Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Spire (part 2)

Continuation of The Spire (part 1) concerning the Salisbury Cathedral Tower Tour.

From the 'first floor' level of the gallery above the nave, you go up another stone spiral staircase and along a passageway (which has a peek out of an east-facing door toward the tower where you're heading).

You then come out among the timbered supports of the main roof space of the western nave.

You're above the vaulted roof of the nave: pits like this one correspond to the columns supporting the vaults.

A walkway then takes you eastward ...

Looking back to western windows
... and through a door to the base of the tower, which supports the spire (both bolt-ons added in the 1300s).

At this point, it starts getting scary. The weight of the whole structure (6500 tonnes) was at the edge of the envelope of design feasibility, and the whole of the  box-shaped tower is braced by a spidery mess of internal metal beams and ties added over the centuries. At this level, you're on top of the false ceiling that hides these necessary but unaesthetic ties from being seen from the cathedral floor below.

This level also contains the timing mechanism for the bells above.

At  this level, there's a caged wooden spiral staircase ...

... which takes you up to a mezzanine gallery level with interesting graffiti, both ancient and modern (at one time the cathedral authorities, as a fundraising angle, allowed visitors to make their own graffiti and memorial inscriptions on the window panes).

From this level, you can also see down, and up to the belfry floor.

From this level, an ancient and rather narrow stone spiral staircase takes you up to the belfry.

The tours are timed to arrive here a few minutes before the bells strike the hour. I had a very weird experience here. The bells are not terribly loud - it's not like the Hunchback of Notre Dame - but there was something about the large bell striking that had for me a powerful emotional effect. The sound decays for over 30 seconds - a rich mix of overtones - and I found myself feeling unaccountably a bit tearful. I noticed a couple of others in the party seemed affected. I've read the theory that cathedrals evoked religious feelings through subsonic resonances. I wonder if this was what I experienced?

From the belfry, a second caged wooden spiral staircase takes you to the highest level accessible by visitors: the base of the spire. Here there's an ancient treadmill winch ...

... and the view upwards inside the spire, which is criss-crossed with partially mediaeval scaffolding. It's not as bright as this: it needed long exposures to get a decent image.

Continued in The Spire (part 3).

- Ray

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