A Head For Heights


Imagine if you worked on top of the world.

If every day, your job was to walk into a great soaring building and find the tiny hidden door to a staircase which threaded crazy corkscrew-wise up into the air for hundreds and hundreds of steps.

Imagine you must track round and round, upwards and upwards in space, past a great bell tower full of huge resting iron bells with pent sonorous energy inert, for now.

And you must open the door of the bell tower and continue climbing: for your destination is half way up a wall.

On the east face of the cathedral where I work is a stone which has been set into the wall of the building, unworked, for some 50 years.

And the inspirational team of funders and operations people who keep that building standing still find time to salute the beautiful: when they secured a grant to make the tower healthy and water-tight for the future, they also asked for enough money to hire a sculptor to work that piece of stone.

His name is Nicholas, and he started work last Monday.

And because my job is to tell the stories of the place, I decided I would like to go up there and meet him.

“You are brave,” my boss said. “I wouldn’t like to climb up that ladder onto the scaffolding!”

“Do you have a head for heights?” someone else asked wryly. And I had to admit that I had absolutely no idea whether I did or not. Time would tell.

So I briefed everyone I was with. I said: I have no idea whether I am going to be able to come up and see you in situ, Nicholas. I might chicken out at the last moment. But let’s give it a try, I concluded.

With the head of building works and an accompanying photographer, I found the little door and wound up the steps to the bell tower, and walked out onto the balcony looking out over leafy, English Surrey on the coldest, clearest, diamond-bluest day you can imagine.

And I looked at the ladder, and I thought: oh, that’s fine. I can do that.

Thankfully, it seems I have a head for heights.

I spent a wonderful time talking to Nicholas, tall and quietly content with stone-dust covering his face,  who hails from East Canada and uses this as proof that English weather half way up a cathedral in December and January will not affect him much. “I have been lucky,” he told me. “It has not rained.”

It seems stones can grow skins and become difficult, but this Cipsham stone is malleable and beautiful and well behaved and a Madonna and child are beginning to emerge from it as I type.

This is happiness: to be on top of the world in England on a beautiful Friday morning in December with a photographer and a sculptor, spotting Wembley Stadium and the Shard and closer to home, Woking.

I wish, my friends, you could have been there to see it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



23 thoughts on “A Head For Heights

  1. Lovely write. I also went to your blog but it seems my computer and Javascript don’t go too well together so I could not see the slideshow, just the initial two pics. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Reminds me of the time many years ago when a friend was working as a conservator on the west front of Wells Cathedral. I was lucky enough to go up the scaffolding and see the larger than life size medieval sculptures of kings there and hear their history and the techniques used to conserve them. A real privilege it was, as it clearly must have been for you too, Kate.

  3. Need I say stone crazy?
    Still, wonderful experience and sights.
    Now, what was the stone, how did it get there and what was it doing there? Why was it all cut up about something?

  4. What a wonderful experience. I climbed St Paul’s Cathedral in London and found my knees knocking by the time I stepped onto the dome balcony. You are brave!!!

  5. Thank goodness we have you Kate! This way we didn’t miss it….um, I’m height challenged, and I’m not just saying that because I’m 5 ft 2. 😉

Leave a Reply to kateshrewsday Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s