The barbed wire proves an easy deterrent to navigate as we casually slip around the locked and pinned steel gate. Looking back at the dark promenade we double check for onlookers. Empty. Had there been any passers-by, they would have witnessed an unusual scene for 3 in the morning; three would-be-spies stealing on to Brighton’s most iconic nautical landmark, the West Pier.
Darting along a steel reinforced walkway, we traverse the first narrow length of pier with ease, arriving at the broken shell of the first hulking wooden dome. Once an ornate space for the south-coast’s elite, the skeleton is now just a rotting, peeling carapace of it’s former glory. It oozes classy Victorian façade, albeit half-hidden by mould and erosion. It must have been something very special in it’s heyday.
We flank the hall by way of an outer walkway and slowly approach a second thin length of pier, but no re-enforced steel here, just saturated wood and cooing pigeons settling in for the night. Crouching on all fours, we spread ourselves out and work along the brown-turned-green planks, one by one, step by step, passing deep-red, rusting iron chairs where once sat royalty.
It’s slow going. lizard crawling in the pitch black on rotting wood forces me to pull out my Nokia 3310 in an attempt to light the way. The ice-cold wind has similar motives, gripping my fingers and prising the object d’art away, pulling it down to the depths below. The little white light dies away quickly, never to be seen again.
After what seems like an eternity we arrive at the main hall – a catastrophic mess of mangled wood and twisted wrought iron, of derelict materials strewn by the high sea winds, of a million birds-nests perched on every protrusion visible.
It’s a sobering moment to behold. Cowering out of the cold night wind, blue moonlight streams through gaping holes in the roof, eerie spotlights casting ghostly shadows within the beaten and broken frame. The ancient flooring creaks nervously as we push onward, passing large black holes descending down to the crashing waves beneath. A fall now would be certain death.
We push forwards with a single-minded focus, out to the very end of Brighton’s iconic West Pier. We’re now so far off the promenade all we can hear is the roar of the wind and crashing of sea far below.
Sliding my head through the last Victorian grating I settle in to a smile, and with the cold sea mist and pitch black night belittling our victory with a patronising laugh, allow the white noise to take over.