My Dad was positively bursting with excitement at the prospect of taking me cathedral-licking. He had gone as far as taking two days holiday so that we could go and have probably one of the most surreal father-son days in history. That said, Dad and I have never been ones for fishing weekends. In the past we have spent a good deal of time clambering around Lancaster bombers, exploring crumbling factories and camping next to minefields. Cathedral-licking was a whole new activity though and one I knew he would soon become hooked on.
We made an early start from York and began thrashing out a plan for the day. I was eager to get Manchester and Liverpool done, as these are two scalps I had long coveted. There was even talk of heading to Lincoln, arguably an even greater prospect than the two just mentioned. In the end we decided to keep things closer to home, settling on a triple Yorkshire lick by taking in Bradford, Wakefield and then Sheffield. Maps were quickly consulted and we were off.
Bradford is no real trek from York in any form of transport, but on arrival the city’s fearsome hills and narrow streets do their best to strike fear into motorists. We parked on a slope so steep gravity almost made me headbutt the pavement. Close by, on what must once have been a rocky outcrop, sat the modest Bradford Cathedral. As with several places on my official licking list, I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea there was a cathedral here. The one you see today is around 500-years-old (with a few 20th-century additions) and the third to have occupied the site. It is an unassuming structure to say the least (its website even says the same thing) sitting in what was supposed to be the heart of the city, though the streets seemed strangely deserted.
There were far more signs of life inside than out, where a gaggle of teenagers were preparing for some kind of musical performance. One girl cart wheeled down the nave while the sound of another singing sweetly drifted from some hidden room deep within. Listening on adoringly were two token elderly lady attendants. One was considerably more sprightly than the other and sprang up (in shock, I think) at the sight of us. She gave the impression that the appearance of visitors was highly an unusual but not unwelcome event. She asked us if we had travelled far and our answer made her face light up:
“Ah, York! Your Minster really is a treasure” she beamed. Her friend nodded in agreement from a nearby pew. “Yes” she continued, “generally the places you find cathedrals in are very nice places indeed. I’m afraid Bradford is the exception.”
They both tittered away at this, while my dad and I were stunned, unsure how to react to this brutally honest critique of the local area. I didn’t know whether to laugh with them or not, fearing that this was a test, to which the wrong response would result in some form walking stick related injury. We responded by meekly sticking up for Bradford, a city I hardly know but suddenly felt very sorry for. They were a sweet pair though, and their apparent loathing for their hometown was countered by a genuine love for this cathedral. They sent us off to explore it armed with pamphlets and good wishes.
From doing a little research on the way there I already knew that Bradford Cathedral houses some unexpected treasures, such as an original William Morris window and a John Flaxman sculpture, though the last thing we expected to find when we set off was a sofa in the nave. I entertained the notion that this was in fact the bishop’s chair, or kathedra, from which he or she could oversee proceedings in the greatest comfort, probably with a cup of tea in hand. Funnily enough my dad was thinking exactly the same thing and commented “I would become a bishop if that was where I had to sit.” It seemed like a lot of trouble to go to, especially as sitting on sofas is generally a luxury we all enjoy, though I did share his enthusiasm. This comment reminded me of another bet Adam and I had once drunkenly discussed- that of becoming Pope. Our tendency of making bets centred around the Christian faith is becoming highly worrying.
Resisting the urge to rest on the sofa a while we quietly paced the aisles and chapels, enjoying the surroundings but also looking for places to lick. We found a plaque commemorating a visit from the Queen to Bradford in 1997 and I had a quick lick there. Official cathedral signage was scarce however and well within sight of the friendly old ladies. Given their apparent love of the place they may well have actually approved and possibly joined in (hopefully someone will one day), but we dared not risk it.
Going on past experience I now suggested heading outside to find a better spot. This we did and soon found a particularly edgy vertical metal sign placed on an outer wall. My dad was impressed both with my licking and my ability to sniff out official cathedral signage. Although these are not the most useful of everyday attributes they have proved highly effective in the bet so far.
Having completed the job we explored a little more inside and chatted with the old ladies once more, who positively insisted that we write something in the visitors’ book. I often find this an awkward exercise as I know from having one where I work that every comment and word is rigorously scrutinized. Negative or clichéd messages have the ability to stir up strong emotions (often violent ones) in the minds of the book’s custodians. One such comment left at my workplace riled my friend I up so much that we considered a whole hate campaign against the disgruntled visitor who had penned it. This is an exaggeration, but goes some way to explain the minefield that is visitors’ books.
In the end I ignored all my own advice and wrote something truly dreadful about the cathedral being a hidden gem, which it certainly is though my lack of originality was woeful. Only in the car afterwards did I think of all the disguised licking references that could have been used, from having got “a real taste of the place” to “I licked the cathedral a lot.”
On then to Wakefield, yet another place that until recently I had no idea contained a cathedral. I have Lisa to thank for pointing this one out, and for the warning that it “looks a bit dirty.” On her own visit to “Shaky Wakey” she had observed a great deal of bird poo and other filth both on and around the cathedral that she was sure would give me some sort of exotic disease when it came to licking time.
The whole town was buzzing when we arrived with half-term kids torturing their parents. Most of them seemed to be congregating around the cathedral in an intimidating mob, possibly sent by Adam to thwart me. We fought our way through and gazed up at the immense main tower, which certainly did have a slightly grimy tinge.
Wakefield Cathedral is pleasant enough, though the early start and travelling had started to get to me and I couldn’t appreciate it fully. One thing that did grab me was the incredibly vicious-looking spire; it appeared to be razor-sharp and have dangerously serrated edges. In the cathedral shop miniature models of the building were on sale, which given the sharpness of its design made these little more than offensive weapons. Memories of Silvio Berlusconi being attacked with a similarly brutish model of Milan Cathedral came to mind, and I couldn’t help but think that his attacker would have had more luck with a mini Wakefield as weapon of choice.
My Dad (being an architect) happily pointed out points of interest as we explored the interior, but almost had to be restrained at the sight of the modern refectory, a grim 1980s addition that had him in such a rage he considered buying the spiky cathedral model and hunting the guilty architect down.
Further on, one thing that gladdened both our hearts was a message written on a scrap of paper, stuck to a wall with other prayers asking for such things as guidance, good health and world peace. Our favourite simply read “thank you God for Fifa 12 ”. The young scallywag! In addition to this the stained glass, despite not being original and being the work of the dreaded Victorians, was actually rather attractive and skilfully produced. Other than this there was not a lot to keep us there, so we soon got down to the lick.
Now I’ve tasted some pretty revolting things in my life, from rotten shark meat to a sheep’s eyeball, but Wakefield Cathedral defeats them all. My tongue was almost instantly overpowered by a foul, sickly sweet flavour with a dash of saltiness that had me gagging. You may be able to see my disgust in the picture, but this can only begin to give you an idea of the horror my taste buds were experiencing. I pulled my tongue free of the stone and felt like I was going to be sick. This feeling soon passed, though Dad asked me to lick the wall again as he had not captured the scene properly on his camera. Feeling like he had just asked me to drink rat’s urine, I reluctantly obeyed. It was even worse the second time round, as if the building actually had it in for me. Thoughts of those poisonous, tropical frogs came to mind and I began to wonder if the cathedral had its own sinister self-defence mechanism. If so, it was doing a grand job of preventing any future contact with it.
The utterly shocking taste left me in a semi swoon. I craved a glass of water, though a flask of acid would have been more appropriate to wash away the legion of viruses I had just welcomed into my body. I begged my dad for a Trebor Mint, something he always carries with him for such emergencies. To my utter surprise though he produced the most unlikely of tongue-teasers: a pack of Love Hearts. Not waiting to find out more I instantly pushed one in my mouth and let it sizzle away pleasingly. It took three of them to finally get rid of the rank stone taste.
I later regretted not reading the messages on the Love Hearts themselves as they may have offered some sort of encouragement in those difficult few minutes. The next one in the packet (which I read later) did rather the opposite and told me in no uncertain terms to “GROW UP.” Well thanks a lot, Love Hearts. I decided there and then not to heed their supposed words of wisdom in future, or to even eat another one in my life if they were going to be so bloody rude. We left the cathedral and Wakefield hastily, with me suffering from a pounding, stone-licking induced headache.
We were beginning to tire on the final leg of the journey to Sheffield. We drove through the city’s old industrial centres, grand redbrick factories and soaring towers that were beginning to look sad and forgotten. Having parked the car in the old town we trudged up yet more hills towards the cathedral, the largest and perhaps most impressive of the day so far.
Weary from travelling and the grey, oppressive February weather, Sheffield Cathedral boosted our lagging spirits with its vibrancy and colour. On walking in the main door your gaze is instantly drawn to the lantern tower above, through which multi-coloured light streams down gloriously. It reminded me a little of the enormous alien laser-gun in Independence Day, though rather than spreading fiery death and destruction this lantern induces wonder and (as in my case) the urge to drop to your knees in awe.
Dragging ourselves away from this treasure we explored further and found yet more surprises. The fusion between old and new was very pleasing, with a beautiful medieval nave (no sofa but complete with golden angels on the ceiling) and a whole collection of chapels that have been added next to it over the following centuries. There were so many chapels in fact that the place turned into some sort of maze. Exit from one and suddenly you found yourself in another, with a totally different look, feel and atmosphere. Some were dark, dank and unwelcoming, others warm and full of character. The military chapel of St. George was notable for its screen of swords and bayonets, all of which looked sharp and ready to use if the challenge of a duel suddenly arose. Here too hung ageing regimental flags, a very common feature in most British cathedrals I was learning. Bullet holes decorated some of them and they swung in a strange breeze that flowed through the building.
Dad and I were mightily impressed with it all, especially as we had not known what to expect. I was beginning to learn not to be so snobby about smaller, less celebrated cathedrals. Yes, the likes of Salisbury and Durham do lead the way in sheer magnificence and historical importance, but cathedrals like the one we now sat in, gazing around us in quiet awe, have just as much wonder within them if you only take the time to look. Each cathedral teaches you something new. It seems surprising then that Sheffield Cathedral has recently applied for £1.25 million of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s money to make the building more attractive to visitors. If they think that the money will indeed bring in more people then fair enough, but we applauded almost everything we saw.
This was a fairly straightforward lick, as there were some excellent signs close to the main entrance. The only obstacles were the fact that the cathedral was about to close and the hovering attendants nearby. Luckily the latter glided out of view for a precious couple of minutes and we captured the all-important deed, much to the dismay of Adam.
So, a third day of triple licks was achieved! We drove back to York in a triumphant mood, planning our next trip and Adam’s eventual downfall.