BRISTOL CATHEDRAL GUIDE & ROOF TOUR VIDEO
How often do you find yourself looking for somewhere a bit different to visit with the family that won’t cost a fortune, especially during the school holidays? If that sounds familiar, I may have the perfect outing for you. This week Bristol Cathedral invited us to experience what they have on offer for families so that I can share it with my readers and I thought it was a great idea. It’s not that I’ve never been in Bristol Cathedral: I even had a graduation ceremony there, but I don’t remember ever having a proper look around. You know how it is: when we’re away on holidays or days out, we explore all sorts of places, but we often overlook the amazing places on our own doorstep.
We were also hoping to have the rare chance of climbing up onto the roof to get a good view of Bristol from above, but the weather when we arrived in Bristol was a bit grey and breezy. We started with a tour of the inside and hoped it might pick up later.
WHAT TO SEE?
We were met by a tour guide who showed us around various parts of the building and offered titbits of information as we went. She had a planned route but was happy to deviate to answer our questions – which is just as well when you have a group of bloggers and curious children in tow! These are some of the interesting parts you can visit.
CLOISTER AND CHAPTER HOUSE
The cloister is one of the oldest parts of the cathedral which dates back to 1140. Stained glass windows were added in 1953 to explain its history.
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The gallery features important figures like Robert Fitz Harding who founded the Abbey back in 1140 and became Lord Berkeley and Henry II who grew up in Bristol and endowed land to him. Many of the Lord Berkeleys went on to be buried here and their tombs can be seen around the cathedral.
Older medieval glass, taken from around the cathedral, has also been incorporated into the scene.
Important meetings were held by Abbots in the Chapter house. You can still clearly see the alcoves where the monks would have sat as they listened to chapters being read from a holy book (hence the name – Chapter House). This is where our children enjoyed supervised craft activities.
After the abbey was dissolved in the 16th Century, the remainder of the building became a cathedral. In 1841 when a floor was taken up, an old stone was discovered depicting Jesus pulling people out if the jaws of hell. This stone is believed to be the oldest part of cathedral and it’s thought that it may have been buried when being used as a coffin lid.
Nearby one of our children pointed out a ship’s bell which our guide explained is rung to announce every service.
EASTERN LADY CHAPEL
The Eastern Lady Chapel which dates back to the end of the 13th Century, was repainted in 1935, using the most common colours from medieval times – reds greens and golds. Not everyone agrees that it should have been painted, but I think it offers an interesting contrast to the sand coloured stone elsewhere. What do you think?
Like many decorations in the cathedral, the large ‘Jesse’ window which casts light into this chapel tells a story. This one depicts the ancestors of Christ in a tree. The window’s been restored but some parts are original.
I’ve often seen eagles in churches but never knew why. Our guide explained that the eagle symbolises the word of God because it flies highest and is closest to Him.
ELDER LADY CHAPEL
Even older than the Eastern Lady Chapel (and hence its name) is the Elder Lady Chapel dating back to 1220. And no, it doesn’t mean it only caters for the ‘old lady’ niche, as I may have thought when I first heard it. Seats inside the gated area would have been reserved for special worshippers, those with money, power or religious significance, while normal lay folk would have been kept at a safe distance, the wrong side of the barrier.
We were surprised to learn that the impressive nave wasn’t added until the 19th Century. The word nave comes from the Latin for boat, as the roof structure looks like the underside of a boat. This large area would not have been reserved just for services but might have served all sorts of purposes, like markets.
Services were carried out by the monks day and night and rather than speaking, they sang. Clearly they had a tough life so I like the idea of this little ‘mercy seat’ where they could rest their weary legs while appearing to stay standing during their duties.
THE ROOF AND TOWER TOUR
After all that exploring, the sun came out, offering great conditions for a trip onto the roof. The ascent is fairly steep and dark in places and the steps are both uneven and smooth from wear. I realise now that wearing flip-flops while carrying a large phone in one hand and a massive camera rucksack with a tripod on my back was probably not the most practical equipment combination for the task.
I love the sneak preview from this tiny window on the way up. How ever thick is that wall?!
Wahoo! We’re on the roof.
And yes we actually got to walk on the roof!
I’m not sure if you can make this out but these are the bells from above. You can stand next to the nearest one as you ascend and it’s HUGE.
Huffing and puffing a bit, as you’ll hear if you watch the video below, my giant bag and I managed to negotiate the narrow staircase and made it to the top of the tower. . .
. . . and enjoy the views from the top.
Have a look at the brief video below for a real flavour of the day and how it felt being on the roof.
So that’s the end of the tour but there’s just one more stop you might like to make. . .
…. And finally, after all that you may need a well deserved rest. The cafe is set in pretty gardens to the side of the cloister. Even if you don’t want to go around the cathedral, you can visit the cafe. The gardens offer an enclosed outdoor space where children can explore.
We spent three hours at the cathedral in total including the tour, a quick pitstop at the cafe and the rooftop climb. It was just long enough but we could have happily stayed a little longer and I’d like to go back and see some of the areas we rushed through. Below are some suggestions based on our visit.
TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS
Join a guided tour. It’s free with a suggested donation towards upkeep. Our tour was informative and gave a structure to the visit. It also stopped me having to worry that we might be wandering into areas we shouldn’t be!
Join in with a craft session. Free art and craft activities are available for children and families during school and half-term holidays. My ten and seven year old thoroughly enjoyed this and would happily have let me get a parking fine as they didn’t want to stop making their medieval designs!
Remember your camera or camera phone. Taking photos and sharing them on social media is welcomed, although flash photography is discouraged. There is SO much to photograph. I’ve edited my photos heavily but there are still way more than I normally like to include in a post! I mean, just look at the image below in which the halo has been inlaid with mother of pearl. The sun came out as I was walking past and it blew me away! Oops sorry, I’ve added another one haven’t I?
Tower tours are usually only available on special dates, like open doors day but they can sometimes be organised for groups. Only twelve-year olds and over were allowed to go from our group and with good reason I’d say, as you’ll see from the video further down. If you’re lucky enough to be able to go on one of the roof tours, you might want to wear sensible shoes. The stone spiral stairs are narrow, a bit slippery and dark in places so my regulation summer flip-flops were not the most sensible choice of footwear!
The cathedral is centrally located, overlooking College Green and the Council House. If you’re driving, plan your parking. We parked very nearby in Cabot Street car park (behind the Council House) which only cost £3 for 3 hours (Aug 2016), but the price started to jump up if you stayed longer. You could also park in Millennium Square car park by At Bristol. If we’d had time for a longer visit, I would have taken the bus or park and ride as both bus-stops are nearby.
If you need more information about any aspect of the cathedral, Bristol Cathedral’s website is well organised and I should think it’s an excellent place to start.
Thanks to Bristol Cathedral for hosting the Bristol Bloggers and Influencers group and for putting on a special rooftop tour for us.
Do you have a favourite FUN FREE FAMILY OUTING? Let us know in the comments below! Perhaps we could put it on our reviewing wish list.