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Durham: North East England

Ø July 16 Durham (Tuesday) Photo album here

After awakening with the phone alarm, I was still up and checked out in 35 minutes, away from the Park Inn and up a slight slope through road construction to the station in York. From the station, I needed to cross two pair-sets of tracks, with the choice of stairs to the overhead walkway, or a lift to the subway. Obviously, I used the latter, as I had on arrival. A Chinese couple and son got on with me, and the youngster insisted on hitting “Platform”, which kept opening the door. They exited, I hit “Subway”, rode down and got off to walk to the lift going up at the correct platform. Beat them by 10 minutes and never lifted my bag. (Same as with those women on arrival.)

The LNER train to Edinburgh was due in at 9:15, and I had a reserve seat for the hour run to #Durham. Boarding, I was able to stash my bag in the lower rack before coming to a double facing pair of 4 seats. I was seated with a younger couple and their 1-year old son (Hudson) as the train was near full with most going all the way north to Scotland. Out the windows was mainly agriculture. Hudson took his father off to the parlor car for sweets.

At Durham, the train arrives at the station after crossing a gorge over a high viaduct. Google Maps offered two routes, one away from the tracks and around/through a large park, the other under the tracks, as my hotel was right under the bridge. I chose the latter, shorter, route, and walked under the tracks twice before finding the pub/inn at a corner down half way to the base of the gorge. The door was locked, with no signs of life, so I began exploring and finally found an open door off the back alley. The cleaning staff had left it unlocked, so I was able to enter before official opening time of 11 and leave my bag.

Continuing down surface streets towards the Framewellgate Bridge over the River Wear, I was able to see the three tall towers of the cathedral high up on the opposite side of the river valley, as well as the walls of Durham Castle. The bridge is at the narrow neck of the oxbow in the river, giving the high vantage point a superior defensive location. A long narrow cobblestone roadway took me up past the castle entrance. At the Tourist Office I was able to get a walking map. At the large grass oval to the north of the (huge and massive) #DurhamCathedral, I began my walk-around, including a narrow stretch to the west where there was a steep drop towards the river.

Entering the Cathedral Church of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Cuthbert, I came into the Galilee Chapel and found I’d missed the first two tours of the day, at 10:30 and 11, so I bought a 2pm tour ticket, as well as access to the Open Treasury. At the west end of the nave, a large wooden carved cover is held up by columns over the baptismal font. The columns and arches separating the main aisle from those on the sides in the nave were thick, decorated Norman style, while the vault arches were middle English Gothic, supporting the stone ceiling. At the crossing, looking south to the end of the transept, a 17th century clock, removed by Victorians, has been restored, although a minute hand has been added.

Bishop Hatfield tomb and the cathedra

Into the quire, the aisle width seemed to diminish, the dark carved wooden stalls are on either side and etched organ pipes on the walls above them. Continuing to the high altar, on the south is the highly ornate tomb of Bishop Hatfield and a set of stairs to a platform over the tomb where the cathedra sits (access blocked by a carved gate.) At the east end of the sanctuary, a simple altar sits on a marble platform.

Returning through the quire entrance, passing by the stunning marble pulpit, I proceeded to the tower steps. The tower, with 325 steps to the top, was apparently unregulated, as I took off at 12:30 on my own. At the top, I was able to look south to the chapter house facing into the cloister, and the east end with its four thin spires. Looking down to the west, the twin towers anchored that end before the precipitous drop into the river gorge. While enjoying the brilliant sun and spectacular views, I struck up a conversation with an American woman who had recently been widowed. Lisa included our encounter in her blog, where I’m mentioned briefly.

Descending after three-quarters of an hour, I spent the intervening half hour before the floor tour in the south transept and east end, the quire and the nave, before meeting Mike, our tour guide under the central tower vault. I’m sure I asked, but I didn’t get to climb the stairs over the tomb for a picture of the throne. The very thorough tour ended back in the Galilee Chapel and the tomb of the Venerable Bede. Several of us were curious to add-on a trip to the cloister, where Mike pointed out the memorial plaque and heraldic shield of John Washington, a forefather of the U.S. first president.

From there I used my Open Treasury ticket to climb a floor and see the smaller pieces of history that are housed at the cathedral. No photography is permitted therein. After seeing the exhibit, I stayed on in the cloister; I enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine for a bit as I walked the quadrangle. Finally exiting through the shop, I passed their completed Lego model. In the shop I picked up my souvenir trinket, a brass door knocker which I have yet to put on my front door.

Walking back outside, it was a half hour before Evensong, so I went into the nave and sat, journaled a bit, and enjoyed listening to the laymen’s choir rehearse. In my notes I reported that the chapter house had been closed, the cloister green was not accessible, and there were many Americans evident (both Yanks and Canadians.) I’d been advised to try to get to Wharton Fields for a good view of the cathedral from across the river valley. Evensong was lovely, with 6 men singing all in Latin, including a brief anthem by Tallis: Te lucis ante terminum. As I walked out the nave, I took a number of pictures of modern stained-glass windows which I’d missed doing on my multiple rounds.

Surveying dining options as I descended the hill below the castle, I continued across the river and climbed up to the viaduct pediment and the Bridge Hotel. Asking about Wharton Fields over a half pint, I was told it was closer than a taxi ride, just up the hill across the street. But there was some discussion as to how soon it would close. Chugging my ale, I grabbed my camera and hoofed it up around the bend looking for an entrance and stairs up into the walled park. A quick walk over wandering paths, I finally found a route up to an east facing hilltop, fearful that a member of the local constabulary would be directing me to leave promptly. While I got great shots, I lusted to be able to walk the railroad bridge with the sun coming over my shoulder – an even better view, I was sure.

Slowly walking out of the park, unsure of how to reach where I’d entered, I passed the Heritage Centre and Café in the center of the park, as well as some sculpture. Returning to the Hotel, I had another half pint of Razor Back, and then a pint of Circadian, both slightly amber IPAs. I’d seen Halloumi on so many menus I finally asked for it: it’s a Greek variation on mozzarella, slightly harder and saltier, and almost always served warm or grilled.

A nice pub, and the food offerings were serviceable, but I had a craving for Italian. Back down the hill through the west side of town, nothing appealed to me, so I crossed the river again and began the slow ascent under the walls of the castle. With Italian restaurants opposite, I checked the menus, selecting the one with the less conventional offerings. (Burgers and steaks were my “avoid flags.”) A glass of house white proved to have a slight pinkish tinge, with a slightly fruity edge. It went well with my starter, a special of scallops, salmon and tarragon. For the carbonara tagliatelle and asparagi Modena, a wonderful glass of Montalpulciano was the right accompaniment. The starter and vegetables, both daily specials, were splendid.

As I returned, crossing the river, the flow had stilled, giving nice reflections. Climbing the single narrow flight of stairs to my room (#5) where my bag awaited, I waited for last call and the smokers below my window to disburse before opening my window. With only a single available plug jack, I was juggling chargings through the night as I dealt with my attempts to rehydrate. At least there was enough floor space, a good-sized bathroom, and an extra chair, which had lower functionality due to low wattage lighting.

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