St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

On top of the world…

In which we learn very little about St Paul’s, but thoroughly enjoy the views…

I went up to London last week with the Number One Daughter. We decided it was time to visit St Paul’s Cathedral.


Well, we started off with the best of intentions – we tuned in to our audio-guides and dutifully followed the route it described. But oh dear me, it was so dull. (Whoever wrote that script didn’t have teenage girls in mind for the audience – or middle-aged history junkies for that matter – although if you suffer from insomnia, do give it a go…).

So you can imagine after half an hour, we were beginning to lose the will to carry on. But then, suddenly – who knows, perhaps an act of divine intervention – we spotted the sign for the galleries.

Now bell-ringers will always want to see how far up a tower they can get – and we’re both ringers, so naturally we followed the sign.

First we reached the Whispering Gallery inside the dome, looking down into the cathedral – very impressive of course. Then, we carried on to the Stone Gallery – this one is outside – look at the picture above and the Stone Gallery is at the bottom of the dome section before it descends vertically. Or click on this link here which shows you a cross-section of the dome construction.

The official website describes the views as breathtaking – I totally agree.

Well, you know what’s coming next don’t you. Yep, we went up to the Golden Gallery (that’s the one at the top, just below the square lantern) – 528 steps from the bottom apparently, although to be honest, we didn’t count.

Normally on historic visits, we think about the events or people connected with a location, but St Paul’s sits on what you might call the history epicentre of England. So much history has happened on that spot, or within the views from the dome, that you could fill a library with it. So instead, here are a few of the pictures we took from the galleries – let your own imaginations add the historical context of your choice.


Looking across at the River Thames and the new footbridge which brings you right up to St Paul’s. But can you see The Globe over on the other side? I tried to imagine what London looked like when Shakespeare was alive…

IMAG3663Paternoster Square was flattened during the Blitz, now redeveloped and home to the London Stock Exchange and big names in banking – more information here.

IMAG3639The bells of St Paul’s are housed in these towers – you have to be very good at ringing to be invited to ring here (no never, since you ask…).

IMAG3648The city skyline has changed so much over the last twenty years, for me it makes connecting with the past very difficult. Dotted in there are post-1666 churches and the Monument, but you have to search very hard to find them. Oh and I hadn’t realised that Isengard was in south London, did you?…

IMAG3643Even the river has had to conform to human directions, but I suppose it is one feature that our ancestors would have recognised.


Fascinating really – all those buildings, each with its own history – its own story – mind-blowing.


It isn’t cheap visiting St Paul’s, but I’ll probably try it again because I really don’t feel we connected with the building and its history – but I think I’ll do my homework and take my own guide next time.


10 thoughts on “St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

  1. Helen Devries says:

    How that view has changed since I went up there in the sixties! (When there was no question of payment!)
    My husband was working on the London Stock Exchange then, before they put up the new building…and knew all the holes and corners of that part of the city.

    I have never been able to relate to St.Paul’s….though I went there fairly often when working in London..

    • Anny says:

      Hello Helen, it would be interesting to look at pictures from previous decades and watch the transformation from above – I’m sure many must exist – but even better if someone from centuries ago had painted it too, then we could really understand the changes. As it is, I think you’d need to be a real expert to get your historical bearings around there now. I understand what you mean about St Paul’s – it felt extremely masculine, even militaristic to me – but surely it must have a heart somewhere.

  2. blosslyn says:

    Its the only church that I too cannot relate to……it might help if you could take photos to find those little things that give it a heart. I like the dome and in the 60’s use to go with my Mother to somewhere behind St Paul’s to buy haberdashery for her shops, she would chose the items and they would get delivered. There were loads of old fashioned wooden warehouses with loads of stairs….. always reminded me of Charles Dickens and where Fagin in Oliver Twist lived. Its all gone now, in fact it would be hard to believe it was ever there 🙂 By the way the photos are great 🙂

    • Anny says:

      Of course, I hadn’t even thought of Dickensian London, but you’re right. No, you’d never know it had been there – all very different now. You’d really think that a building on that site and with all that heritage would feel quite different wouldn’t you.

  3. Jo Woolf says:

    What fantastic photos, and I admire your courage in going up there! It’s sad to hear that the audio guide is so boring – I must admit I usually refuse them when they’re offered! The buildings in Paternoster Square look like toy houses. I am interested to hear that both you and your readers feel there’s little ‘heart’ or atmosphere in St Paul’s (or at least, a very masculine feel) – I’m intrigued to know why this is. I have only visited once, but I was only about 7 or 8 – I remember looking up at the dome from inside, and feeling awe-struck.

    • Anny says:

      I’d agree – the dome is simply wonderful – but as for the rest, I’ve been pondering this myself. Generally when I visit anywhere with a history attached, I find I can ‘tune-in’ to an atmosphere (not in a Madame Arcati way), but it just didn’t happen at St Paul’s. It left me cold, and that’s very unusual for me – but why? still not sure.

  4. Perpetua says:

    I’m another who can’t relate to St Paul’s, but I’ve always put that down to not liking Baroque architecture. I’m a mediaevalist through and through, then leap to Georgian. 🙂 St Paul’s always seems so heavy and formal and having no head for heights, I’ve never ventured up to any of the galleries.

    Talking of the galleries, I’ve just finished a mystery set in St Paul’s itself on the night of the great blitz in that area. Ashes To Ashes by Barbara Nadel. Very atmospheric and the galleries were central to the plot. 🙂

    • Anny says:

      Thank you for the book reference – one that I’ll look forward to following up.

      I agree Baroque is a tricky period, but I’m not sure that’s my problem with St Paul’s – I shall carry on pondering.

  5. hb says:

    Loved the pics. Maybe the problem with St Paul’s is that it hasn’t had time to absorb much history in the way that, say, Westmimster Abbey has. BTW have you come across the Crytek “Off th Map” project – using games designers to create 3d reconstructions of cities from old maps? This one envisages London as it was before the great fire

    • Anny says:

      Thank you so much for the link – I hadn’t heard of it – would love to see that developed further. I wonder about St Paul’s – you may well be right, maybe location isn’t everything, perhaps it’s the fabric that has to hold the atmosphere.

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