Climbing the Stairway to Heaven at Ely Cathedral

During my semester in England, I saw so many cathedrals that nowadays just looking at one provokes regurgitation. Even when I saw Notre Dame in Paris, I threw up a little in my mouth. We must have covered every kind of cathedral possible in England, from every time period and every architectural style. And it was amazing. But I’d imagine it’s like eating the same peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch everyday until it causes you to go blind or something. That last one might just kill you.

Then there was the Ely Cathedral in the small town of Ely. We were doing the general tour of the area, gawking at sculptures and flying buttresses and Gothic stained-glass and Norman stonework. Then the tour guide with the dorky glasses turned to us and was like, “How would all you bitches like to take a 400 feet hike into the octagonal tower?”

We were all, “Hell yes!” So we tramped through the narrow stairways and passages like freaking Quasimodo but only a little more attractive and without the eye bulge.

Ely cathedral from the floor

See that? My own personal Mount Everest. Considerably less cold. And I never really wanted to climb Mount Everest so that was a dumb analogy.

Tower at Ely Cathedral

These are the narrow stairs on the way to the tower; we couldn’t even wear our backpacks. The walls were covered in ancient graffiti dating back to the 1500s. I scratched my initials in the wall becaue vandalism is a good thing and I figured it was a sure way of getting into God’s good book.

At the top! That little cluster of people scarring the gorgeous scenery is the remainder of my group.

View from the top of Ely Cathedral

More English landscape.

Ely Cathedral tower

Voila, inside the tower with the angels! Back before I had Lasik eye surgery and was not worthy of being seen in public.

So there you have it. Has my soul been cleansed? Have I been forgiven for my sins? Have I experienced a spiritual awakening? I’ll let you mull over that one.

  • January 27 2010

    Nice post and pictures! Reminds me of climbing to the top of the Duomo in Florence with my roommate when I studied abroad. She wanted to tag the walls with our signatures as so many had done before us. For some reason I thought that would be sacrilege, but did it anyways. I like your excuse… “getting into God’s good book”.

    • January 29 2010

      Hahaha yeah, I’m sure we weren’t the first to vandalize! And definitely not the last…

  • January 27 2010

    Those were some amazing pictures. Although I’m not sure I could have handled the narrow staircase. LOL. But the view from the top was incredible. And great pictures.

    • January 29 2010

      Thanks! It aws definitely incredible. Kinda weird standing so close to the edge too.

  • January 28 2010

    Impressive cathedrals. I suppose seeing so many in a short time will “overflow” the senses.

    Maybe too many on the wall would’ve filled up God’s book anyways :-)

    • January 29 2010

      They definitely overflowed the senses, but still, I’m glad I got to see so many holes-in-the-wall rather than all the most popular stuff!

  • January 28 2010

    that looks amazing! Britain is so pretty. one thing I never get tired of when I’m travelling is churches, despite the fact that they all start to look the same after a while. european churches just always, always take my breath away. annnd i’m not religious in any way. i just love them. i climbed simliar stairs at a church in munich this spring, but it was right after I got there, so I was running on like no sleep. i tripped and almost rolled down about 10 times.

    • January 29 2010

      We did a lot of palace and castle viewing, which I liked a LOT more! But still, I appreciated the experience. And I’m very surprised I didn’t trip, hah.

  • January 28 2010

    Remarkable! How many stairs did it take? The landscape looks like something out of Shrek. Almost to green for life!

    • January 29 2010

      England was SO green! I have no idea how many stairs, I feel like someone told me but I don’t remember…

  • January 28 2010

    Good to see that you are confident enough with your self to share you photo from when you “were not worthy of being seen in public!” :) Just getting to Europe should be my Mt. Everest, been to and lived in North & South America, Asia but never had the chance of getting to Europe!! England, Italy, and Greece would be in my can’t miss.

    • January 29 2010

      Crazy! You must go to Europe! I’ve never been to South America or Asia, haha. So many places in the world to see.

  • January 28 2010

    That view from the top of the tower is awesome. It almost looks like a scene from “Harry Potter” :) I heart Cathedrals!

    • January 29 2010

      Hehe, my cousin said the EXACT same thing about the Harry Potter landscape…

  • January 28 2010


    Well, here’s the thing. Here I am, a Brit who supposedly, in some self-deluding part of his brainpan, believes he is “well-travelled”. (In the geographical sense, not in the “dog-eared like a paperback found under a seat at a railway station” sense). (Although that too, I guess).

    And I’ve never been to Ely Cathedral.

    Because I’ve never been to Ely.


    BUT – here in York we do have York Minster and its North Tower, which weighs in at only half as high (60m / 198 ft) but does have exactly the same kind of cramped stone staircase up to it that makes claustrophobia bubble up like soup on too high a heat.

    By the way, a well-graffiti’d wall inside a cathedral is obviously there to be used.

    In fact, I bet it’s like some kind of religious Twitter. Add your name to his wall, and if the Big Guy likes your style, he’ll make a mark on yours. ;)

    • January 29 2010

      Hah! Funny eh? I’ve never been to Gros Morne National Park, which is THE tourist attraction here in Newfoundland. Ely was a sweet town, from what I can remember. The coolest thing about the program I studied with was we travelld to a LOT of small places, non-tourist areas and little villages. It was quite the experience.

  • January 28 2010

    Beautiful pictures. This reminds me of our climb to the top of Pisa tower and back then, my daughter was still too young so we and to take turns.

    The views from the top of the cathedral are just breathtaking. That reminds me perhaps I should share those pics at some point. Thanks for sharing yours!

    And by the way, did you count how many steps to the top? My mother loves to do that! :-)

    • January 29 2010

      Hehe no I didn’t count, but I wish I had! I would love to climb Pisa. Quite the buns ‘n thighs work out, I’d imagine.

  • January 29 2010

    Gorgeous photos! I know what you mean, it can get monotonous after seeing so many similar structures over and over again, but I’m glad you found one that excited you again! I HATE those types of staircases…had to climb up ones like that at St. Paul’s in London and at the Vatican….I always have to stop a few times due to dizziness and claustrophobia. But it’s so worth it once you get up to the top and have that killer view!

    • January 29 2010

      Agreed! Fortunately I’m not claustrophic, I wish I had all day to wander around the background of those places. So many secrets, I think.

  • January 29 2010

    Beautiful cathedrals make me almost like organized religion. Almost.

    • January 29 2010

      I felt like my soul was being judged the whole time I was inside.

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