, nobody is getting up there without the obligatory high viz and helmet and certainly not without the safety briefing. The thing about the viewing platforms is that they are incredibly safe. You’d have to really want to fall of it to actually fall off it. There is no way you could accidentally fall off, unless you really wanted to I suppose!
To get up there, it’s an open air cage hoist, it rattles it’s way up one of the legs of the North cantilever and you’re told that once you get to the top and you all get out, if anyone needs to come down, you all come down, offload the person who needed to leave and you all go back up. While you’re at the top the hoist stays there, nobody get’s left on top. Why? Simple, the hoist can be brought down manually if the power fails, it can’t go back up if the power fails.
Once you reach the top the hoist does an impressive shudder, enough to freak out the unwary, the doors open and that’s you, free to roam the viewing platforms. There are 2 of them, interlinked with a walkway between. If you look up the North cantilever next time you pass the bridge you can see the platforms up the top quite easily and to the East side of them, you can see where the hoist goes up the leg of the bridge.
The North platform gives you great views down the cantilever to the stone archway that sits at either end of the bridge and onto North Queensferry. The South platform looks down the other side of the cantilever towards the middle one with South Queensferry beyond. To the East lies hound point and you get a decent view of Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat in the distance. To the West are the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing with Rosyth behind. In fact, you can easily see all the way up to Longannet Power Station, even on a dull day.
With the rain stopped and very calm conditions, the light might not have been great but there was a low inversion fog hanging over South Queensferry which was a nice unexpected bonus. When you have 20 minutes to get all the shots you want, you get to work quickly, shots down the cantilevers, fairly obvious, shots of the other 2 bridges, tricky to get a decent composition and what I really wanted, shots looking right down over the edge!
I’ve stood on top of the bridge 3 times now and I’ve felt it was a privilege to do it every time. As a photographer, it’s a structure that has given me hours of pleasure, weeks probably, photographing it and to get a chance to do it again from this position was and always will be, pretty special. As long as it’s not opened up to the public, you’re aware that you're part of an exclusive wee band of people that have been up there and had the chance to have an experience very few have had.
My first visit was as part of a competition prize, my second as official photographer for the Forth Road Bridge 50th Anniversary fireworks, a nighttime visit that was very special. Even in the dreich of the evening of Sunday 24th September, it still felt special and I’d do it again without a second thought!
Chances to get up there are few and far between but if one ever comes your way, just do it. Don’t think about the height, it’s as good as being on firm land up there. Castle Rock is higher, would you feel unsafe standing up by Mons Meg in the Castle? I have no fear of heights at all, more a fear of connecting with the ground suddenly from a height, but I promise the vertigo challenged out there, it’s totally safe and the experience will be worth it!
Before you know it, you’re taken back down, you hand back your high viz and helmet and that’s it all done, thankfully, at least in my case I’m left with a myriad of pics to share on my social media channels and the warm fuzzy feeling of having just had an amazing experience.
I started to rain again as I came back down, feeling slightly smug about that the smile was soon wiped off when I seen the ferry leaving Rosyth all lit up about to pass under for the sunset slot bridge trippers! Maybe next time, as I really hope there will be a next time I’ll be lucky enough to get a ship sailing under it!