A trip up Britain’s tallest spire – Salisbury

Recently I have heard a lot about Salisbury and it’s impressive cathedral, so I took a day out to investigate what all the commotion was about.

You can get a behind the scenes tour of Salisbury cathedral and its impressive 123m spire.

2 hours in length and 664 steps passed quite quickly as we squirrelled our way up the tower and back down. Our wonderful tour guide led us gently through the thousand odd years of history that has made the place what it is today.

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Salisbury Cathedral

The first factoid that was made clear was just how much the spire weighs (itself about 6500 tonnes). If you look closely at the columns that support the centre, you can see how they bow outwards under the strain. It has also sunk, being that the entire cathedral is build on marshland (specifically 4 feet worth of gravel).

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Due to a small thing called history and the creation of the Church of England (Google Henry VIII for details), there are few surviving examples of the original Catholic decor in the church.  There are various glass works from various centuries, and below is an example of some of the surviving medieval glass, rich in colour and dotted with impurities.

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Rich colours and richer materials

A few steps up some narrow spiral stairwells and we arrive at the rafters which we are told has been rebuilt at least once.

When Sir Christopher Wren was invited to advise on the structure of the cathedral, he suggested taking a 40 foot ships mast, splitting it down the middle and use it to reinforce the rafters to stop it from shifting.

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Rafters of Green Oak – Contains ship parts

Entering the tower itself, we are granted a spectacular mix of scaffolding. From medieval ironwork fastened using woodworking techniques to Victorian iron wrapped in wool pulling the spire together. All of these modifications over the years have kept the spire standing when similar specimens have long since collapsed. However, they have left it without a stone spiral staircase. So in order to progress up the tower, we need to trek up this wooden spiral staircase (See bottom right of picture).

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A head for heights is needed, and small feet.

A portion of the spire is closed so that the peregrine falcons nesting can have a chance to flourish.


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Bird nests galore

The mid portion of the tower is adorned with graffiti and window etchings, giving a small glimpse into past lives.

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Sponsored etched window panes.

After another climb up an even narrower spiral staircase, we reach the top of the tower and the base of the spire. From here the views are simply stunning.


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Museums and homes of clergy-persons.

We were fortunate that our time on the balcony was during a break in the storm.

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Ominous clouds over Salisbury

As for the spire itself, the tour stops at the base of the ladder thankfully. The interior frame rarely touches the sides of the spire and instead hangs down from the top, keeping the pressure necessary to hold it together.


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From here the hardest part of the journey began, 332 steps back down.

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