Although this licking adventure is far from over, with much more stone to be appreciated, October 17th will go down as one of the most successful days of the challenge.
My initial plan had been to make for Salisbury, a city I had long wished to visit, even before the bet had been made. Talking this over with my good friend David Sleep, he not only offered to drive me there but to make the whole thing a roadtrip, also taking in the cathedrals of Guildford and Winchester along on the way. Consulting a map confirmed that these three cities lie within easy reach of oneanother and a plan was joyfully made.
Setting off from Chiswick in the gloomy early hours, we were on the outskirts of Guildford in almost no time. From seeing photos of the cathedral there I had been prepared to despise this building intensely, which seemed far too modern for my Medieval tastes. When it comes to cathedrals (or in fact, any building in my book) the older and more crumbly it is the better. It being a child of the 1960s therefore, Guildford Cathedral had never been on my list of must-see sites, that was until I needed to lick it.
What a great surprise then when the great red-bricked monster first came into view, straddling a hillside and casting the city below in shadow. It looked magnificent in the early morning sunshine, with a golden angel sat atop its spire, glowing beautifully. Other than Durham I had never before seen a cathedral dominating the landscape quite like this before, and David and I were forced to concede that the whole thing really was rather impressive.
The interior was likewise a great surprise, with a vast vaulted ceiling and imposing nave. What made it even better was the fact that there was a sign proudly proclaiming the name of the cathedral, making for a perfect photo for the bet. Alas, just as David was about the capture the dirty deed on his camera, a member of cathedral staff suddenly appeared. In fear, I pretended to be making a close study of the stonework, whilst she politely informed us that the nave was closed for a concert that evening. She directed us down to the Lady Chapel at the opposite end of the building, which was still open to visitors. We thanked her with very British smiles and nods, but waited until she had gone before having another try. To our horror though two men appeared and began moving the signs! They too directed us to the Lady Chapel, blissfully unaware that they were at that very moment ruining my life. Cursing them silently, we followed their directions dejectedly, praying that another decent photo opportunity would present itself.
Sadly no signs were to be found anywhere else in the building. A vain attempt to get a photo of me licking the vast outer wall left us in greater despair, and a disgusting salty taste in my mouth. We decided to take a risk and return to the nave in the hope that the two men had moved on.
They were still there, the bastards. It was difficult to hate them though as they really were decent fellows. For this reason it was tempting to reveal to them our true intentions, though one of them looked like he would be handy in a scuffle and I had visions of us being bundled off the premises in shame, and then our faces appearing in some kind of inter-cathedral newsletter. They were also no doubt growing suspicious of our persistent loitering, so drastic action would soon have to be taken.
To my delight another “Welcome to Guildford Cathedral” sign had appeared in just the right spot. Using sly winks and nods I positioned myself behind a pillar out of the men’s view, while David whipped out the camera and captured the most challenging of cathedral licks so far. Deed done, we scuttled back to the car before the two men could discover my still wet spittle. What had been intended as a quick stop and lick had turned into a highly stressful and anxious experience, though on reflection challenges such as these can only make the whole thing even more fun.
Winchester was but a short drive away and our spirits rose further at the thought of another cathedral to be licked off the list, in an attractive little city to boot. Although on the outside Winchester Cathedral is not as impressive as its other Anglican relations, inside the place is a treasure trove of artwork and history. The Gothic nave is gigantic, being the longest of its kind anywhere in Europe. If you look carefully enough here you can find the last resting place of Jane Austen, one of many famous names to be buried here. I was also particularly excited about seeing a casket containing the bones of King Cnut (ahem) and his wife, Queen Emma. They were joined by a whole host of Dark Age kings that well and truly awoke my alarming Medieval fetish.
In comparison with our experience at Guildford, the Winchester lick was almost too easy. Again a sign was perfectly positioned by the entrance but this time it was unguarded by burly cathedral henchmen. So I licked away happily, almost haughtily.
Having completed the second lick of the day we wandered the old streets of the city, which in places are heart-meltingly beautiful. The cathedral close contains an array of late Medieval and Tudor timber-framed buildings, all of which I would have sold my soul to live in. A little further on a section of the old city walls contains perhaps the coolest football pitch I’ve ever seen, and beyond the River Itchen hurries past yet more painfully beautiful houses and gardens and under old stone bridges.
Having satisfied our Winchester lust we went on towards Salisbury, stopping off at Old Sarum on the way. This old hillfort was the site of the first settlement in Salisbury, containing the ruins of a royal palace and Norman cathedral. Happily this is one I did not have to lick, as it was demolished long before the Anglican church was born and could get its hands on it. From the top of that windswept hillside however, the sight of a very much intact Salisbury Cathedral reminded us that our task was not yet complete.
I realise that so far I have gushed a great deal about the beauty and magnificence of the cathedrals I have licked. That is because all of them have their own special characters and fascinating little quirks that make them unique. I’ve yet to leave one without having some form of admiration for it, even Guildford, which I had expected to want to burn to the ground. It would be nice to come across a cathedral that would stir up such negative emotions, just to balance things out. After all, if everything was wonderful the whole time life would be exceedingly dull. After seeing and licking Salisbury Cathedral however, the search for a crap cathedral goes on.
Set in vast open grounds, Salisbury Cathedral is quite rightly given the space to exhibit its brilliance. That great spike of a spire (the tallest in the UK) is almost intimidating, causing David and I to almost drop to our knees in fearful admiration.
The interior likewise struck awe into us, with beautifully painted vaulted ceilings and perhaps the finest cloister (including trees) I’ve ever laid eyes upon. Whilst we wandered around with open mouths the choir was in full song, giving the whole experience an extra gloss.
For the all-important licking job we were spoiled for choice. By the entrance we had seen a sign that would more than do the job, though after our experiences earlier in the day we decided to try something new and bolder. It seemed a shame not to include the spire in the photo, which was quickly disappearing in the autumnal evening bleakness, so we padded quietly into the cloister and took up our positions. For David the challenge was to get the spire in the photo, for me it was to resist gagging at the vile, mossy taste of the stonework, which began to flake away on my tongue. Both tasks were completed well in the end, though it took some time to spit out all the grit and lose the sickening taste.
On the way out I just couldn’t resist one more lick of the place:
So, an extremely successful day licking-wise and three more cathedrals licked off the list. None of it would have been possible were it not for the wonderful David – companion, chauffeur and photographer all in one. He and I have already made plans for more licking days, so Adam had best be worried.