“There’s a lot of history there,” the receptionist at the Indigo Hotel in Durham told us, “ parts of Harry Potter were filmed in the Cathedral, you know. You’ll enjoy it!”
Not quite the comment we had in mind for our first visit to this beautiful cathedral. We were on our way to join friends for a few days at Cragside near Rothbury in Northumberland.
Durham Cathedral is one of those places that you always mean to visit and when you do, you wonder why it’s taken so long to get round to. It is simply magnificent. How many times have trains to and from Edinburgh paused there with the cathedral dominating the skyline and beckoning us for too long ignored?
“Durham was amongst the first locations in Britain to be awarded the UNESCO World Heritage status. Today Canterbury also has it but they are the only two. Durham got it because it’s the only place in Britain where Norman architecture still exists as it was first built. In other words it never went Gothic.”
So we were told by a trusty guide.
“There were just over 20 building projects ordered by William the Conqueror when he arrived. All bar Durham were built with flat wooden roofs. You can see the type in the Galilee Chapel. [Annexed to the west end of the cathedral] The area around Jarrow was the ‘silicon valley’ of the Saxon world. They we’re building stone churches while others were using wood and thatch, got stained glass from Italy, and a Precentor from Rome to teach the Irish monks how to sing the liturgy. So, not far fetched for them to experiment with a vaulted ribbed roof. It was the first ever in Europe, and crucially predated St Denis, in Paris by 50 years. As a result, it never needed repair, nearly always the pretext for going Gothic. Just an interesting note, We refer to the architecture that followed Romanesque, as Gothic. The medieval masons referred to it as Opus Francigenum – French Work. It was only in the 17th Century they began to use the term Gothic.”
The Galilee Chapel is beautiful. Bede is buried there and it shows clear evidence of the influence of the Mezquita in Córdoba – replicated in the Norman style.
The Nave with its gigantic pillars is inspiring in its proportions and simplicity and we look forward to another more detailed visit with Friend Cathy who knows the building inside out.
We met Cathy and Friend Natalie for lunch at the Potted Lobster, under the loom of Bamburgh Castle, home of the Armstrong family, whose Estate at Cragside, Rothbury we stayed on for three days and were on our way to visit. Never mind the weather!
Cragside Manor was the home of William Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong, founder of the Armstrong Whitworth armaments firm. An industrialist, scientist, philanthropist and inventor of the hydrolic crane and the Armstrong gun. Armstrong also displayed his inventiveness in the domestic sphere, making Cragside the first house in the world to be lit using hydroelectric power. The estate was technologically advanced; the architect of the house, Richard Norman Shaw, wrote that it was equipped with “wonderful hydraulic machines that do all sorts of things”. In the grounds, Armstrong built dams and lakes to power a sawmill, a water-powered laundry, early versions of a dishwasher and a dumb waiter, a hydraulic lift and a hydroelectric rotisserie.
Storm Arwen put the kybosh on a thorough investigation and Omicron too. It swept through Scotland and Northumberland in November doing terrible damage. That and Omicron closed much of the Estate and the Manorhouse was also closed. There was a lot of damage evident.
The house reminds me of Citizen Kane and Xanadu or Hearst’s San Simeon. Cragside lours down on the Coquet Valley, peering through the tall conifers; quite creepy in some ways, a little fairy tale-like, magical almost and it was a great disappointment no to look inside though some of the enormous estate was open to wander through.
It was sunny but cold. The house on the Estate, Park Cottage, took some warming up once we’d moved into it; but was enormous and very comfortable – our base for three nights.
To Kielder Water National Park the next day, an overcast chilly one, to enjoy the rugged grandeur of the park where walking was once again hindered by huge fallen conifers, blocked pathways and closure signs. A bleak but beautiful part of England – even in winter, specially in winter I should say. Nothing open here in the way of pubs or eateries, just not enough passing trade. Emptiness and peace.
On the last morning we parted at the gates, Cathy and Natalie for Thirsk and Tony and I for the five hours to Mistley in time to pack up for Madeira. Thank you Friends for a special break. We want to return in the summer to do Durham Cathedral properly and Cragside’s interior, formal gardens – the Rhododendrons should be out in June.
And here we are at Ponto da Cruz in Funchal, wintering until the middle of March.
I’ve been trying to use my blog as a sort of diary, to keep up with things, in an effort not to forget; to be able to page back and remind myself of the journeys and times we have shared together. I started this website almost two years ago to keep in touch with Friends during the pandemic when we were closed down.
I’ve also tried to edit some of our other journeys into stories that would remind us and perhaps intrigue you and here is my first effort. It’s a letter to my Mother & Father written in 1999 after we had completed a fascinating journey to Egypt which turned out to be the first of many journeys in the 21st Century. Please do have a look if you’d like – there will of course be the usual multiple choice exam in due course and tests for the Pedro-of-the-Green League Tables. And, as usual, you will be able to complete them online! No stationery or pencils needed of any kind.