St Paul’s Cathedral – a tale almost as long as the Bible

July 30, 2007 at 9:54 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, St Paul's Cathedral, Travel, UK | 1 Comment

Saturday afternoon I walked down to St Paul’s Cathedral. For the second time in three weeks. Last time I arrived on a Sunday when horror of horrors the cathedral was closed to tourists so people of faith could pray. How dare they? Nonetheless, I was now once again on the steps looking up at the clock tower, iconic dome and steps filled with people.

St Paul's Cathedral, London 116 049 St Paul's Cathedral, London 113

But wait I can’t go in yet. I need to eat so I cross the street and have a sandwich and juice in apostrophe. Eating in the window seats provides an excellent opportunity for people watching and looking out over (and up) at the cathedral as hordes of tourists get on and off at the bus stop in front of the cafe. In essence this pause provided an excellent chance to regain my sense of awe at the imposing edifices scattered throughout this city.

Is it weird or sad that I need my awe recharged after only a few months?

Imposing with a side of awe is a useful way of describing my reaction to the main hall of the cathedral (before I even got under the dome). With ticket in hand I walk over to the audio tours desk and pick up a tour and begin the listening experience which leads me around the cathedral. The central dome is magnificent with frescos and mosaics galore and it is worth your while to sit for a moment and take it in before heading to the main altar and the American memorial chapel. Again the ornate features are beautiful  and after exploring this part of the cathedral it is time to move up to the whispering gallery via what seems like a few hundred steps.

The whispering gallery is quite cool as you look down on the centre of the cathedral, down the aisles and up to the black and white ceiling paintings depicting the life of St Paul. Apparently it is called the whispering gallery because if you whisper against the wall someone on the other side. Unfortunately this results in any number of tourists clapping and whispering (loudly) to try and test this feature. Although with all of these voices the sound gets drowned out. Now I had wanted to go further up to the outside of the dome but after 3:30 this is closed. While they have plenty of signs about everything else this important point seems to have slipped their minds. I’m not sure why it closes so early but this is good reason to get here sooner rather than later.

Disappointed by my lack of roof access I walk back down the stairs and into the crypt where besides Wellington, Nelson and Florence Nightingale there are an assortment of monuments to notable members of the Empire. Looking at some of their achievements is mollifying and inspiring.

Before leaving the cathedral I return my audio tour and speak with the ticket office and am relieved that they will give me access again on Monday so I can go up to the roof. Unfortunately, this means taking a long lunch. Such a shame!

Prior to returning next week I’ll make a brief comment about the audio tour. Compared to the Tower of London tour the cathedral’s was structurally weak. I found myself backtracking quite a bit (odd given the relative floor space) and constantly keeping my eye out for additional content for things around me that weren’t specifically mentioned in the guide. True the Tower’s was at times condescending and leading but this is necessary to facilitate an efficient and informative experience. What’s even more useful is for the guide to not stop working part way through.

The space is massive and to get the most out of your ticket price a tour is advisable but I suggest trying to get in on a guided tour. I have no idea if it’s any good but it is bound to be better than the audio tour and more concise and organised.

Monday had finally arrived and after getting through a chunk of work I hustle over back to St Paul’s, show my ticket and once again walk up the steps (passing wheezing tourists sitting in the alcoves) and up to the whispering gallery and up more steps to the Stone and Golden Galleries where I experience panoramic views over the city and Thames. I realise that while I love the history of this city, from on high it seems to lack a distinctive skyline (other than Canary Wharf, Westminster and The Eye) which somehow limits the city. Fortunately, I’m normally on street level where everything seems larger than life.

St Paul's Cathedral, London 107 St Paul's Cathedral, London 101 St Paul's Cathedral, London 094

I can’t say I enjoyed the cathedral per se. It is certainly a worthy experience and one that inspires me to see St Peter’s and the Hagia Sophia but I can’t help but feel I spent too much time running in circles thanks to the less than perfect audio tour.

More photos on Flickr (they’re are even a few that aren’t of the cathedral in case you get confused).

St Paul's Cathedral, London 023 St Paul's Cathedral, London 028 St Paul's Cathedral, London 036

On the other side of the Millenium Bridge I came onto the South Bank and:

Second hand books for sale under a bridge…
St Paul's Cathedral, London 050

Walls of graffiti and skaters using this inner urban space to show off their moves…
St Paul's Cathedral, London 053

Thoughts of Hott Fuzz abound as I walk through a gauntlet of mimes and street performers…
St Paul's Cathedral, London 056

People playing on …. the beach?
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A completely non copyright infringing picture with a freaky looking closed eye.
St Paul's Cathedral, London 052

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  1. […] up to Westminster as there was more to see on either bank and across the river with London Bridge, St Paul’s and HMS Belfast to name a […]

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