Abseiling the Forth Rail Bridge

25.10.15


Spoiler alert.. I DID IT, you guys! I actually abseiled from the Forth Rail Bridge!!


Of my three fundraising challenges for SAMH, I always expected this final leg would be the most daunting. I mean, running and swimming I could practice, but it's not every day you go and dangle yourself from a bridge. 

It was as much of a surprise to me as to anyone else, then, that as the weeks marched on and the event drew closer, I was feeling more and more excitement rather than nerves. People would ask me if I was scared and I would reply, "No - I'm actually really looking forward to it... though I'm sure the fear will kick in on the day!"

125th anniversary
First look at the abseil itself.
The day came and we made our way to South Queensferry on Sunday morning, arriving to a close-up view of the rather large structure with some early participants already abseiling it. And yet still the fear was absent. Instead, I was spurred on by the atmosphere's gentle buzz as both participants and spectators gathered on the beach and the pier, beneath the boom of a speaker playing music and declaring the names of those about to descend. Looking on, my excitement seemed only to increase.

With 23 abseil events taking place since the first in 2003, the procedure now runs like a reassuringly well-oiled machine. This event was a particularly notable one for the fact that 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the bridge! First opened in 1890 as an alternative to the ferries which had given Queensferry its name, the bridge was one of the world's earliest steel structures, stretching some 8094 feet across the Firth of Forth and towering 361 feet above the water surface at its highest point. 125 years on, the bridge is still a well-used rail crossing between Edinburgh and Fife and has become something of a Scottish landmark, recognised both for its design and its distinct 'Forth Bridge Red' paint.

In fact, in July of this year, the bridge was awarded status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is now listed alongside the likes of the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal as a place of special cultural significance.

SAMH abseil
Myself and Gordon, pre-abseil. (Photo by Christy.)
I don't know about you, but I don't imagine I'll be abseiling from many World Heritage Sites in my lifetime ..especially not while it celebrates an important anniversary. I was excited to be a part of it and couldn't wait to get stuck in!

10:50 arrived and it was off to the Hawes Inn (who kindly donate their facilities each year) for Gordon and I to register and get the show under way.  Organised by Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, the process was well-rehearsed and expertly managed by their volunteer team. Upon registration (and after all the jokes about the appropriateness of my name), we were each given a yellow wrist band with three letters attached, which later turned out to represent the three stages of our journey to the bridge.

First, there was the 'R' of registration, removed from our wristband as we exited the Inn. Then we were kitted out - 'K', see - in our harnesses, helmets (with stickers on the front so we could be ID'd by the photography team) and gloves; checked and double checked by the team; before the second letter was removed and we were sent on our way.  There was then a bit of an uphill trek (which made me thankful that my previous challenges had made me relatively fit!) before we found ourselves face to face with the foot of the bridge, ready for our 'S' for Safety Brief.

Forth Rail Bridge abseil

Once the final letter was removed from our bands, we were officially ready and allowed access to the staircase that lead out onto the bridge's walkway. We had to use our carabiners to hook ourselves onto a rope and we remained connected as we walked across the bridge, until the moment when we were called to take our turn.

The views from up there were beautiful. Apparently the October abseil is usually a damp, grey affair with not much to see, but we were blessed with a calm, sunshiny, blue-skied day (though it was cold that high up!) that allowed us to really appreciate our unique vantage point while we waited.

It wasn't too long before I was called forward to fight my way through the channel of bodies supervising the ropes, until I found my place at an empty one. And just like that, it was really happening!

I was hooked up to the two ropes - a main line and a back-up safety one - and then had to tackle the trickiest part of the whole experience. For me, anyway. In order to begin the abseil, you first need to get into position on the opposite side of the bridge's railings. Some people choose to climb out in between the two rails, but my instructor took one look at me and said, "Och, you'll manage over the top no bother!"

Gordon - SAMH abseil Forth rail Bridge
Gordon hanging around. (Picture by Christy.)
How wrong a person can be! What ensued was something of a comedy improvisation in which I managed to stand up on the railing with one leg on the correct side, only to discover that I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to turn around and lift the other leg high enough to join it. There was a lot of giggling, some very awkward manoeuvring, and what Christy and Gemma looked up and witnessed as me bear-hugging the instructor, but I made it over eventually.

Once on the right side of the railing, the instructor let me sit back and relax my weight onto the rope, showed me how to control my descent, and then I was good to go.

Me - SAMH abseil Forth Rail Bridge
I'm the less graceful looking one nearer the top. (Photo by Christy.)
A 165 foot drop, the abseil was done SAS-style, free-falling straight onto the beach below. And it was bloomin' brilliant! For all the preparation leading up to it, the descent itself didn't take very long. I made sure I dragged out the experience for as long as I could, lowering myself slowly and enjoying every second of it - no doubt looking like a bit of a grinning idiot in the process.

Me - Forth Rail Bridge abseil SAMH

What with that and my delay with the railing (alongside the fact that he's a scaffolder and does this all the time!), Gordon made it down before me and was waiting patiently on the beach when I eventually landed on the sand. We found Christy and Gemma, collected our photographs, commemorative certificates and pin-badges, and grabbed a seat in the pub to take it all in! 

125th anniversary abseil - Forth Rail Bridge

I absolutely loved the abseil and would gladly have gone back round and done it all over again. It made me want to go and try my hand at similar outdoor activities and, who knows, I might take it up yet. But to be able to say that I've done it from the Forth Rail Bridge? That's really something. And to know that I did it on its 125th anniversary, in the year it was awarded World Heritage status, just makes it all the more special!

Abseil for Scottish Association for Mental Health
Photo by the event's photography team.

Better yet, we were able to do it for an important cause, forming part of a 17-strong team raising money for the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

Our own mini Team SAMH were all united that day too. Between us we've completed Colour Me Rad, the Cetco Ythan Challenge, the one mile and two mile courses of the Great Scottish Swim, the Banchory Beast Race and now the Forth Rail Bridge abseil, and have together managed to raise £2,281 for SAMH.

Delighted!

Gordon abseil for Scottish Association for Mental Health
South Queensferry beach abseil
Forth Rail Bridge abseil - team SAMH
Forth Rail Bridge abseil South Queensferry beach
Scottish Association for Mental Health abseil
(All photos above by Christy.)
Team SAMH - Forth Rail Bridge
Our own Team SAMH. (Photo by a kind stranger on the beach.)

I'm keeping my own fundraising page open until the end of the month (mostly for the few stragglers who asked if they could give me something on pay day), so it isn't too late donate. Even £1 would be greatly appreciated -- it all adds up!

And if you've already donated or supported me in other ways, then thank you - I've had a blast and it's meant so very much. 


JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

xo

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Sarah! It was so much fun!xo

      Delete
  2. That is SO fantastic, Laura! How wonderful that you loved the whole thing, and who knows perhaps abseiling will feature in your life from now on?! Nice to see Gemma's smiling face. So glad you had a beautiful day. Well done with your fundraising, and with setting yourself such big challenges and fulfilling them! Big hug. Xox

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Christine - I've really appreciated your encouragement throughout the whole process!xo

      Delete