As I stand 370ft above the Firth of Forth with sweeping vistas of Fife and the Lothians stretching before me I feel like I am standing on top of the world. Looking down through the steel bones of the Forth Bridge at the toy houses and cars below provides a sobering reminder that despite how big I currently feel, I am really just an insignificant speck on this mammoth sized structure.
The cruise ship that seemed to tower from the water as I stood looking out from the shore minutes earlier has now shrunken to the size of my thumbnail and the cars crossing the parallel Forth Road Bridge remind me of a stream of ants.
Viewing the Forth Bridge from the land or water below it is easy to see the scale of this Victorian rail crossing. Prior to embarking on my jolty ride up an exterior caged hoist, my guides from Network Rail, Ian Heigh and Craig Bowman, had pointed out the viewing platform at the top of the bridge and I remember thinking how tiny it looked and how much bigger the bridge suddenly seemed. Yet, now standing on that same platform I realise it is in fact rather large and that it is the hugeness of the steel structured bridge that seems to make everything else shrink dramatically.
The blue U shaped viewing platform is much bigger than it looked from the ground
Last month I posted my Scottish Bucket List which included climbing the Forth Bridge. I was inspired to add this after reading an article about proposals to run bridge walks from 2016 similar to those on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Two years earlier and without the need to climb I made it to the top and can verify that it is a very worthy contender for any bucket list.
I joined a media trip run by Welcome to Fife and Network Rail to find out more about the bridge and the ambitious planned proposals for tourism experiences including a visitor centre & lift access to a bridge top viewpoint at North Queensferry and a bridge walk from South Queensferry. Although still in the planning stages it is hoped that the public will gain access to this iconic Scottish landmark from 2016. For a detailed look at the exciting proposals Network Rail have set up a Forth Bridge Experience website.
Our trip started in North Queensferry and after a short presentation we donned our yellow safety vests and hard hats before making our way to the site of the proposed visitor centre. Currently unattractive waste ground the fully accessible and discreet building would incorporate the bridge structure and include a glazed roof. Standing in the envisaged location looking up I couldn't help but think how impressive it could all be. We then entered a caged hoist which runs to the top of the bridge on an exterior track, the journey from bottom to top was surprisingly quick and although a modern glazed lift will replace the hoist, we took the exact route that hundreds of thousands of visitors could be enjoying in a few years time.
I have photographed the Forth Bridge from the land, sailed below it on a recent boat trip and trained through it, but standing on top must be the most exciting way to experience it. A real feast for all the senses, the 360 degree panorama is visually breathtaking but you can also feel the rumble of the trains, touch the rivets, smell the open paint tins ready for any touch ups and hear the distant noise of the traffic both on the land and water.
The Forth Bridge has recently undergone a 10 year restoration when it spent much of it's time partly covered as a new paint coating expected to last 25 years was applied. Now once again standing strong and proud it is getting ready to celebrate it's 125th birthday in 2015. This coincides with an application being considered by UNESCO for world heritage status, the outcome of which is expected next summer. Planning permission for the proposed tourist attractions would be the icing on the cake.
The Forth Bridge is one of Scotland's greatest engineering achievements and the fact that it is also aesthetically pleasing makes it one of the country's most photographed landmarks. Whether standing on the land looking out at this beautiful red mammoth man made structure or standing on the bridge looking out at the beauty of the surrounding land it is always going to be about the view. The possibility of being able to do both creates the potential for one of the greatest tourist attractions not only in Scotland but the world. There are still hurdles to cross and local issues to resolve, however I feel I experienced a breathtaking glimpse of the future and hope that people from all over the world will soon get the once in a lifetime opportunity that I did.
When my feet were firmly back on solid ground I had a whole new respect for the designers, Briggers, engineers, railway workers, painters and everyone else that has played their part over the past 124 years in creating and maintaining one of Scotland's best loved landmarks. Most importantly we shouldn't forget that at least 73 men and boys lost their lives during the construction, now remembered in twin memorial stones at either side of the bridge. Thanks to all of them the world's first steel, long-span, cantilever bridge remains one of mankind's greatest engineering achievements.
Length - 8094 ft
Height - 361 ft (from high water to top)
Rail Level - 158 ft (from high water)
Weight of steel - 53,000 tonnes
Rivets - 6.5 million
Lights - 1040
Train per day - 200
Volume of paint used - 240,000 litres
Painting area - 2,744,797 sq feet
Original paint - Forth Bridge Oxide of Iron
Modern paint - Transgard TG168 'Forth Bridge Red'
FINAL RANDOM FACT
Irn Bru is made from girders (possibly from the Forth Bridge)
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