Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Living in the higher reaches

The alignment needed to be perfect. Total syzygy was required, or it was all for naught. But with the honeyed smoothness of serendipitous fate, wheels turned, cogs meshed and patience was rewarded.

It had taken nearly three years' wait for this moment: a day off from work; some warm, sunny weather; and a space on the tour of the upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral.

Or, to put it another way...

The usual view of the cathedral is from ground level on Broad Street...

but not today.

During the Summer, tours of the upper levels of the cathedral are run by a small team of custodians. I was fortunate to secure a place on an additional afternoon tour, so made my way to the south transept for half past three, in the company of five other keen sightseers.

After the obligatory health and safety briefing, we signed a disclaimer (readers may pause a while here and ponder the free will/destiny implications of that) and began the climb up to the first level. For guidance, keep in mind the tiny window (middle right) in the above photo.

Above the nave, on the balcony on the south side, we were able to see some of the carved masonry which had been replaced over the years. Also here were old windows (some not even used) and other paraphernalia from the building's and town's history.

The small bell shown above pre-dates the current three bells in the tower. As these were installed in 1528, it is only known that the small bell is older than that, because it bears no markings at all.

The double ladder behind it (with 13 rungs) is the gallows ladder, which was used nearby in times gone by. Two folk would climb up it, but only one (the hangman) would come back down it.

Pre-Reformation, the walls of the cathedral would have been of painted plaster, but after the Reformation these were covered over with whitewash. A later refurbishment removed these surfaces back to the original red and yellow sandstone. During our visit, the bright sunlight threw colours around the interior of the building once more.

Remember that peedie window? Here it is, up close and personal.

Climbing a level higher still, we were able to take in the view down into the nave, looking towards the west window. This had been a busy spot during the recent commemoration to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland.

Up another level, and we were in the bell tower, which as you might expect, houses the bells. I think the round window (middle left) is the back of the clock face.

Then it was time to make the final ascent (well, not the FINAL ascent, obviously, as I'm here typing this blogpost) and out onto the parapet at the base of the spire.

The views over the royal burgh were spectacular, if a little disorientating until I figured out which bit of Kirkwall was which.

The above photo shows the junction of Castle Street and Broad Street (centre) and also the harbour and marina (top right).

There was so much to take in during the tour that I suspect I haven't remembered even half of it. It will come back to me in bits and pieces, I am sure, as snippets of the custodian's conversation surface in my memory. It was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, one I would heartily recommend.

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