Death-defying Forth Bridge climb condemned

One of Bradley Garrett's daredevil climbers takes in the spectacular view. Picture: Bradley Garrett
One of Bradley Garrett's daredevil climbers takes in the spectacular view. Picture: Bradley Garrett
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IT WAS a late-night daredevil stunt that led to one of the most dramatic images ever captured from the Forth Bridge.

But a new book describing the illegal climb to the top of the landmark structure has been condemned by rail chiefs.

In the account by photographer Bradley Garrett, a fellow climber feared they would fall to their deaths when drizzle started to make the girders slippery.

One of the climbers is pictured atop the floodlit bridge on the cover of the book, ­Explore Everything: Place-Hacking The City.

The trek involved a five-strong group climbing the 375ft-high bridge end-to-end before escaping along the rail tracks. Garrett wrote: “The plan was mental and everybody loved it.”

He said the expedition was one of more than 300 “trespass events” he had been involved in, which had included climbing The Shard and Battersea Power Station in London, and exploring London Underground rail tunnels.

He said: “I see it as being about taking back rights to the city from which we have been wrongfully restricted through subversions that erode security and threaten clean narratives about what one can and can’t do.”

The Oxford University researcher will be talking about his book at the Edinburgh Independent Radical Book Fair next month.

The Forth Bridge ascent is one of several made by groups who have posted videos of their exploits online.

Network Rail, which owns the Forth Bridge, attacked the book. Its publication comes weeks after the rail firm announced plans for Sydney Harbour Bridge-style guided tours of the structure, in which climbers will be roped together as they clamber up catwalks.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “It is very disappointing a publisher is trying to profit from something as hazardous and illegal as trespassing on the railway.

“The Forth Bridge is a busy structure, which is in use 24 hours a day, and attempting to climb it illegally is as stupid as it is dangerous.

“We will always seek to prosecute anyone found trespassing on, or causing damaging to, our infrastructure.”

In the book, published by Verso, Garrett said his group had found it surprisingly easy to get on to the bridge from its base in North Queensferry.

He wrote: “I spied an electrical cable running out of a hatch. I tugged it and the hatch swung open.”

A sleeper train crossed the bridge as they reached the top. Garrett wrote: “As the structure shook and screeched, I felt like I was riding a dragon.

“Single file, we began the slow traverse across, climbing down off the first platform and balancing precariously on beams just wide enough to support us, then shimmying down at a snail’s pace.

“My heart was pumping furiously. A small list to the right and I would fall 110 metres into the Firth.

“I knew that 63 men had died building this bridge, and I couldn’t help but imagine their ghostly bodies plummeting through space and the feeling of helplessness I would experience if one of my friends fell. These thoughts were causing my whole body to burn with fear and excitement. This was serious edgework, and I was high on it.”

However, disaster threatened when it started raining unexpectedly.

Garrett wrote: “This was not part of the plan. Peter, straddling a beam on the other side of the bridge, screamed across to us, ‘If we don’t start crawling really fast right f**king now we are going to die on this bridge!’

“Despite our better judgment, some of us start standing up on the beams, crawling on all fours like bonobos, speeding down the last cantilever structure before the beams got too wet to hold on to.”

A spokesperson for British Transport Police said: “Trespassing on any part of the railway infrastructure is illegal and extremely dangerous. Trespassers put themselves, rail staff and passengers in danger and BTP will work closely with Network Rail to ensure that anyone indulging in this activity is prosecuted.”

The adjacent Forth Road Bridge has been considering ways of deterring people illegally climbing its main suspension cables, such as bank vault-style infrared security beams. This follows a man being jailed for seven months in 2009 for scaling the 500ft-high bridge after a drinking session.

The crossing’s most infamous intruder was Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, who parachuted off the bridge in 2000 – 12 years before his 24-mile jump from space.

Chief engineer and bridgemaster Barry Colford said: “Any unauthorised attempt to climb a structure such as the Forth Road Bridge not only puts the life of the individual at great risk, but also the lives of those using the carriageway below.

“There is usually no option but to close the bridge in such circumstances, as we cannot take the risk that someone might fall into traffic.

“The economic impact of such unplanned closures can be considerable, which is why perpetrators generally end up spending time behind bars, assuming they make it safely back down.

“The fact that Forth Road Bridge is staffed and monitored 24/7 makes it unlikely that such attempts will go unnoticed.”

Twitter: @AlastairDalton