St. David's Bells

The bells were pealing joyfully at St. David's Cathedral. We were strolling around town, rather aimlessly, truth be told. We thought perhaps a wedding ceremony had just concluded. The bells stopped, then started up once again. The sound reverberated throughout the city. It wasn't just the marking of the hour or half hour. Curiosity got the better of us. We wandered over and noticed a hand-lettered sign outside of the cathedral: “Bell Tower Open Today”. Hmm...what's going on here? We ventured inside and sure enough, just inside the entrance, a door opened to a spiral staircase, leading up, up, up. Why not?

We heard a female voice somewhere up the spiral inviting us. “Come on up to see the bellringers.” Some 35 steps later, we were welcomed into a rather large chamber where eight people were resolutely pulling on bell ropes, intent on their tasks. Some were working up a sweat. Other visitors, like us, were circled around them and watching. The bells stopped and we had the chance to ask questions. I was interested in how many steps there were in the bell tower (152), how often they opened the bell tower (only once or twice a year) , how do you get to be a bellringer and if we could climb yet higher to the top of the bell tower. David asked about the knots tidying up the bell ropes. It's that pink/blue mindset at work again.

Yes, we could climb further up the tower to watch the bells tolling...another 82 steps. A volunteer handed us our padded earmuffs … the sound of the bells would knock us out of our socks otherwise. We queued up behind a few other courageous souls and followed the leader up the narrow, circular stairwell. The bells were enclosed behind a glass door and we stopped for a moment and watched them rock back and forth responding to the bellringers' tugs below.

Climbing the next 35 concrete, dimly-lit steps to the top of the bell tower was a monumental task for me. Not because of the energy exerted, but rather the confined, tight space, skinny, irregular steps, lack of railing and the fear of losing my balance and toppling down. David had my rear...and I mean that literally. There was no opportunity for pictures. I clung to the wall, sometimes with a hand on the third or fourth step above me, to maintain my balance … and composure.

It was worth the effort and anxiety. The views from the top were 360º stupendous. The city spread like a fine table before us. The harbor sparkled in the brilliant sunshine. We couldn't quite make out Cups on the pier; a building occluded our view. We could feel the tower sway in the wind and it was a bit unsettling.

The steep descent was worse than the climbing. Down and around, down and around, I carefully planted my feet with each step to avoid a tumble. It seemed darker and eerie. We reached the enclosed bells...35 down, 82 steps left to the bellringers' chamber. It seemed to take step at a time, one step at a time. We turned in our earmuffs. 35 more steps and we were back down to terra firma.

When we got back to the boat, David checked Ashley's Book of Knots. Sure enough on page 34, there's a bellringer's knot used expressly to keep the long rope off the belfry floor. Who would have thunk it?