Up, Up and Away!

After breakfast yesterday, we took the extended tour of the interior of Salisbury Cathedral which included a 334 step hike up the spire, the tallest in Great Britain – at 404 feet! I know this because the Guiness Book of World Records has certified it, as evidenced by a plaque inside the spire where the public access stops.

Before I describe the tour, let me show you the cloisters that are attached to the cathedral. These are unlike normal cloisters, which are the bedrooms of monks, because there are no monks in the Anglican faith. These cloisters are used by the clergy for dressing and preparing for services. The cloisters form a square, surrounding two huge Lebanon Cedars.

Here’s the view inside the cathedral immediately upon entering; there is no curtain separating the chapel at the far end, so you can see from one end, all the way to the other:

We took a spiral staircase up to the level of the short columns, midway up the Nave, where I took this picture.

Our first destination was what I will call the attic, the space between the ceiling (which you can see in the picture, above) and the roof. Here’s Dale, walking the gangplank once we arrived in the attic.

Construction of Salisbury Cathedral was begun in 1220 and completed about 30 years later. All the structural components you see in the above picture are original. The vertical (slightly diagonal) supports were made by sawing huge oaks trunks and branches that had the natural shape sought by the builders: one half was used on the left; the other on the right, perfect symmetry. As you can see in the picture, below, all of the joinery was done with mortise and tenon and wooden pegs and dogs; no metal was used in those days for building with wood in most construction.

The roof joists in this section of the attic were a style known as a Double Queen Post. The wooden roof sheathing was laid horizontally on the roof framing and then sheets of lead were laid over the sheathing for waterproofing. The weight placed on the stone foundation from the roof is tremendous.

We walked through the attic to the center of the cathedral where the spire rose skyward. The spire, itself, was not constructed as part of the original cathedral, but was added about 50 years later which required removal of the roof in the center of the cathedral. At this location, we wound our way up spiral staircases.

When they started building the spire in the early 1300s, they soon discovered that the original foundation was being compressed and the columns were bowing due to the added weight of the spire. Underneath the foundation is compressed gravel, so there was no risk of collapse, but there was a risk of a “leaning Tower of Pisa” effect. So, to remedy this, the builders used ironworks to pull the spire together and to adjust its upward angle. All of the ironwork you see in this photo was from the early 1300s.

At one level along the way, we stopped to see – and hear – the bells toll. The bells do not move, it would create too much movement within the spire at such a height; they are rung by hammers attached by cables to a mechanical clock mechanism down at the attic level. The large bell at the bottom was brought up into the spire in the 1600s after the original bell tower, which was a separate building and much lower and smaller, was destroyed. The four smaller bells, which ring on the quarter hour (and did while we were standing next to them), were added even later.

Up, up, up we went, a total of 224 feet above ground! Here’s a view from the end of the public tour, looking up the interior bracing of the top of the spire, accessible only by ladder, which continues for another 180 feet.

And here’s the mechanism that the builders used to bring building materials up to this level from the ground. It stands about ten feet tall and was turned by two men on each side and would take 1/2 hour to raise 1/2 cubic yard of rock.

At this level, 224 feet above ground, there are doors at each corner of the spire to outside catwalks. The view was magnificent from here.

Here’s a view looking back down onto the Nave; the attic we walked through is under that lead roof.

And here’s a view simply for perspective on how high we were; notice the truck at the top right of the photo.

The view below is looking north. Way off on the top of the distant hill you might make out a ruin. That is called Old Sarum and it is the original name and location of the town of Salisbury and our next destination.

One thought on “Up, Up and Away!

  1. Mark — What marvelous pictures! And your dialogue describing where you were and what/how everything was built is greatly appreciated. What great shape you and Dale are in to make these journeys. Thank you again for including us in your blog.

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