How are you with heights? I have a reasonable head for them as long as I am 'safe'. I can climb a ladder without problem. I can use lifts and cross bridges. I love flying and always take a window seat so I can see the ground like a map below me.
Yet I have an uncontrollable fear of being on 'an edge' - even worse if the edge is at a height. It's not a fear of falling. It's a fear I will jump. I call it my lemming urge, even though it's urban myth that lemmings leap over cliffs 'en masse'.
I often think about this strange feeling. I first remember it as a child being taken through some caves near Swanage whilst on holiday. The caves were unremarkable, as I remember, being originally limestone quarries, not natural caves but they filled me with a most unpleasant foreboding.
It was as we made our way - unguided - to an opening high above the sea and all eight of us in our party emerged to stand on an unrailed ledge whilst the sea boiled and crashed below us, that my fear really took hold. I would have only been about seven, I think but I can still remember the feeling of absolute horror as everyone milled aimlessly about the narrow, crumbly ledge. I seemed to be the only one remotely concerned but I was convinced I would 'allow' myself to go beyond the edge...and so returned to the dark, safeness of the cave, and withdrew into myself for the rest of the day, despite parental instructions to 'enjoy yourself, you're on holiday'.
Tilly Whim Caves spoilt my holiday that year. They were closed to the public in 1976 due to being unsafe. I knew it.
Years later, on another holiday - that same feeling came rushing over me again as I visited Pisa in Italy with my parents. It was probably 1986 and a few years before the tower was closed to the public which major works went on to halt its dangerous tilt. We went up and experienced the strange feeling of moving one's legs as if climbing UP stairs, whilst the force of gravity on the body made it feel as though you were moving DOWN stairs. A most unusual experience. From time to time, there were openings to walk out and around the outer 'loggia' of the tower but we kept climbing up. Until we were almost at the top, that is. It was at a point where the 'downward' tilt of the tower was at its greatest and there was an opening - look closely at the last 'full width' layer in the photo to the left to see what I mean - you can see an opening behind the columns.
Well, I foolishly came out of one of those. At a sloping angle.
And LOOK!!! No railings, nothing to stop me from slipping sneakily between the columns and jumping...
As it happened, I took the most sensible action available to me to avoid the jump. I embraced one of the columns and just hung on.
And on, and on, and on. I couldn't let go.
It took my father, my mother and my ex to pry my fingers from the stone and guide me back inside. I was quite calm and even continued up to the very top. There are photos of me there, gripping the metal railings tightly, but smiling in a quietly hysterical sort of way.
It is now open to the public again though I don't know if you are allowed to wander freely...and dangerously... around the loggia layers that are such a scary prospect for some of us.
As I think about the next thing that comes to my mind on this subject, my toes have started to involuntarily grip the floor beneath them as I type.
On a wonderful holiday in Provence one year - and it must have been around 1989 or 90 - we visited, amongst many other stunning places - the Pont du Gard. This is a Roman aqueduct bridge spanning the beautiful Gardon river. It's a jaw-dropping piece of architecture and I remember there being quite a lot of visitors there when we went and quite a lot of tatty tourist shops too. What I can't quite remember is how I suddenly found myself walking across the TOP of the bridge. Yes, the TOP! It was busy and it was a very long way down. With each step, I concentrated on creating a feeling of suction in my feet to 'stick' me to the ground. Then every so often, there would be a gap in the path in front of me - a ventilation shaft to the level below - and I would have to step widely to cross it. And then there would be someone coming TOWARDS me and expecting me to move out of the way. When this happened, I kept my eyes down and stopped moving altogether until they had found another way round.
I have never been more terrified in all my life. At least when I got to the other end, I could return via several 'layers' lower down. Aaargh...sets my teeth on edge just thinking about it again. And why am I not in the least bit surprised to read that this too has been closed. Although work has been done on improving the visitor area, no one is allowed to walk across the top any more. I found this piece
most informative and reassuring as I was checking to see if it was still possible to cross - even to make sure I hadn't imagined it all!
But I have to confess, no matter how awful the actual experience was, I am rather pleased to think that I did walk across this amazing bridge without the help of ropes or rails - and without wearing a harness or a parachute. I did - I really did.
When have you found yourself at the edge?