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BridgeI have to admit to ambivalence. I would never have considered what we were about to attempt and have always had a bit of a thing about heights, yet here we were suited and booted and ready to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I was in Australia as an incredibly generous birthday present from my friend’s husband. Carol and I started writing to each other when we were 13 through an international pen pal scheme organised by our schools, and we have just celebrated one of those annoying birthdays that end with a zero. This trip, without her knowledge, had been 12 months in the planning.

While we were out to dinner, Carol’s husband broke the news that the climb had been booked for us as a “treat”. He said that I changed colour!

I tried not to think much about it beforehand, it was booked and that was that. I had no nerves on the day of the climb and my major concern was whether it would be too strenuous (I am not the fittest person around) but I need not have worried.

The day dawned bright with a threat of showers. It was warm, but not too hot, and we had been booked to climb at twilight. We arrived at the climb centre, completed the short medical questionnaire, and then changed into not so natty jumpsuits before getting the rest of our kit and receiving some instruction.

Off we set. The first, and most difficult, challenges the four completely vertical ladders that delight in cracking your kneecaps. Once you have worked your way up them it is a walk up an arching stairway to the summit.

We stopped a couple of times on route, partly to admire the view and partly to give the group ahead time to celebrate reaching the top. As the sun began to disappear setting the sky on fire as it did so, a full moon became visible in the near cloudless sky and a cruise ship, guided by pilot boats, left its berth to head out to sea.

Down below, in the streets of Sydney, people were charging about like headless chickens, the constant streams of traffic, people on foot all heading home after a day at work, or out shopping. On top of the bridge there was a stillness, a peace, respite from the noise and the people, the stresses of day-to-day life.

To climb at twilight was perfect. The heat of the day had dissipated. We had a period of daylight, a period of darkness and that magical time in between.

All too soon, we had the descent to tackle, and we headed through the failing light towards the city.

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge was an experience I will always remember. It is one of those experiences that you don’t expect to mean much but which unexpectedly turn out to be something delightful and life affirming.

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If I ever get back to Sydney, there is no doubt I will make the climb again.

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