IT IS billed as a once-in-a-lifetime trip for a close-up look at some of Scotland most iconic feats of engineering - and enjoy unparalleled views of the nation.
Plans for VIP trips offering a unique perspective of the Firth of Forth - from land, sea and high above the estuary - have been unveiled.
But well-heeled visitors flocking to Scotland’s “Year of Homecoming” in 2014 will have to pay up to £183 for the privilege.
More than 2000 people will be able to take “tower top trips” next summer as part of a £200,000 celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge.
However as many as a quarter of them are set to be ring-fenced for exclusive packages offering the chance for a one-off close-up look at Scotland’s iconic road and rail bridges, as well as monitor progress on how the new third crossing is taking shape.
At least two days of exclusive VIP visits are planned on 9 and 10 September which, as well as the chance to take a trip 156 metres above the Forth, will have a number of added extras.
These include a specially-chartered boat trip on the estuary, lunch in a local restaurant and then a guided trip to the highest point of the road bridge.
Organisers of next year’s Forth Bridges Festival, which is running the trips with the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA), staged a ballot of 500 cut-price tickets, costing just £50 and ring-fenced for locals, earlier this month.
More than 3000 people applied for those tickets and the bridge authority is predicting huge demand when a worldwide sale of standard-priced tickets, costing £123-a-head, opens on Wednesday, under a first-come, first-served system.
Just 96 VIP packages will initially be up for grabs from 1 November, but as many as 500 could eventually be set aside for what is being billed as the “Ultimate Bridge Experience” if demand vastly outstrips supply.
Chris Waite, chair of the Forth Bridges Festival organising committee, said: “We opened the ballot for the tickets for locals earlier this month and we had more than 500 applications within the first few hours. We could have sold all the tickets six or seven times over.
“There are only a couple of dozen visitors allowed up to the bridge towers each year, so this is a real one-off chance to make this trip.
“We have looked very carefully at how other similar attractions have organised trips, including Sydney Harbour Bridge, and we are expecting all the tickets we have put on sale to sell out.”
Organisers they are not expecting to cancel many of the trips due to bad weather, but have held several days in reserve to try to accommodate ticket-holders.
Next year’s Year of Homecoming, which is costing at least £5.5 million to stage, will run from Hogmanay, when a series of special sound and light shows will be staged at 20:14 hours around the country, until the end of 2014.
An initial Homecoming was held in 2009 to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns but was dogged by bad publicity over its centrepiece clan gathering, which suffered a major financial collapse and left a string of unpaid creditors.
Next year’s initiative is planned to capitalise on the staging of the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games in Scotland, as well as the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
Caroline Packman, the director of the project, which is being run by VisitScotland on behalf of the Scottish Government, said: “Homecoming Scotland will place the spotlight on our greatest assets and what better way to celebrate this special year than to take in the view, standing at the top of one of Scotland’s best-loved icons.
“This will be an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to get the chance.”
Lesley Hinds, chair of FETA, added: “Major bridges around the world are awe-inspiring and held in particular affection by the public.
“As the Forth Road Bridge and the Forth Bridge are symbols of Scottish engineering excellence and a trip to the top of the towers will give visitors an unrivalled opportunity to appreciate the majesty of both bridges like never before.
“We look forward to welcoming the world for this very special occasion.”
Details of ticket sales are available at www.forthbridgesfestival.com