Have you ever fancied climbing to the highest point in Coventry? Of course you have. Make your way to the old cathedral tower for a history lesson and the best views in town.
My hometown, Coventry, may not be the prettiest or most exciting place, but it has one true world class attraction – the old cathedral ruins, the trump card for Coventry’s bid to be city of culture for 2021.
Coventry is known as the city of three spires: Holy Trinity Church, the old cathedral spire and Christchurch Spire (home to the best Belgian bar outside Belgium, Inspire Café Bar). The 14th Century gothic old cathedral spire is the tallest of these, at a height of 90 metres.
Known as St. Michael’s Tower, it was built in 1394 and is unusual in that it rises from the ground and not, as with most cathedrals, from the building itself. This is probably a good thing, as the rest of the cathedral was destroyed in a nine-hour bombing blitz by the Germans on 14th November 1940, during World War II. Much of the city-centre was turned to rubble and over 500 people were killed, but this tower survived and looks down on the shell of the cathedral ruins. The area is known as a symbol of peace and reconciliation, and is still regarded as a place for quiet worship although it hosts occasional plays, films, gigs and food festivals.
After paying a bargain £2.50 to enter from the gift shop/tourist office, you can climb the 180 stone steps (there is no elevator) to the top for panoramic city views . To the north you will be able to make out the Ricoh Arena, home to League 1’s perennial strugglers Coventry City and rugby union franchise Wasps. You’ll also get a good view of one of the city’s other claims to fame, the A4053 – better known as the ring road.
Other than the many Coventry University buildings (they are slowly taking over the city-centre), there’s not a great deal else of interest to see from up here. Hitler made sure of that when he blitzed the place, and then the unimaginative town planners of the 1950s and 1960s missed an opportunity to rebuild the city in style. My Grandma tells me that Coventry was a beautiful city in the pre-war era on a par with Bath and York, but now it’s blighted by ugly concrete blocks and industrial suburbs.
There’s only one staircase for those going up as well as down, although to be fair it’s not very well used. I’ve climbed loads of these towers across Europe, and remember descending single staircases at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Florence’s Duomo, which were both heaving and quite scary.
When you’re back at ground level, take a seat at one of the benches in the ruins and try to visualise that this area was once under cover. Then head to Coventry’s other place of worship, Inspire, and enjoy a strong bottled Belgian beer. Santé!