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.
23 thoughts on “A Head For Heights”
Hi Geetha! Thank you so much for reading. I am just about to change the slideshow to pix so that you can, should you still wish, take a look. All the best!
Thank you and welcome 🙂
What a day this must have been.
It was, Elspeth: excellent fun!
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.
Chris, that sounds like an incredible trip and Wells is such a lovely cathedral…
Very cool, Kate.
Thank you, Lou. it was a real privilege.
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?
Ha 🙂 Clipsham stone, a love creamy pale stone which was already up there in situ but never worked until now, Col.
You certainly go to extremes for your work, Kate! 🙂
It’s nice to do something different every now and then, Tom.
A Head for Heights . . . and a Hard Hat for your Head! (Just in case.)
One can never be too careful, Nancy!
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!!!
It was a lot simpler than it sounds, Barb, and so well worth the experience.
Well done for getting up there! I would never have been able to brave the ladders myself, but t’s wonderful reading your article!
Thanks 🙂 Very nice of you to read: I got very excited over the whole thing!
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. 😉
Was one of those in the photo you then? And what is he doing to the stone up there?
Love the hardhat, Kate. Very good look on you 🙂 As is opportunity, and adventure.