We decided to climb the tower of Chester Cathedral. The two hundred and sixteen steps to the top allow you through narrow passageways that have been closed to the public for a thousand years. We climbed the spiral staircase where hanks of black horsehair still sprout from the walls; a material used to strengthen the medieval plaster.
Emerging from the first part of the winding stair there is a magnificent view into the body of the church. I could have wished for longer to photograph the bosses on the ceiling, but our guide moved on, ready to show us the Roman pillars supporting the Norman arches… a bit of early architectural recycling.
Higher still and we entered the bell tower. In the lower room, there is a collection of machinery used to ring, toll and chime the bells… a small museum in itself. In the centre of the room a small aperture opens like a well through which you look down to the Crossing far below. For me, however, the graffiti was the most fascinating discovery… centuries of names, dates, doodles and designs carved into the stone of the walls. Arcane symbols and practical ones… even the points of the compass onto which someone had carved a bird.
Most of the bells have been removed from the church tower and rehoused in a purpose-built modern structure close by. The weight and movement of the great bells were causing structural damage to the fabric of the tower. Now only two remain, dating from 1606 and 1626. One is the Curfew Bell.
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