Thursday, 9 July 2009

Tower Tour, aka Near Death Experience

I have sometimes wondered if we’ve completely missed out upon the consumption of hallucinogens in the Middle Ages. Certainly these slightly disturbing angels, based on the dream of Bishop Oliver King, which inspired him to rebuild the abbey, seriously makes you wonder what was in his evening victuals.

Quite frankly, after partaking Bath Abbey’s Tower Tour, I would have been glad of some of it myself. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a fear of heights, that however in no way prevents me from putting myself in terrifying situations, such as riding in dodgy Chinese hot air balloons. So I figured that a tootle up some spiral stairs would be a doddle.

I thought of this rather bitterly as I coughed and wheezed my way up the first set of stairs (yes, my Chinese ‘tuberculosis’ is still with me), without the benefit of any sort of handrail. Normally you find a rope hooked through metal eyes, on the outside of the spiral staircase, but here there was just a bellrope down the inside, pulled so tight you couldn’t actually hold on to it. Wonderful.

Our guides meant well, but were obviously very nervous and inexperienced. For example, I would tell you about the church clock, but I couldn’t actually catch a word our guide was saying.

As we were standing on top of the fan vaulting, we were told that it was ten centimetres thick. Fine. Then the guide reminded us of how high up we were, that the ceiling had last been restored in 1950 and that it would ‘probably not be a good thing’ if the ceiling collapsed right then. He might as well have just come straight out with it and told us that they didn’t know how stable the ceiling was and that we were ten centimetres from plunging to a dramatic and culturally destructive demise. Strangely enough, everyone started looking quite nervous and exited the room rather swiftly.

I can also tell you that visiting a bell tower is very interesting, but if you happen to be in there when the bells strike the hour, you can more or less feel your brain vibrating in your head.

The views from the top were splendid, although rather spoilt by the knowledge that we had to go down all 219 steps again. The atmosphere was that of people granted a temporary stay of execution. And there were only so many photos to take before we had to totter back down, trying not to think of how easy it would be to slip and subsequently break every bone in your body.

Having safely arrived on terra firma, we treated ourselves to a medicinal glass of wine in a nearby café.


  1. Great post, J!

    Heights, edges, ladders, claustrophobic spaces... ugh. That said, the views looks wonderful.

  2. Ha, funny post! Glad you didn't meet your demise in the tower! Seems unwise of the guide to tell his captive audience how unstable the place probably was. He might have caused a stampede!
    Looking at the angels, I think you might have a point about possible hallucinogenic use in the middle ages.

  3. LOL! But I'm sorry it was so terrifying for you. I love the views from above of the old town.