Since arriving in Durham last September, I have increasingly fallen in love with her. You might recall a similar sentiment (from Notes from a Small Island, 1995, cf. Amazon) famously penned by Bill Bryson (who in addition to being a brilliant author is Chancellor of Durham University):
I got off at Durham... and fell in love with it instantly in a serious way. Why, it's wonderful - a perfect little city... If you have never been to Durham, go there at once. Take my car. It's wonderful.
I couldn't agree more (and entering by train from the south is especially spectacular). I might also add that a recent re-reading of Bryson's book has taken on a whole new level of understanding/identification since living in the UK! (If you are an expatriate living in the UK and haven't read it - you really must.) So back to beautiful Durham - here are five of my most favourite places (I'll spare you my poor adaptation of Rodger and Hammerstein's My Favourite Things).
1. Framwellgate Bridge (cf. map)
I cross this bridge at least twice a day and never get tired of the view. As one of the key pedestrian entrances to 'old' Durham, you are immediately drawn into the very heart of this majestic town, with the Wear flowing and buskers performing. Even though I cross here everyday, I cannot help but peer from the edge to look over the River Wear with its changing landscape and towering Cathedral. The outlook over the last seven months has been an immense delight including autumn trees, a snow-capped cathedral, a frozen (!) river, and now - green, floral river banks. Yet, even when the winter fog blocks the view of the cathedral, there is an enduring sense of stability and community that abounds in this place. More photos from the bridge.
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2. The Bailey (cf. map)
There is something incredibly enchanting about strolling down the Bailey. Forming the spine of 'old' Durham, this quaint street connects the marketplace (well technically the North Bailey connects to South Bailey which connects to Saddler Street and then the Marketplace - but it's really one long street!) to numerous colleges (Hatfield, St Chad's, St John's), Palace Green (inclusive of the Cathedral and Castle), schools, bridge to student centre, and a few restaurants (of highly variable quality, colloqially described as 'cheap and cheerful'). Even with the required dodging of parent-traffic during school time, I never get tired of walking along here. Try heading south along the Bailey with Google Street View, starting here (note Dun Cow Lane leading to Palace Green and the Department of Theology and Religion), looking west to the cathedral, and stopping at St John's College.
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3. South-East end, Durham Cathedral (cf. map)
The Durham Cathedral is of course spectacular, but it is the south-east end which is my favourite spot. Primarily this is because of Fenwick Lawson's masterpiece Pietá. This alluring work conveys visually what is so difficult in mere words. Bathed each day in afternoon light through the expansive stained-glass windows, it is common to find artists sketching or painting Lawson's sculpture. Personally, I love being able to sit, pray, and contemplate in this ancient place of worship. Unfortunately/fortunately (depending how you view it), photography is not allowed in the cathedral (except for educational purposes) so I am grateful to the photographer above for the use of their photo. From besides the Pietá:
This sculpture of the Pietá aims to embody a duality of meaning: death and resurrection. Death is perceived through the brutalised crucified body. The bruised bent knees show the history of events of the dismembered unformed arm adds to this discomfort. Resurrection and life are expressed through the lifting arm and the dynamic of the hand, stretched out to the mother (“John, behold your mother”). The unpolished brass, which is a potential vehicle for light and a metaphor for life, is meant to reinforce this and signifies the transfiguration.
4. St John's College Library (cf. map)
Whilst by no means the largest library of the university, the college library is a wonderful environment to work in. Even having fallen down the narrow stairs in January (my ankle is still sore at times!), this place has lost no charm on me! Just as Framwellgate Bridge has been an opportunity to see the seasonal changes enveloping Durham, I particularly love sitting at a carrel on the mezzanine and appreciating the gardens outside. More photos from the library.
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5. Wharton Park Lookout (cf. map)
My wife and I only discovered this spot in the last few months and love going on walks here several times each week. Besides having gardens full of flowers (the daffodils looked amazing a few weeks ago), the lookout has an even more spectacular view of Durham than when you first arrive by train (primarily because it is actually perched above the train station). It is one of the best views of the cathedral, extending out beyond the city precinct to the green fields and wind farms. Just a lovely spot to 'take it all in' and appreciate the beauty of a special town.
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