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Cambridgeshire man climbs Mount Everest twice a year without leaving the flat Fens...and he's 77!


By Adrian Curtis


Ely Cathedral Octagon Tour Guide John Buttifant . Picture: Keith Heppell
Ely Cathedral Octagon Tour Guide John Buttifant . Picture: Keith Heppell

Ely Cathedral tour guide hits the highs at Octagon Tower

Every year, a Cambridgeshire pensioner climbs a height equivalent to scaling Mount Everest twice – without ever leaving the flat fens.

John Buttifant, 77, is a tour guide for the Octagon Tower at the 11th-century Ely Cathedral.

Since he took over the role in 2002 he has climbed the equivalent of Everest – at 29,029ft, the world’s highest peak – twice a year.

There are 170 steps to the top of the 170ft tower and that means Mr Buttifant has accumulated 1,190,000 steps and climbed a total of 840,000 feet in the last 14 years.

Mr Buttifant said: “Over those 14 years I think I’ve been up the tower on average 10 times a week.

“It’s a bit daunting when you think about it like that.

“There are about 170 steps up to the top so I’ve done about one million-plus since.

“It is a privilege to be doing it. I don’t very often get people who are disappointed with it.

“It is a wonderful spectacle we have at the cathedral.”

Mr Buttifant, who lives in Ely, revealed that he got involved in 2002 only on the advice of his daughter after the death of his wife Brenda.

He said: “My wife died at the end of December 2000 and 18 months after that I started being involved with Octagon tours.

“My wife was diagnosed terminally ill in 1999 but I was still working. But because she became ill I took semi-retirement and then retirement so I could look after her, which I did until she died.

“Doing the tours here and being involved with Anglesey Abbey has helped rebuild my life since Brenda died. I still miss her every day but you have to make the best of it as you can.”

Although not the tallest of Ely’s towers, the Octagon, crowned by its Lantern Tower in wood, lead and glass, is considered the jewel in the cathedral crown.

Built in the 1320s in the wake of the collapse of the Norman tower, it is a masterpiece of medieval engineering and a continuing delight to the eye.

At 77, how much longer can Mr Buttifant keep on going? Well, he plans to keep on hitting the highs until a significant anniversary comes around.

He explained: “The Octagon is not part of the original tower. The cathedral is about 1,000 years old. On February 13, 1322, the central tower collapsed and, as a result, we have now got the spectacle of the Octagon and the Lantern. In 2022 it will be 700 years since the collapse. That’s what I want to aim for. I’d like to keep doing it until 2022, which will make me 82.”



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