Succeeding with the First Fifteen – the Cathedrals of England

Succeeding with the First Fifteen – the Cathedrals of England
June 11, 2019 Richard Brackenbury

Succeeding with the First Fifteen – the Cathedrals of England

Peterborough Cathedral

The First Fifteen. Something to which someone as sporty as me can only aspire. However, it’s now achieved.

I guess it must be an age thing, the need to get on and do something. Well, my aspiration is to visit all English cathedrals

It started in a post-Christmas lull, the one time of year when one doesn’t feel at all guilty about watching back to back films complete with a malt or two in hand. Not to say this doesn’t happen at other times of year, it does, but just overlaid by rather more guilt.

A film version of “the Mystery of Edwin Drood” was on the box. It featured some cathedral cloisters. I knew they weren’t Lincoln but thought they might be Norwich. A bit of googling. I was wrong. It was Rochester but, irritated as ever by my “special” interests, my long-suffering partner suggested the project. The idea quickly developed and so we found ourselves in Peterborough early in January 2018.

Settle to Carlisle rail line

A glorious frosty January day was an excellent time to see a medieval nave flooded with winter sun at the Sunday morning service. A good start, but the realisation soon dawned (still being immersed in the happy world of commerce) that targets were needed for the project to be completed. Accepting they might slip, those targets became “doing” the English Cathedrals, attending a service in each  within a 3 year period. This meant winding the clock back to zero so visits pre 2018 didn’t count.

Spring and summer 2018 soon arrived and, despite St Paul’s London and Westminster Abbey having been ticked off, it was obvious the required rate wasn’t being met. So being a good lawyer, I changed the rules. Out went the requirement for a service and list was shortened to the 42 actualcathedrals, rather than the members of the “Association of English Cathedrals.” That dropped two off the list, Westminster and St George’s Chapel, Windsor which are not actually cathedrals but rather “Royal Peculiars.” (The sharp-eyed will see there was only a net gain of one as Westminster had already been visited but, as the advert said, “every little helps.”)

Wells Cathedral

The summer then saw Carlisle, Sheffield, Wakefield, Gloucester and Wells all visited. This was starting to become fun. Some visits were incidental to other activities. Carlisle and Wakefield for instance were at either end of a rail trip over the Settle to Carlisle line and Wells and Gloucester were whilst were in and on route to Somerset and wherever possible, trips are made on by rail.

Some were solo trips, others with my partner or friends. It depended who was around and how I felt. It also soon became obvious that many (but not all) cathedrals are in the historic centre old towns and cities – and what else do those places have? Good pubs. (Cue, rail again) Nevertheless, only York and Lincoln made the list for the rest of 2018 and they are places that already get visited relatively regularly being within a couple of hours’ driving time.



Lincoln Cathedral

So, 2019 has brought new resolve. Birmingham, Southwark, Bury St Edmunds, Ely and Leicester have all been visited and the pace is increasing with at least four more on the list before the end of June.

There have been some gems. Expectations of places like Ely were bound to be high but Gloucester was gorgeous. Even the “new” cathedrals, (i.e. former parish churches that only achieved cathedral status in either 1884 or 1927) places like Leicester, Bradford, Birmingham have their charms and there is always an interesting story to tell.

It’s too early to say which are personal favourites but one thing is for certain – this is one project I’m glad I started and one I want to finish.

15 down. 27 to go.