Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Visit to Durham

At the beginning of this week, I went to Durham. This is the first time I have ever been out there, regardless of having been accepted to the University there. I considered that offer first, actually, before I ended up at York. Therefore, I was all the more curious to see the place.

The "city" is built on a hill overlooking the River Wear, but unlike York and the Ouse, the surroundings have maintained a certain natural beauty, probably because of the high embankments as opposed to the low, flat lands that surround the river in York.

The first picture here is a view of the countryside from the top of Durham Cathedral. Lots and lots of narrow steps, twisting around in a circle, but once you get up there, as you can see for yourself it is certainly worth it. I liked this side because of the green fields you can see on the hill.

Here is the Castle, which is right next to the Cathedral on the top of the hill. Today, it is actually a part of the University, and there are students who get to live in the keep here. I went on a tour guided by a history student, and the University seems to be a lot more formal than the University of York--it's been around longer, so kind of maintains some old traditions, like formal meals and surprisingly to me, a lot of student religious services. The best part, which you can't see here, was this incredible old Normal Chapel that was walled up about fifty years into the life of the first castle, and then rediscovered in the 19th century as completely in tact as time would allow. It was made of sandstone, so the interor was brownish in color, almost marble-like. It was also very dark, and you could see just how thick the walls really were--about six feet. We didn't get to see the inside of the keep here because of the student accomodations, unfortunately. The main buildings of the castles are actually off to the left beyond a Victorian reconstruction of a medieval gate system.

This is a view of the Cathedral, but you can only see this side if you stand on the other side of the river, which puts you at a rather low angle. It is Romanesque, which makes its architecture rather large and clunky, but certainly Norman in style. The columns on the inside are huge and the archways are rounded. There are a lot of windows in the towers that you can see here, but not so many along the sides of the building--not like the large, spacious Gothic style windows that make Gothic cathedrals feel so much lighter. The key features of the Cathedral, however, are the tombs of St. Cuthbert and Bede. Bede gets a box to himself on this side of the building inside a chapel. Apparently, his bones were stolen from Jarrow by the monks at Durham in the 11th century. Go figure. Anyway, St. Cuthbert was also "moved" here, but his tomb is more like a shrine on the other side of the cathedral. He is buried on an upper "level" beneath the floor there. There is also an exhibit that they called "The Treasures of St. Cuthbert," which was rather misleading because I thought it meant that there was more from his burial that was going to be on display. Instead, most of it, although impressive, was just comprised of some of the Cathedral's artifacts, like seals, manuscripts, and vestments. However, there were a few things that were specifically Cuthbert-oriented, such as a cross with a garnet inlaid in the middle--found on his body even though the majority of his treasures had been pillaged years before. There were also fragments of some kind of Byzantine cloth that covered his remains and a once silver covered portable altar. Most impressive was his coffin, wooden, original, and carved by the Anglo-Saxons with pictures of the apostles. It was in fragments, but the museum had put it back together so you could see it as it would have looked in box-form. It was a great visit, and a very impressive place (and very tiring given the 250 stairs to the tower).

This is a view from one of the bridges over the River Wear. In the distance is another bridge--a footbridge--that allows you access to the level the Cathedral and Castle are on. It was the usual cloudy British day, but regardless, you really can see how beautiful it is there with all the trees--in fact, I think this is the largest concentration of trees I had seen to date in England. I took a walk on the right side of the river along a footpath there, and it was fantastic. I followed it past that bridge to another one around that corner of trees you see back there.

Although Durham is small--smaller than York, I really liked the city. If I had been a more efficient planner, I would have stopped in Newcastle first--only another 25 minutes up the road by train, and then stopped by Durham on the way home to York so I could have seen both places, but it gives me an excuse to hop off the train again and see this place under perhaps some more sunny skies. It was definitely worth seeing.

Well, thank you, Cuthbert and Bede, for showing me your final resting place. It may not have been your first, but hey, you could definitely find a worse one for your last.


"Angeldust" said...

Well, this is one of those "I wish I were there" times.
You must have had a wonderful experience!

ellesappelle said...

Hi slskenyon

I've finally got around to looking at your blogs! Silly me, it didn't even occur to me for a while. I've really enjoyed reading through the last few entries in this one; I find it interesting hearing about England (where I've never been) from another foreigner's perspective but not a foreigner from the same country as me (although I have gone to the States but not New England).... if that makes sense!

dragonflyfilly said...

saw you at Angel's blog, and curious about the hat, (you look a bit like a quaker) came over for a quick boo...and just want to say that York is one of the places that i most like to visit...spent two days there in the 80s - travelled up by train from Horley, in Surrey, where i lived for two years before returning to Canada..the purpose of the visit was a tour of the steam museum, in particular the Rocket...i have been fascinated with anything steam since then! ...
love the photos on your blog, will be back to stroll through them at my leasure later...

cheers for now,

Ravenbajan said...

Great photos! I think that is so cool that students get to live in the castle keep as a dorm. I would have loved something like that.

travel plaza said...

Really cool pics, Also like your narrative. This is one blog I'll be visiting often.