We liked the Brighton Wheel.
It dominated the seafront skyline from October 2011 through to May 2016, looming all 21st century over the historic Palace Pier.
And at night it softly sparkled in the sky.
We kept saying we’d give it a go.
But we never did.
We were less than impressed when plans were revealed for the i360 and the big grey pole began to take shape near the ancient wreck of the West Pier.
It seemed the city had traded modern pretty for modern utilitarian.
And what more could you see from the top of the tube that you couldn’t get from a trip up the Palace Pier’s helter skelter?
Well quite a lot actually.
The i360 is owned by British Airways so the concept is that you take a flight, 450 feet above the city, in a see-through cage with panoramic views of sea, shore and suburbs.
And since this is the only type of flight we’re likely to get in the current situation, we jumped at the chance when we were offered a free trip.
The concept of flight starts at the booking stage.
You’re given a specific boarding time, asked to arrive at least 30 minutes beforehand for essential health and security checks and advised to travel light.
And of course masks have to be worn. This is 2020 after all.
On a wet and blustery October day there was no need to queue outside (thankfully!) although Pork Belly hung around to video the flight before us.
Checks include a temperature scan, a bag search and walk-through metal detector, just like at an airport.
All was efficient, friendly and thorough.
You’re then in a waiting room with a small bar for refreshments and displays and videos detailing the amazing feat of engineering that went into creating the attraction.
If you’re interested in mechanics you’ll love it.
If you’re not then simply marvel at the huge figures, costs, tonnage, tech terms and sheer enthusiasm that got the project from drawing board to reality.
Boarding is swift and seamless. The pod is very accessible with wide doors and a flat, even floor.
Confession time. I don’t mind flying though I’m not a fan of turbulence and admit to letting out a sigh of relief when we’re back on terra firma. But I do get a little wobbly about heights, so I was a teeny, tiny bit apprehensive.
My last similar trip was on the London Eye when I felt an odd mix of vertigo and claustrophobia. Not a happy combination.
The advantage of the i360 pod design is the space.
The viewing pod is fully enclosed and 10 times the size of a London Eye capsule.
Up to 175 visitors can at any one time stand at the edge of the pod and look out, although in the current COVID situation there are blue lines marking out where each ‘bubble’ should stand and you’re advised only to move from your spot when another space becomes vacant.
Our flight wasn’t crowded and it all felt very safe. There’s plenty of room to wander about and check out the different angles. This meant that while Pork Belly was pretty much glued to the glass I could stroll about and, as long as I didn’t peer too often over the edge, I could fool myself that I was not hundreds of feet in the air.
There is that niggling, almost unacknowledged fear of getting stuck. It doesn’t happen often and the i360 runs rigorous safety checks, but there have been a few occasions when folk were trapped in the glass egg for more than an hour.
Wouldn’t bother Pork Belly, he’d just keep on snapping, enjoying the changing light.
Nothing like that happened and of course Pork Belly was in his element. This is the man whose favourite ride at Thorpe Park is Stealth, who loves the gravity defying feel of looping the loop in a glider and who has been known to stand ridiculously close the edge of a parapet to get that perfect shot.
But even I felt very comfortable up there, suspended above the city and stormy sea.
The flight was smooth and the movement almost imperceptible, even though it was blowing a hooley outside. Inside, the air was fresh, drawn in from outdoors and not recycled.
And of course while you’re aloft you can enjoy a drink in the South Coast’s highest bar.
The Sky Bar serves local sparkling wines, beer from Lewes-based Harvey’s brewery, Brighton Gin and Folkington’s fruit juices from nearby orchards.
For snacks how about Horsham Gingerbread, Sussex Ice Cream or Brighton Rock?
None of this comes cheap but who could resist a Sussex Country Garden Sling Cocktail (£9.00) made from ingredients you’d find in a country garden?
Or a Nytimber rosé at £12 a glass?
Actually we could.
But then we were there for the views.
I’ve lived in or near Brighton for almost all my life so am familiar with all its many splendid buildings, icons and landmarks.
Or so I thought. But the i360 really does bring a different perspective.
Even on a day of torrential rain showers and very little sun, there was still lots to see.
Signs dotted around the edge point out landmarks for those not familiar with the city and the South Downs beyond.
The lowering sky meant we couldn’t quite see as far as Chanctonbury Ring and the Chattri Memorial was hidden in the gloom.
But for locals like us it’s not the big landmarks that are the attraction of a trip up the i360, it’s spotting the everyday from an unusual angle.
The alleys that link the old Regency houses, the place you go for your morning coffee, the bus route you usually take, the solitary, rain-soaked determined jogger, the ever-present queues of cars snaking along the seafront.
And the desolate, ruined, beautiful and atmospheric West Pier.
Back on the ground – and you are only in the air for around 20 minutes – there was the inevitable exit through the gift shop, selling things a cut above the usual tourist tat.
Be prepared to shell out a little more than average if you want an upmarket and stylish souvenir.
So will we fly the i360 again?
Once friends and family are able to visit us again I think we might just start taking them up the big grey pole for unexpected views of our beautiful home city. And maybe we’ll register for a residents pass so we can drop by, book and fly on a better day.
One without the rainclouds!
More about the i360
British Airways i360 is open year round, except for Christmas Day and a maintenance period in January.
Flights go on the hour and half past the hour with times that vary with the seasons. In winter they run from 10 am to 4.30 pm with some later sunset flights (timings vary across the year, obvs.)
Tickets in 2020, booked online in advance, cost £14.85 for adults, 16-24 year olds £10.00, children 4-15 years £7.40, babies and toddlers free.
Residents of Brighton and Hove can join their membership scheme and get flights from £7.40
Disclaimer: We were the guests of BAi360 and Love Saves the Day PR.