Lichfield cathedral hidden heights tour

One sunny day in October 2022, Team Hedgehog decided to take part in Lichfield Cathedral’s Hidden Heights tour – a tour which takes visitors into the roof spaces above the cathedral and reveals some little-known facts about the Cathedral’s history.

About Lichfield Cathedral

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St. Chad arrived in Lichfield at around 669 AD, making Lichfield one of the earliest centres of Christian worship in the UK. So venerated was St. Chad, that on his death Lichfield became a place of pilgrimage for those of the Christian faith.  Lichfield’s first consecrated cathedral was built around 700 AD and by 1340, the cathedral had been rebuilt in a Gothic Style.   Almost destroyed by 3 sieges during the civil war, the cathedral carried on as an important place of worship. In the 19th century English Gothic Revival architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, restored Lichfield Cathedral to the building we see today.  The only English medieval cathedral to have three spires – known locally as the ‘Ladies of the Vale’.

Lichfield Cathedral Ground Plan

Our Hidden Heights Tour Experience

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The tour was booked online, at the time of booking, tickets cost £8 for adults and £5 for children.  As this is a medieval cathedral and lifts had not been invented in the middle ages, the booking conditions clearly specified some restrictions including..

Everyone taking part in the visit must have both hands free for the climb of 90 spiral steps to the roof

As we considered ourselves fit and healthy, we continued the booking and the E- tickets arrived promptly.

Being locals, getting to the cathedral was straightforward, for those not familiar with Lichfield Cathedral, parking can be problematic.  The cathedral is situated in an historic close more suited to a horse and cart than  a modern-day car, so parking nearby is non-existent.  The best advice is to park in one of the town centre car parks and walk up to the cathedral, but be warned they get full quickly especially at weekends. To help with accessibility there are a couple of blue badge spaces in the close but these are often taken.

Team Hedgehog gathered at the Cathedral just before our allotted tour time. Entering the cathedral we arrived at a check in desk where we were directed to wait in the centre of the cathedral for our tour guides – Graham and Malcolm.  We were not the only  people on the tour and a few other people soon joined the group.  It was good to see around 20 people of varying ages. Our Guides are cathedral volunteers and are as passionate about the cathedral as they were about giving the tour guests a good time. Graham and Malcolm made quite the double act, with funny dad jokes and one liners flowing. After they had given us a safety brief and checked for suitable footwear, it was time to start the tour.

Our guides led us through an old wooden door, and we started the 90-step spiral climb.  Once we had completed the stairs we found ourselves behind a large ‘Wheel’ window.  So called because it is in the shape of a large cartwheel, complete with spokes. We stood here for few minutes listening to insights about World War 2 , how all the glass had to be removed to protect it, and how the cathedral was used as a navigation tool by the Luftwaffe who went on to bomb Birmingham and Coventry. As our eyes adjusted, we could then see the vast roof space in front of us.  What was surprising was just how warm this void was, the 1960’s insulation seemingly doing a great job. Our guides then talked about this roof space and how engineers had added a concrete ceiling to the cathedral that allowed the roof to float on top. Standing inside the cathedral itself and looking up, one can see an ornate roof with sculptures and gold leaf, standing in the roof void you get to see the other side of rough curved shaped concrete.  It’s truly marvellous what George Gilbert Scott’s engineers achieved. Carrying on the tour, we found ourselves at the base of the middle spire, a large square room containing some statues covered in Roman Concrete and a small exhibition of the cathedral. Here our guides talked about the cathedral’s construction, showing us some of the medieval stone mason markings that adorn the cathedral.  Its amazing to think that after all these years they still leave their mark. We then left the room into another section of the cathedral’s roof.  Each time we entered a roof section we couldn’t help to be amazed at the size of the Oak roof trusses and the fact they still look brand new hundreds of years later.  At the end of this void Graham and Malcolm introduce us to St. Chad and give a talk on how important he is to both the Cathedral and Lichfield. St Chad’s life is fascinating. Having been made a Bishop in 669AD and charged with bringing Christianity to Mercia, people travelled far and wide to hear his teachings. Upon his death his relics were taken across Europe. St Chad’s story is one that continues to this day, bringing together both the Catholic and Christian faiths with the installation of a new Shrine to St Chad within the cathedral  (read more in the review extras).

After a chance to ask any questions we were given the opportunity to stand outside on a balcony section that reminded me of a castle rampart.  Due to the height (the Cathedral is quite tall, the Central Spire stands 76.8 m (252 ft) tall , much to the excitement of the bishop who is reported to have said that he is closer to Head Office when standing on the roof!) we could see for miles.  The Cathedral does supply an amazing view.  After a few minutes of trying to work out if we could see our house, it was time to retrace our steps and head back into the Tower Room (at the base of the Central Spire).  Here, our guides talked about the near destruction of the cathedral in the civil war and handed out some actual canon balls and shot from that time for us to handle.  The weight of those things, wow, just by holding them you really get the sense of how much damage the royalists did to the cathedral.

The Hidden Heights Tour then continued west towards the main façade of the cathedral. Once through the roof space we exited onto another rampart, this time facing the two west spires. The sun was shining, and it made for a spectacular sight. We entered a small doorway into the right hand spire.  We looked up and found that we were actually standing at the base of the spire itself, this was an amazing sight and a little windy too!  Our guides gave us some more information on how the cathedral was built and asked if anyone had any questions they wanted to ask.  With that our tour came to a close. A short walk down some spiral stairs and we found ourselves back by the welcome desk.  Just as our guides departed they encouraged us to go and explore the Cathedral while we were there. I thought this was a nice touch and shows how welcoming the cathedral is to visitors.

Lichfield Cathedral Hidden Heights Tour Overall Thoughts

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The Hidden Heights Tour was a wonderful experience.  The route is well worked out and the guides made it both safe and enjoyable. The information and stories that the guides told was both easy to follow and interesting (even though historical). It was fascinating to hear about the life of St. Chad.  It was a privilege to stand on the balconies of this ancient building and look towards the city from a different view point. Team Hedgehog felt that the price the cathedral charged for the tour was fair for the experience provided.  The cathedral only runs the tours for a few dates per year, so we would suggest that you keep an eye on their website and book early to avoid disappointment.  We can’t wait for what the cathedral comes up with next it really is the jewel in Lichfield’s crown.

The Silver Hedgehog Rating:

Value For Money - 10
Visit Experience - 10
Attraction Facilities - 5

8.3

Recommended

The Hidden Heights Tour was a wonderful experience.

Find Out more about our ratings here

Credits

Words Garry

Editor JJ

Photos, JJ and Garry

Review Extras

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This site is a non-profit project..

As a small, independent website run by Garry in his spare time,  we need your help to continue providing great content.

Please donate to help The Silver Hedgehog grow. All funds are put back into the website, and help provide new features.

Buy Me A Coffee

Buy Me a Coffee is a service that allows you to make a voluntary one-off donation in the form of a cup of coffee.

1 x coffee = £3.00

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Paetron

We have several Patreon subscription levels available, starting at £3.00 per month.

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