Sunday, 5 October 2008 Moving day, the first of many. I leave Hexham under clear skies, but with some regrets--I never
did get back to the abbey. Always something for next time.
It's only about thirty miles to Durham [Wikipedia], another place I've been to before. The old part of town stands on a promontory within a hangman's noose of a loop in the Wear River. (The greater region is sometimes referred to as Tyne and Wear; my twisted mind posits that there ought to be a local newspaper called the Tyne & Wear Daily. If you don't understand why that's funny, don't worry about it.) I park on a side street across the river, below the cathedral, and walk across one of the three bridges leading onto the peninsula. The parking meters are inactive on Sundays, so there is no need to worry about the time.
Durham's history, at least as a significant place, dates to 995, when a group of monks wandering about the countryside with St Cuthbert's mortal remains passed by. (He'd been dead over 300 years...it's a long story.) Legend has it that they encountered a local milkmaid in search of her dun cow, leading them to what seemed a perfect spot for a shrine and monastic community. Durham Cathedral itself was begun in 1093, the main work being completed in forty years. It's considered the most complete and integral Norman cathedral in Britain, an architectural marvel. It survived the Reformation essentially by converting--the Benedictine prior became the first dean, and a dozen monks became canons. Well done, lads.
I peruse the marketplace at the lower end of town before working my way up toward the cathedral. The downside of Sunday: there are services, of course, and access is limited, although I do manage to see the Venerable Bede's tomb, which I somehow missed last time I was here. The tower is not open at all. Worst of all, no interior photography is allowed--I don't recall that from the previous visit. I'll have to go back and check to see if I have photos. There's a sign noting that the total operating budget of the cathedral is £60,000 a week. No admission is charged, but donation is encouraged. Sorry, no photos, no donation.
I enjoy a stroll around town, and back by the car, notice a pub called the Dun Cow, after the legendary beast of the city's founding, across the street. A half of Cumberland seems in order. Cozy little place, with a very pretty red-haired barmaid, a student at the university.
Drive south from Durham into the North York Moors, passing through Great Broughton, a village I stayed in once. The B&B is still there, but the hotel across the street has been converted to flats. Eastward I drive into Eskdale. You couldn't build a prettier countryside with fractal software. I stop in Castleton to soak up some atmosphere, thinking I might like to stay in this area sometime in the future. I also soak up a half of Landlord at the Downe Arms. I've been suffering from a cold, and I'm sorry to say that even this, my favorite beer in the UK, doesn't really taste very good. No matter, it's a pleasant stop.
Into Whitby [Wikipedia], at the mouth of the Esk, where I find my guesthouse after a bit of fumbling around. Exploring, I find Whitby to be the sort of seaside holiday town that I generally have a hard time with. On a Sunday evening in October, it's a bit of a chore to find a pub serving dinner. (Reading back in my journal, I find I had the same problem last year in Llandudno.) I find the Shambles, recommended in the Good Beer Guide, and it's a handsome warehouse conversion overlooking the harbor; but it's empty, and the kitchen is closed. Finally get a bite in the Resolution. It's quiet in town, in the weird sort of way that only a place that isn't usually quiet can be...not utterly dead, but many of the hotels and amusements are closed up for the season. To be honest, I'd probably like the place even less with the summer crowds. I'm always looking for the seam, that narrow bit of slope between the summer and winter plateaus; busy enough to be interesting without having to elbow through crowds. That's the ideal, and it's a major reason that travel in October appeals to me. The point of perfect equilibrium can be elusive, especially in a town like this. But given the choice, I'd take quiet over bustle any time, so I suppose I oughtn't complain.