I think in total on Saturday we must’ve walked at least a thousand steps. There must be about 20 or 30 steps in every Underground station (and we went in and out of three stations that day due to various closures), and after trying our best to peek over the heads of the burly police officers to catch a glimpse of the protestors we walked up about 500 steps to the very top of St. Paul’s cathedral.
London’s most magnificent man-made structure wasn’t our original port of call. We had initially intended to visit Temple and Fleet Street (me being the budding journalist, and all), but the District line was closed and by the time we got to Bank we were distracted by the several police vans which were milling around. My instant reaction when I come across any sort of police vehicle is to shut up and back away slowly. The same can’t be said for A, whose eyes positively lit up at the prospect of a protesters/police clash. After several unsuccessful attempts to see what was going on, we abanadoned our watching post to have a wander around the area. The protesters were piling up outside a grotty newsagents, clicking away with their massive SLR cameras at some V.I.P or other who was giving a press inerview inside. On closer inspection, I could see a shock of bright blonde hair. I assumed it was a politician, but later discovered (thanks to the godsend that is BBC news.co.uk) that it was Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Eventually we got bored of trying to work out who the mysterious blonde man was and joined the crowd of American tourists queueing up to get into St. Paul’s Cathedral. It set us back £14.50 (despite being a bonafide employed person now, I still think that anything costing over a tenner is a tad pricey), but it was so, so worth it. The inside of the cathedral is indescribably beautiful – you can’t take photos, which is a bummer, but let’s just say it is breath-taking.
It’s around 250 steps to the Whispering Gallery, which is a circular walkway about halfway up St. Paul’s Cathedral. We didn’t realise at the time (a d’oh moment, if ever there was one), that the reason it’s called the Whispering Gallery is that if you whisper to someone through certain points in the wall they can hear you at the other end of the gallery.
If you walk another 200 or so steps you get to the first upper circle of St. Paul’s Cathedral. There are big pillars with bars in between them that spoil the view a bit, but it’s still a spectacular sight. You can see all the major landmarks of London from here – the Eye slightly to the right, the Millenium Bridge straight ahead… it beats a wind-blown view from the top of a tour bus any day.
We overheard a bored St. Paul’s guide telling a woman about the archway which the police were protecting from the protesters. The achway leads into Paternoster Square, which is where the crowds wanted to stage their Occupy London Stock Exchange protest. The guide told us that the archway was one of the places where traitors’ heads were stuck for all the world to see.
The stairs leading to the very top of St. Paul’s are SCARY. Now I don’t have acrophobia (fear of heights – I had to look that one up!), but I’ll shamefully admit I was clinging on for dear life. It’s a small spiral staircase, the kind with lots of tiny gaps in it which let you see just how far away you are from the ground. Not nice. The view is breath-taking though, and the sense of achievement you feel from climbing such a ridiculous amount of stairs makes it worth all the trembling legs in the world.