Playing a part in Lindean high-wire act

Lindean mast
Lindean mast

A colleague reminded me this week that I had once reached great heights.

We were on the road from St Boswells to Selkirk and in the December darkness the red lights of the Lindean transmitter mast glowed as a warning to the pilots of low-flying military jets. We could also see the lights of its Ashkirk neighbour.

The duo are as much a part of the landscape as the often-photographed Eildon Hills and Leaderfoot viaduct – but really come into their own after the sun has gone to rest and darkness prevails.

Colleague Derek Forrest was recalling that I had once been at the top of the Lindean structure.

I remember it well for the simple reason we got stuck half-way up and were left swaying in a an open basket for what seemed an eternity.

We did get to the top on a second attempt. I’ll explain – but first some technical info.

The mast goes straight up. It goes straight up for a long way. It goes straight up, in fact, for 754 feet (229.8m). If you add the antenna it actually goes straight up for 783ft (238.8m).

Now that’s a long way up – and that’s a long way down. It is stopped from falling by steel guy ropes and is the only one of its kind in Britain built by the Independent Television Authority.

And during the winter of 1999/2000 I wangled a trip up it.

I knew some engineers doing upgrading work. So on a bright and, fortunately, not breezy morning, photographer Ian Mitchell and I were bundled into an open basket suspended from a wire that went round something at the top of the mast and to an engine of some kind on the ground and pulled away at an acute angle.

We were joined by two engineers who left a colleague on the ground to work the buttons and levers.

All went well for about 350ft when things started to judder. And so did I. Then we stopped. In mid-air. The bravest of the engineers swung himself out to see what was wrong and mumbled something on the radio to his pal below.

I suggested with pretend bravado that this must happen often. I wasn’t reassured when he told me he’d been doing this for 30 years and this was the first.

The safety gear issued to Ian and I consisted of safety helmets with string that went under your chin. Oh well, I thought, if I hit the ground heid first I’ll be OK.

We had two options, said the engineer. They could swing the basket right into the mast, we could then clamber out and use the vertical – very vertical –ladder that resides within this unique structure. Or we could be hand-winched down – an exercise that would take about two hours.

Two hours later we were on the ground. It transpired the steel rope had slipped from its pulley at the top of the mast.

Next day it was fixed and I was back in the basket. Ian didn’t come and I was joined by cub reporter Sarah Williamson who laughed all the way to the top and all the way back down again.

I heaved a sigh of relief after we passed the point where we had juddered to a halt 24 hours earlier – and again on reaching the top and then the bottom.