Lincoln Cathedral of St Mary

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You can admire and photograph the cathedral for the west end of the nave. Those wanting to explore further have to pay an entrance fee. This includes free ground and roof tours. I signed myself up for both.

I read the safety notices about the roof tour. It should only be attempted by those who are fit and healthy. It is not suitable for anyone suffering from vertigo or claustrophobia. Steps are steep and narrow. The tour lasts about 90minutes and you can’t change your mind half way through. I decided I was up for it.

Before we started, the guide warned us there were 127 steps to climb, fortunately not all in one go as there are several stops on the way.

The tour begins in the Bell Ringers Chapel under the south west tower. This is part of the Norman cathedral and there are the remains of round arches. There is a stone bench around the walls and a simple altar with three bells on the altar cloth. On the wall above the altar is a list of the masters of the bells from 1614 to the present day (although there is a gap from 1635-1913.) Below this is a list of names of the men who worked with the ringers. On the north wall is a panel with the names of the company of ringers 1714 and another panel with names from 1722. The ribs of the vaulted ceiling have a frieze with painted red roses and green leaves.

Then it was up a narrow spiral staircase in the south west tower, with a welcome break to admire more Norman arches and then through a doorway onto the balcony across the narthex, with its view down onto the nave. We could see where the 13thC builders had misjudged their line and were slightly off centre to the Norman building. The chancel is also at a slight angle from the nave. From this, a doorway gives access to the triforium, the narrow passageway running round the top of the nave. Unfortunately the Verger had banned us from this part of the tour today as there was restoration work going on and he considered it dangerous.

The tour takes you past the glorious circular west window, commemorating Bishop Remigius, the first Bishop of Lincoln. The medieval glass had become very thin and was replaced by the Victorians. Seen close to, you realise that there are errors in the image of Remigius. His right hand is holding the cathedral but unfortunately it is that built by the third bishop. His face also has a drooping Saxon moustache which would not have been sported by any self-respecting Norman.

The next stop is in the bell ringers chamber. The cathedral has a ring of 12 bells, but there are 13 bell ropes hanging here as there are two number six bells. After WW2 it was decided the cathedral needed another number six bell to get an accurate octave when ringing. This was carefully explained to us but I can’t remember the logic now.

As well as the bells in the south west tower, there are four quarter bells in the centre tower which strike the quarters for the clock. Great Tom of Lincoln in the centre tower strikes the hours. It is the 14th largest bell in the country. Now mechanically driven, they used to be hand wound twice a day requiring 360 turns.

In the north west tower are two monastic bells which are rung by the vergers. The Angelus is rung at midday and the curfew bell in the evenings. The passing bell is rung to announce a death.

A doorway leads out onto the west front of the cathedral with splendid views across Exchequer Gate to Lincoln Castle and the cooling towers of the Trent Valley beyond. It was a very clear day and these views alone made the tour worth doing. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera. There is a good view of the recently recarved statue of Hugh of Lincoln, builder of the Medieval cathedral at the top of the south west tower. The damage to the medieval stonework and the need for replacement is very clear up here.

The tour continues up into the roof space above the nave. There is a walkway down the centre over the cladding above the vaulted nave ceiling. This is a 2’ thick layer of crushed limestone and mortar. There is chance to admire the beautiful construction of the roof with its massive A frame framework of oak beams, supporting tie beams, cross ties and diagonals. Twenty oak trees were needed for each A frame. It is estimated that 5060 trees were needed in total.

The oak came from Sherwood Forest. In Norman times the forest was just a few miles from Lincoln when building started. It was quite a bit further away when the cathedral was finished. The tannins in the oak cause lead to corrode, so the roof was clad with Baltic Pine brought to Brayford Pool by boat from Lithuania. Baltic pine is now too expensive, so Scots pine is used instead. Replacement oak is also a problem and sycamore has to be used in its place.

Everything had to be pulled up into the roof by pulley and the trap door and huge iron winch is still there. There is a model of the medieval cathedral complete with spires. On the walls are tools used by the medieval craftsmen as well as a piece of corroded medieval lead and pieces of oak riddled with woodworm. The damage caused by these as well as the elements is very clear.

A doorway leads out onto a narrow walkway the south side of the cathedral below the lead roof. With its 60? pitch, this is steep. There are good views of the central tower with its open carved balustrade around the top, small corner spires and blind arcading. The detail of the south transept could be seen clearly with its tall Early English windows and pinnacles. We could also see the bases which once housed statues which were removed by the Puritans. Across the Close is the Bishop’s Palace with the ruins of the 16thC Palace next to it.

This is an excellent tour taking you into parts of the cathedral not normally seen. The steps weren’t as bad as I feared and didn’t cause any problems although they were quite narrow in places. The guide was knowledgeable and the 90minutes passed quickly. If visiting the Cathedral and you have the time, it is definitely worth considering this tour. Numbers are limited to 14 so it is advisable to book a place when you arrive. You are also warned if you are late for the start of the tour, your ticket will be given to someone on the waiting list.

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