Friday, 22 August 2008

Glorious Gloucester

Clutching my wonderful bus pass and a sandwich, I set off for Gloucester yesterday with a view to exploring the County Records Office. That will have to wait till another day.

I was sidetracked by the Cathedral: just before I left home, Sarah Loveday had arrived, and said I should drop by the Cloisters to look at Diana Green's Creation & Fall etchings, which are on temporary display. So I did (and admired them); which led to an amble round the Ambulatory and into the Lady Chapel. I realised that, in spite of many previous visits, I was looking at much of what I saw for the first time.

An hour or more had passed when a Steward walked by. "Was I joining the Tower Tour, starting in five minutes?" "No," I said, but then thought, "Why not?" The tower of the Cathedral is visible on almost any walk around Cheltenham, but I had never climbed up it.

The guide on duty - it happened to be a friend of ours, Sue Hamilton - does not it seems share my fear of heights. Intrepidly she led us 175 steps up to Great Peter (which strikes the hours), into the adjacent Ringing Chamber, and up again past the ring of twelve bells. Finally, we emerged onto the roof, and there we were, in driving rain, 225 feet above the Cathedral floor.

The view is of course amazing, even on a day like yesterday. When taking the photograph above - there are some more in a web sequence beginning here - I was pointing the camera West over the nave. In mediaeval times, the River Severn would have been visible flowing from right to left in the top of the picture. The West walk of the Cloister is visible at the bottom right, and beyond it the half-timbered building is where Richard II is thought to have held his Parliament of 1378.

To its left is the former Deanery. Caroline's great-great-grandfather Dean Edward Rice, who held office for 36 years, would have lived there with his 12 children: he kept chickens in the Cloister garden, according to Tamara Talbot Rice's autobiography. Sue Hamilton said there were still chickens kept in a roof garden somewhere in the Cathedral Close: I didn't spot them.

At that height, you cannot help thinking about the faith of the monks who organized such a tower to be built 550 years ago. On the bus, I was reading a newspaper article by a professor of philosophy under the headline "The rise of Milliband brings at last the prospect of an atheist prime minister." God save us!

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