It was the kind of situation where if I had been discovered dead, impaled by the church weather vane no one would have shown me any sympathy; instead, would have said: “What was she thinking being up there in the first place.”
It had not been my intention to climb to the top of the tower of St Mary’s Church, Rye when I had woken up that day; in fact, it had not been my intention to climb to the top of the tower of St Mary’s Church, Rye a mere ten minutes before I accomplished the feat but, like so many similar summit assaults what can you do when you discover ‘it is there’?
The payment of £4 to an elderly(ish) woman sat at a desk just inside the church foyer permitted me to enter a door to her left, and start climbing a narrow staircase, which in turn gave way to an even narrower corridor, which ended at a second, even narrower, staircase.
The staircase decanted into a rather large, square room, wood-panelled and red-carpeted, the walls of which were adorned with all kinds of (doubtlessly) worthy and interesting information about the church and its tower, but I was in no mood to stop and peruse; the summit fever was upon me; onwards and upwards.
Would you call it a ladder? I’ll be generous and say a wooden staircase headed heavenwards. The rungs––do you have rungs on a staircase?––were steep. I continued undaunted. A second ladder––this one was definitely more a ladder than a staircase––led to the bell tower. I vaguely remembered that there had been a notice at the start of the ascent warning that the bells sounded every hour. I glanced at my watch. Quarter past. I had plenty of leeway before a potential deafening.
Now it really was a ladder; no other word for it. I was in a realm of wooden gangways above the bells, and still heading higher. Various health and safety considerations passed through my head, but I dismissed them as being so much fuss and wussery.
Would you call it a hatchway? I’ll be generous and say a door offered an invitation to the final summit of the tower. Al fresco, on top of the tower of St Mary’s Church, Rye it was blowing a gale. It had been one of the reasons why I had entered the church in the first place; to escape the wind and rain. The parapet around the tower was quite narrow––is this becoming something of a recurring theme? At points, I had to lean backwards to avoid obstructions as I performed a wind-swept circumnavigation. Above me, the weather vane rattled and railed an angry protest against the buffeting winds. The 360° views over Rye and the surrounding countryside of Romney Marsh were a rain-obscured delight, but the stormy conditions constantly reminded me of the perilous nature of my position.
A moment’s crime-fiction paranoia that the hatchway would be locked, trapping me on the tower, and I was back on the dry walkway above the bells, faced with the even more difficult task of descending the obstacle course of wooden rungs to the ground level once more, where an innocent-faced, elderly(ish) woman would still be sitting at the same desk, beside the same doorway; an unlikely Charon in church chiffon.
© E. C. Glendenny
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