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Now that the sand has settled, and I have my feet back, I have had a little time to reflect on the challenge I set myself a few Saturdays ago.

I called it ‘Out Of The Comfort Zone‘, and that is exactly what I did. A little over 2 weeks ago I abseiled 165 feet from the Forth Bridge. No mean feat when you are scared of heights!!

BUT…. what was it like? Actually, nowhere near as bad as I was expecting.

First of all, I was delighted to have so many friends there in support, so thank you to (in no particular order) Fiona, Pamie & Andy, Steve Kerr, Bill Thomas, Gordon Fleming, Innes Chalmers (with 2 young children), Brian Sims, Kenny Graham and Drew Sutherland for being there on the day, and for making it such a great day.

We arrived just after 2pm, and there was a group just coming down from the bridge.

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Some general milling about ensued until we had all gathered at The Hawes Inn. As half past 3 came around and it was my time to go. Heading into the pub (no drinky poos just yet!), I was guided to a back room to confirm my registration, hand over sponsor money I had to hand (more of that shortly), and be led up the garden path – literally!!

Got my t-shirt, and then in the beer garden I was kitted out in a natty harness, hard hat and a pair of gloves. The group I was with, about 8 or so, were then led out of the back of the garden, and to the bottom of the steps leading to the bridge.

A quick safety check (was I dressed correctly?), and then up onto the bridge itself, and move out towards the point of the abseil, heading out across the beer garden (now some 50 feet below), and onwards across the road and to the area above the first pillar over the beach. I had taken a small camera up with me, with the intention of taking a few snaps of the Firth of Forth from that height. That idea vanished pretty quickly! I wasn’t quaking in my boots, but just wanted to have 2 hands on railings!

I was introduced to my dispatcher Steve (dispatcher? maybe a slightly better title would seem nicer!), who checked my harness, and added a second one around my shoulders for good measure (fat b***ard!!). He asked if I wanted to go ‘over the top’ or through the railings to the outside of the bridge – I chose the latter.

Once Steve had attached the safety rope, locked it off, and explained the equipment, I stepped through the railing, and was now holding on, on the outside of the railing, 165 feet off the ground. Even at this point, I felt fine. Steve was calm and relaxed, talking me through everything, answering my own questions. He, and all the others on and around the bridge that weekend, were volunteers, although they all had, in his words, ‘certificates coming out of my arse’ to allow him to do this.

So, here I am, hanging off the bridge. Feeling fine. I can feel the tension in the safety rope, and am happy it isn’t slipping or moving. Steve attaches the abseil rope, again explaining how it works and how it is connected. I had done some climbing and abseiling many years ago, prior to coming off the ladder which has caused me so many fears and terrors, so had an idea of what I was looking at.

‘Now, bend your knees, ease back, and take your hands off the railing and grab the rope.’ Easier said than done. I take my left hand off the railing, touch the rope, then back to the railing. Breathe. Deep breath. Same with the right hand. Back to the railing. Couple of calm words from Steve. I can feel the tension in the safety and abseil rope, and Steve assures me it will hold. Another go. Nearly got both hands off the railing!!

Right. Come on. Still not actually feeling any specific fear at this point, which suprised me, and it was at this point that I realised that. It was all good. I could feel the ropes. My dispatcher had confirmed all was good. Come on Neil. Be a man. I looked at Steve, asked him if he was ready, he confirmed he was, and I went for it. Both hands. On the rope.

Leaning back, feet still on the bridge, easing myself down. Came to a point where I had to move my feet. I dropped them onto the girder below my starting point. This was just about it. A point of no return. I eased myself down a little further, looked at Steve – and said ‘Thank you!!’. No kicking off, I just pulled my feet off the girder, and was now swinging below the Forth Bridge, held up by 2 bits of string.

‘Look left for your photo!’ says Steve!

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Official photo taken moments after letting go of the bridge.

I started to ease myself down, and found a good rhythm early, and dropped very easily, pretty much in one go. All the while I was looking straight ahead of me, watching the sky, clouds, tree tops coming into view, then the top of the pub, the road comes into view, and then a voice advising to put my feet down as I was close to the ground.

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On the way down, courtesy of Gordon Fleming

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From the other side, courtesy of Steve Kerr

I eased my speed, and located terra firma under my feet. Relief that I had done it, and was down in one piece. 20 seconds and it was all over.

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Down!! Courtesy of Gordon Fleming

That was it. Unhooked, I walked away from the landing site and out of the beach to find everyone waiting for me. It was odd. I hadn’t felt nervous (even when trying to let go of the bridge and grab the rope), and at no point had I felt genuinely scared, as I had expected I might. I felt elation, and also breathless. Not through the exercise, but through the experience. It took a while to get that breath back again!

We headed off along the path to a grassy knoll, broke open the picnic, and in the warmth of a summer Saturday, watched more people come down the ropes while having a drink and food. I went back a little later to collect my picture (above), certificate (below) – my paper mementoes of a step Out Of The Comfort Zone.

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Front of the certificate

Further beers (and some decent food) were consumed in the Hawes Inn, before we headed back in Edinburgh, for a final beer in The Guilford. Got home somewhere just after 1:00 am. Tired. Elated!

To those who came along and supported – my thanks for helping make my day.

To the staff of the Hawes Inn – thank you for being the hub, and then for the decent beer and food as the night wore on.

To Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland (www.chss.org.uk) staff and the many volunteers on the day – thank you for getting me up there, and more importantly, getting me down again!

And finally. To the 46 online sponsors, and to the 22 people who signed the sponsor form – my heartfelt gratitude to you all. When I signed up for this, I hoped to raise £200. I hoped it would be more, but there are other things going on in the world.

The final sponsor figure is £880.66. With Gift Aid included, the total I have raised is an astonishing

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I cannot thank you all enough.

And no, I won’t be doing it again!!!

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