Day 9:  Durham, York


Day 9 Photos (44)

Breakfast in the dining room was nearly full English—minus the baked beans. That was okay.  As we drove into Durham, just a few minutes away from Chiltern, we took Rick Steve’s advice and headed for the large mall close to city center, since parking in their garage was much easier than on the street. It was disorienting to walk through retail spaces that we had been assiduously avoiding. Hank strolled past the prefect travel hat, but couldn’t bring himself to wait in line and pay for it. We found it again on the way back to the car and he wore it from then on.

Durham is a hill city, with the castle and cathedral perched on the highest point overlooking a bend in the River Wear. Narrow pathways squiggled off the main roads, winding down to the water or up to the hilltop. We walked slowly in an uphill direction, sure we’d reach something interesting in a few moments, and enjoying the buskers (a young and enthusiastic lot) on the way.

We reached the tourist information center just in time to purchase and join the next tour of the castle, the only way to see inside it.  The castle was built on the orders of William the Conqueror, beginning in 1072, for the purpose of defense against the Scots and his own (reluctant) subjects. His offensive became known as “the Harrying of the North.” The castle is now a dormitory for students attending Durham University, so there was much of it off-limits and no photos were allowed. We saw quite a few artifacts, some dating as far back as the 8th century. On one end of the castle was a 3-story staircase that visibly sloped to the west, in spite of the addition of supporting columns in recent centuries. The original builders had not reckoned on the weight of stone involved in the open-plan stair construction.

William also created what he called a Prince-Bishop position, combining both secular and religious powers in one man, an effective means of controlling the situation in the "unruly" north and the only place in England with such an office. As was the case with every structure we visited, changes to both exterior and interior have occurred over the centuries. Recognizing the basic design elements of each architectural era proved both challenging and rewarding.

On our way to the cathedral across a green space, we noticed a plaque on a large stone building that read: Bishop Cosin’s Almhouses, 1666 replacing Bishop Langley’s Song and Grammar Schools 1414.

Durham Cathedral, one of our gotta-get-there sites, is the grandest example of a Norman religious edifice in Great Britain. An Anglo-Saxon church sat on this ground to house the bones of St. Cuthbert for about a century. His bones were transferred in 1104 to the newly built cathedral. And The Venerable Bede (d.735, author of the first history of England) is also entombed here. Oh, and this is where segments of Harry Potter were filmed—we were told especially the corridor outside the Chapter House.

But before we poked around inside and climbed the tower (325 steps), we needed to stoke the fires within, and ate in the restaurant tucked into the vaulted undercroft. And ogled the fund-raising genius of a lego version of the cathedral. For a pound you can buy one lego and place it (under supervision) to contribute to the project. Complete with little construction characters perched here and there.

We paid a few pounds to climb the tower, left our bags with the docents, and set up the very narrow stone (of course) circular stairs to the sky. One other person huffed and puffed up with us, but headed back down rather soon. We enjoyed the views and all the masonry marvels all alone up there and then a father-daughter duo appeared through the small doorway onto the roof of the tower. I offered to take their photo if they'd take ours. They answered in English and said they had just hiked 5 days in the scenic Lake District. Asked where we were from, we always answered “Seattle.” These folks countered with “We’re from Port Townsend.” So we fessed up that we’re actually from Poulsbo (even closer to Port Townsend). The man is attorney for the port up there. There went another free download card!

We headed back to the car, slipping in to have a proper English high tea just as the tea shoppe was closing inside the shopping mall, and Hank nabbed his new travel hat. We pulled out of the parking lot about 5pm. Traffic was as white-knuckle as always, and we took a circuitous route out of town thanks to roundabout woes, which we repeated on the approach to our hotel outside York, but arrived about 7:30pm. Greeted by a smiling receptionist and a mini-pub in the lobby. Went next door to the local carvery for a full-on dinner with 4 kinds of meat, all sorts of sides and the genuine article Yorkshire Pudding.  Hank allowed as how it was really just a vehicle for the gravy—he was right, but I still loved it. And the chatter around us was thick with Yorkshire accents. This was clearly a popular gathering spot for locals, so we stayed as quiet as possible and just listened. It was great.

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