Durham Cathedral

Thursday : Lingering look at windows, week 25

A rainy day on Durham Cathedral roof looking down on the Castle

A rainy day on Durham Cathedral roof, looking down on the Castle.

Maybe not quite window in the conventional sense, but I could, and did, look through it.  Some of you wandered Durham’s riverbanks with me earlier this week, and I make no apologies for taking you back again today.

It’s quite a special week for Durham because the Lindisfarne Gospels have been returned, for a short while, to their rightful home in the north east.  Created 1,300 years ago, in honour of St. Cuthbert, they are on loan from the British Library and will be on display until 30th September.  Palace Green, in front of the Cathedral, is a deservedly beautiful location.  Ticket sales are booming.  The link above will show you why.   Meantime, a few more Durham windows.

How lucky are the students at Durham University?  They get to use the castle as “digs” and dine in the fabulous Great Hall.  Taking photos isn’t allowed but I would suggest you take the tour if you’re in Durham to see the Gospels.  It’s bookable in the same building.  My post Discovering Durham will give you a lot more information.

Next week I shall be gazing through some real windows in the Algarve, so won’t be taking part in this challenge.  But I expect I’ll have a few shots to bring back.

Off now to check out the other entries at Lingering Visions.  Have you a few windows you’d like to share?  Dawn will be delighted.

Discovering Durham

My husband can’t understand how or why I haven’t written more about the city of Durham.  It’s one of our favourite places for strolling (what’s more alluring than a river bank?), and beautiful in all seasons.  One of the many reasons we fell in love with Tavira in the Eastern Algarve was that it reminded us in some unspoken way of Durham: the churches, the river, the many places to eat, and to drink in lovely views.

Milburngate Bridge and the Weir- credit Wikipedia

Of course Durham is bigger and more cosmopolitan, and can’t compete when it comes to weather and beaches.  It doesn’t need to.  The 11th century Castle and Norman Cathedral, linked by Palace Green, have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.  It was very fitting that at the recently staged Lumiere Festival, the Lindisfarne Gospels were projected onto the south face of the Cathedral.  The origins of today’s city can be traced back to AD995, when a group of monks from Lindisfarne chose this highly defensible “island on a hill” as the final resting place of St Cuthbert.

Legend of the Dun Cow on the South face of the Cathedral- credit Rebecca Kennison for Wikipedia

The River Wear surrounds Durham on three sides.  The place name derives from Old English “dun”, a hill, and Norse “holme”, an island.  The Legend of the Dun Cow is depicted in a carving on the Cathedral’s south face, adjoining Dun Cow Lane, known to be one of the earliest streets in the city.  The story goes that the homeless monks carrying the coffin were mysteriously brought to a halt, unable to move, close by the present site of the city.  After 3 days of prayer and fasting, St Cuthbert appeared to one of the monks with the instruction that he be “carried to Dun Holm”.  The whereabouts of this place was unknown to the monks, but a milkmaid arrived later that day, and claimed to be searching for her “dun cow”, last seen at Dun Holm.  Recognising this as a sign of divine intervention, the monks suddenly were able to move the coffin, and follow her.

“Miner’s vests” in Durham Cathedral at Lumiere 2012

Today’s cathedral is an awesome space, usually busy with tourists, unlike the modest one erected by the monks.  St Cuthberts relics are still enshrined here, as are the bones of St Bede the Venerable.

Castle Keep and Dun Cow Lane- credit Robin Widdison for Wikipedia

Durham Castle is a fine example of the motte and bailey style favoured by the Normans.  In continuous use for over 900 years, it remains the only castle in the UK never to have been breached.   Now home to Durham University, guided castle tours lasting 45 minutes can be arranged, afternoons in term-time and mornings during vacations.

Durham Traditional Christmas Festival, the first weekend in December, sees Durham get in party mode. (free on Friday, admission charge to the marquees and craft fair on Palace Green, Saturday and Sunday)  Children’s events take place at the World Heritage Visitor Centre on Owengate over the weekend, with falconry and balloon making as well as the more traditional reindeer.  The children’s lantern procession takes place on Saturday afternoon, and Christmas Carols in the cathedral are always a bit special. www.durhamchristmasfestival.com

Cathedral in the snow

Despite its heritage and historical buildings, Durham is not a stuffy place.  The student population keeps it young and lively, and also keeps the prices down in the rich variety of cafes and restaurants.  There’s an indoor market off Market Place, for “cheap as chips”, and an Oxfam bookstore over 3 storeys, where I love to curl up in a corner and browse.

My food of choice tends to be Italian and over the years I’ve thoroughly enjoyed La Spaghettata, upstairs at 66 Saddler St.  The décor is quite individual and the menu extensive.  Quite different but also a favourite, especially if you can get the window seat to spy on shoppers down below, is De Medici on Elvet Bridge.  When it comes to cafes you really are spoilt but I especially like The Almshouses on Palace Green, surrounded by lovely university buildings.  There’s always a choice of homemade soups and oh those cakes and puddings!  The artwork on the walls is good for conversation too.

If you’ve walked through the cathedral and cloisters, don’t neglect the Dean and Chapter area at the reverse.  It’s one of the loveliest and most peaceful spots in Durham.

Durham Regatta- credit Wikipedia

The river can be pretty peaceful too.  Coxless fours glide effortlessly past, while less coordinated efforts come from the families in rowing boats.  The river truly comes to life in June when Durham Regatta provides enormous enjoyment for everyone.   Best riverside moment this year just has to be the vapour “waterfall” streaming from Kingsgate Bridge during “Lumiere”.  Splash! by Peter Lewis of Canada provided all the magic you could want.  I loved that lone canoeists roamed the water at sunset, waiting for the moment when they could paddle “through the waterfall”.

"Splash" created by Peter Lewis of Canada

Durham is a compact, easily walkable city, with excellent bus and rail transport links.  For drivers there are 3 Park and Ride facilities, making life easy.  My husband says not to tell you, but we always park for free, by the playground at the top of Wharton Park, and walk down past the viaduct.  It’s a steep climb back up though.

So there you have it- the Durham I know and love.  As good a place to do your Christmas shopping as anywhere you could find.

“Lumiere 2011″ was special. You can read more about it in  http://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/celebrating-light-with-durham/

Celebrating light with Durham

The Waterfall

The Waterfall

When a city you know and love hosts an international event you just have to be there.  Never mind if the result is a black eye.  It’s called suffering for your art?

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral and the weir

In late Autumn’s fading light we wandered along the riverbank awaiting the moment of revelation.  So many times we had strolled these ancient cobbled streets but this evening something strange was in the air.

Flying man

Flying man

He and his many friends hovered above us, saying little but seeing much.  Slowly the light faded, the sense of anticipation building.

Cathedral spires

Cathedral spires

Durham County Council had worked overtime to provide a festival guide with a route map around the 35 installations.  As 6.30 approached we joined the shuffling crowds on Palace Green to await a spectacle that would stay with us forever.  The street lights dimmed and we collectively held our breath.

Flushed red

The Cathedral face flushed with red

Music crashed into the hush and a flood of red illuminated the front portal of the Cathedral.  Wave upon wave of images followed, their theme the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The Gospels So hard to capture, without specialist equipment, the drama unrolling before us.  “Crown of light” its formal title, had been recalled by popular demand from the previous Lumiere Festival in 2009 and it was very easy to see why.  I cannot begin to do it justice here but maybe you can gain some appreciation from www.lumieredurham.co.uk

When silence descended again it was time to set off on a voyage of discovery.  The street lights remained off to maximise the effects, which made negotiating the riverbank a little tricky.  But the views were spectacular.

The snow dome

The snow dome

One of our favourites had to be “I love Durham” in the Market Place.  The Marquess of Londonderry statue was captive inside an enormous snow dome, the like of which I have never seen.  I couldn’t conceive how such a thing was possible and the magic of the whirling snow flakes enthralled the crowd.

So much more was there to see.  We lingered beneath the towering illuminated viaduct as trains slipped across, seeming not to wish to disturb the soundtrack to the patterns created on the side wall of the North Rd Methodist Church.  Up the steps to the Gala Theatre, head swivelling to take it all in.

And then disaster befell.  My eye was caught by “60 second Cathedral”, a Polish projection of skydivers on the Claypath Library.  Triumphantly I gestured to my partner, before tumbling head over heels over a concrete block.

Thank you to the people who scrambled to put me back together again.  Michael looked more dazed than I felt!  I was just gratefull that my fall had come at the end of our  tour and we could go home with the memories intact.