Sunday, 6 December 2009


Susan and I had a rare trip out together today to the -I swear you'll never guess- the Durham Christmas Festival. If you look closely at the picture you could almost see it if it wasn't for the fact that this is a bog-standard picture of Durham which is, I believe and rightly so, famous writer's Bill Bryson's favourite city in the whole of the country if not the world. Although the festival takes place throughout the city over three days (today being the last), the centre of it is a massive marquee on the square in front of the Cathedral. If you look to the bottom left of tower you'll see an arched doorway and in front of it is where the marquee stands.

We couldn't have gone there yesterday as there were tailbacks for ridiculous distances to even get into the city from early on. Brother in law Nick and family went but took the park and ride from a mile outside Durham. Instead we went today, arriving about 10.15 and getting a parking space in a street only a few hundred yards from the Cathedral. Up steep narrow streets mind, but who cares when they involve crossing an ancient stone bridge over the river with the Cathedral (and if you're wondering why I'm capitalising Cathedral all the time it's because it's one of the most beautful buildings in Europe, if not the world) rising majestically to the left. I've been visiting Durham City all my life and I never tire of visiting the city and the Cathedral. Atheist I may be, but I appreciate beauty and I also appreciate the importance of how much places like Durham  Cathedral and the works of the monks therin -not to mention the monasteries of north eastern England such as Lindisfarne and Sunderland -the north side of the River Wear at Sunderland is not known as Monkwearmouth for nothing- had on preserving knowledge during the Dark and early Middle Ages.

Here's another photo of Durham. Our car is just past the bottom of the bridge and just up the street in front of the hotel where the perspective draws your eyes. The view the other way is more interesting.

Here's another one. God, I love this place. Never mind the quality, count the bookshops (even if half of them seem to be Waterstones).

As I said, the marquee was massive and totally packed with well over a hundred (the publicity says 150 but that might be for the city as a whole) arts, crafts, charity, local drink (hot mulled wine £2.00 a cup but alas too early for me), cakes, sweets (fudge it mostly seems) and food stalls. The place was quite full, though not as full as it would be an hour later when we left, and we wandered slowly along checking out stuff but not buying anything (apart from me with a couple of packets of speciality sausages and a carton of sun-dried tomatoes; did I mention the food stalls?). Susan talked to a couple of stallholders as she sussed out whether or not it might be a good idea if Animal Krackers had a stall here next year -answer: absolutely (this seems to be, in contemporary English, a multi-syllabled synonym for 'yes'.

To the Cathedral for a brief wander around its hallowed majesty absorbing the enshrouding atmosphere of tranquillity, followed by coffee and shared cheese scone in the Cathedral coffee shop. Then out onto the  thronged steep winding narrow city streets where we visited obscure specialist shops with strange names such as Marks & Spencer and BHS. And thence home. A nice morning out.

I say farewell for this post with another picture.

Post Script

Forgot to mention that we bought a catnip mouse from a cat rescue charity stall. Arriving home, I tossed it on the living room floor and went upstairs. A little while later I found Leo our ginger cat rolling over with the catnip mouse in his jaws watched closely by three other cats waiting for the opportunity to get it off him. Later, when I put it on top of a radiator to dry, Ted the chunky black and white cat jumped up and lay on top of it as he quite obviously enjoyed the smell of the drying herbs.

Memo to self: buy more catnip mice, sit back, and watch the fun.

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