Riding a dragon: trespassing on the Forth Bridge and other 'place hacking' exploits of Dr Garrett

An academic who climbed the Forth Bridge at night tells Ian Johnston of the appeal of trespassing

An Oxford University academic has been condemned by police and rail officials for glorifying a night-time climb to the top of the Forth Bridge – an experience he described as like “riding a dragon”.

Dr Bradley Garrett staged the climb last year while studying a subculture of people who explore off-limits urban spaces, known as “place hacking”.

In a forthcoming book, Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City, he details how he and several others sneaked on to the Forth Bridge and climbed across its full 2,500-metre span. At one point, the group feared they might fall when it started to rain and the 110m-high bridge’s beams began to get slippery.

Speaking to The Independent, he claimed his research, which was carried out while he was at Royal Holloway University of London, had helped him get his current job at Oxford University partly because “they respected the lengths to which I went to understand this culture”. However, a spokesman for Oxford denied that the university had endorsed his fieldwork.

However, British Transport Police and Network Rail took a rather different view. “Trespassing on any part of the railway infrastructure is illegal and extremely dangerous. Trespassers put themselves, rail staff and passengers in danger and British Transport Police works closely with Network Rail to ensure that anyone indulging in this activity is prosecuted,” the police said in a statement.

A spokesman for Network Rail told the Scotland on Sunday it was “very disappointing that 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 our infrastructure,” the spokesman added. However, it is understood that police are unlikely to seek to prosecute Dr Garrett.

In his book, Dr Garrett wrote that as a sleeper train crossed the bridge the “structure shook and screeched” and “I felt like I was riding a dragon”. On the way down, he said his heart was “pumping furiously”.

“A small list to the right and I would fall 110 metres into the Firth,” he said. “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.”

It then began to rain, and they feared they might fall off.  “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,” he wrote.

Dr Garrett said on Sunday that while he could be prosecuted for going on to the railway, there was a six-month statute of limitations – and he had waited until this had expired before speaking out. He railed against Britain’s health and safety culture for trying to prevent people from taking risks, saying that Germans were allowed more freedom to do dangerous things if they signed a waiver.

He said he was not encouraging others to do the same but added that some people were “a little bit rebellious” or liked to “push up against edges and boundaries”. “Everyone should do that at the level they are comfortable with.” he added.

Dr Garrett has previously scaled the Shard skyscraper and Battersea Power Station in London, and also visited secret communities of people who live in subterranean drains in Las Vegas and the catacombs beneath Paris. He said part of the attraction to illicit urban exploration was the potential for life-threatening situations.

“I’ve had a number of occasions where things began to get a bit tricky and you think to yourself, ‘I’m not going to make it through this’,” he said. “You become hyper-conscious of the present and you really attuned to what’s happening around you because you know any lapse of your concentration may mean that you die.”

And climbing structures like the Forth Bridge illicitly was also part of the appeal. “It’s an incredible feeling to have traversed the whole bridge … in the middle of the night, four people, and no one ever knew that we were up there,” he added.

Place hacking: highlights

On climbing the Shard while it was still being built: “It was boring. You couldn’t see anything,” he said. “You’re just sitting there in the clouds. It feels like you are coming in on a plane. It’s just not that interesting.”

On sneaking on to a crane in Aldgate, east London, at night: “There was an incredible view from that place. I wrote some of my book sitting in that crane.”

Arriving at a former Soviet military base near Potsdam in Germany on the recommendation of an unknown Twitter user: “It was in the middle of a forest and we thought ‘We’re either going to get murdered or it’s someone having a laugh’, so we drove out there... We had to know!”

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
news
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor