In the centre of Louth sits St James’ Church, a beautiful parish church, built in 1563. The crowning jewel of this particular landmark is its 295 foot spire, which can be seen from almost anywhere in the town. The spire is the tallest of any medieval parish church in England.
Inside, the building is ornate in structure. I imagine before Henry VIII’s purge of Catholic decoration, the interior was actually quite splendid. Remnants of a more glorious past remain, but even without gold and silver, the place is gorgeous. The usual detailed stain glass windows can be found at either end of the church, and wooden statues of saints adorn the side aisles. The alter, located behind the chancel, depicts intricate marble carvings of religious figures. Beautiful as the church was, Chris and I had ulterior motives for venturing inside. Rumour had it, if you turned up at the right time of day, you could climb to the top of the spire. Chris had missed out on a chance to ascend when he was in school, and I love views.
It cost £1.50 each for the privilege of going up. Besides that, the only standing between you and the top of the spire, is a spiral staircase consisting of 199 steps. Our arrival in the late afternoon meant we had 45 minutes to reach the height and come back down before the church closed for the day at four o’clock to prepare for the evening service (I presume). As I approached the door to the spire an elderly woman enjoying a cup of tea at the coffee shop informed me of the spectacle I was about to see. Apparently, on clear days, you can see right to the estuary on the far side of the town. Unfortunately, the day wasn’t clear; dark clouds were threatening rain, but I was excited none the less.
199 steps, leading to a 295 foot high panoramic view point. The staircase, as you can imagine, is a tight spiral of stone, worn down by hundreds of years of use. Some of the steps dip considerably compared to others, and the only support is an added rope banister on the outer wall. Other than the odd window, most of which were distorted glass, there was no way to tell how far we’d climbed. No, I wasn’t counting steps. What I was doing was keeping one hand on the rope, and concentrating on keeping a good pace. Chris, being the well trained, fit Navy officer that he is, was flying up. I don’t consider myself to be unfit, but it was a struggle to keep up. Plus his legs are considerably longer than mine. The stairway is essentially an eternal corner, and I could never actually see him, only hear him, as we continued upwards.
Seven minutes later, a little sweater than I like to admit, I succeeded Chris in reaching the top. As detailed, the view stretched for miles towards the horizon. Wind whipped at us atop the spire as we gazed down at the orange slated rooftops of the town below. The passageway around the roof of the spire is narrow. You’re surrounded by the customary grey rock columns, embellished with weather worn carvings. You can walk along three sides of the square top; the fourth is cut of by jutting stone. I’m not a big person by any sense of the word, but even I failed to squeeze through. So, not quite panoramic, but enough to cause a significant jaw drop. Looking straight down you could see easily just how high we were, but looking out, and I often find this with certain places which show views of towns, the houses appeared like toys, and if I stretched out far enough I could pick them up and rearrange them like Lego blocks. Louth is particularly interesting because it contains small clock towers and a hodge podge of uniquely shaped buildings and gardens. Terracotta bricks mix with lush green trees, and even on the greyest of days it was lovely to witness.
Far away up at the top of the spire, I really felt away from everything. Stress continued to strip away with the clean air, and just being able to witness a bustling town so quietly from above had a soothing quality. Being there with Chris was also a blessing. Often we are able to just be in each other’s company, and speak and remain quiet in the right places. So I was alone, but not alone, able to enjoy what I was doing without having to explain why. I took a moment to ensure I was still grateful for what I did have, for the little details that made life easier, or happier, or clam. For the people who have always been around me, when I needed them yet couldn’t ask for their help. For those few moments there, just being, able to quietly watch the world pass me.
It took us another ten minutes to descend the staircase, getting warmth back as he climbed down after having it taken by the bracing air above. Back outside the church, I took a moment to peer up at the tower, to see where we had just been standing, and I clutched Chris’ hand tighter, and together we walked into the rain.