If you looked at Oxford’s skyline, you can tell why the place is called: “The City of Spires.” Massive church steeples dot the 38 individual college campuses across the university. Each individual college can have multiple spires reaching to the sky. Today, I got to do something no other tourist is allowed to do: go to the highest one.
Magdalen College, pronounced Mod-Lin here, houses one of the oldest, and by far the tallest spire across the Oxford skyline. Although our guide stated it’s, “only four stories up,” this spire takes a solid 15 minutes to climb. Speaking of the climb, it’s not an easy one at all. If you want to see the picturesque view from the tip of Oxford, you have to climb the world’s tightest spiral staircase made with the world’s thinnest steps. I have no way to prove either of those but I have a feeling it’s true. The spiral staircase goes up through the narrow, shoulder-width tower and never seems to end. Even as a person not petrified by heights, I was uneasy climbing this monstrosity. As the dimly lit staircase began to let in more natural light, I could tell we were reaching the top of the tower; however, at the top lay one more 12-rung metal ladder requiring me to hop up and grab on.
It felt as if I had just climbed a mountain, but to tell you the view was worth it would be an understatement. Our professors had told us we could see all of Oxford from this tower and they were not kidding. For miles in each direction we could see the sky-touching spires gallantly resting below us. To the south, we saw the beautiful English countryside in a way that is only viewable from a plane. To the north west, the historic colleges and buildings of Oxford dwarfed down to small stacks of brick. The photos could never do this justice. The building was beautiful and experiencing the wind and the height of the tower after persevering through the climb was an experience only students of Magdalen College are typically allowed to partake in.
The 500-year-old tower was originally built as a bell tower to alert the city of any attackers coming from the east. It housed a gunnery for most of its early existence, but now the most popular event happens on the 1st of May every year when the choir students at Magdalen welcome the spring by climbing to the top of the tower and projecting their songs across campus.
Simply being allowed to go up in this tower as a tourist was amazing and an experience I’ll never forget. It’s hard to believe we only have five days left.