The delights of Durham

For over 1,000 years, Durham has played an important role in keeping the Vikings or the Scots from invading England, and being a northern stronghold for the crown – no matter who was wearing it.

Here, it’s all about the cathedral and the castle, conveniently located around the Palace Green. The castle is now part of Durham University, the third-oldest in England, and – like Oxford and Cambridge – a collection of colleges scattered around the town. The Normans originally appointed “Prince Bishops” to rule over this part of the realm, and each left its mark on the castle.

Neither the castle nor the cathedral allowed interior photographs – much to my chagrin – so any you see here are lifted from the obliging internet. We took a guided tour of the castle and admired its Norman chapel and other remains of that period, its Tudor chapel and its Hogwarts-style dining hall. Not our university experience…

Then, across the green, is stunning Durham Cathedral.

Considered the best Norman architecture in England, the cathedral began in 995 as a church to house the body of St. Cuthbert, one of those incorruptibles, who is the centerpiece of what became a huge cathedral, founded in 1093.

In addition to the body of St. Cuthbert, the church also houses the tomb of the Venerable Bede, regarded as the greatest of all the Anglo-Saxon scholars. He wrote around 40 books mainly dealing with theology and history. This monk’s most famous work was completed in 731 and is the first work of history in which the AD system of dating is used. Bede died in his monastery cell in May 735.

The church would probably take a lifetime of study, but we tried to admire every corner of it during our brief visit.

And then there was the town itself, with its market square, unique alleys with courtyards hiding behind them, medieval bridges and the busy atmosphere of a lively modern city. We liked this place.

Don’s Food Corner

Ducking into a narrow passageway to a cluster of buildings and shops hiding behind a larger shop facing the main street of town, we found a charming little restaurant serving traditional English dishes — like jacket potatoes. Jo started with the soup of the day, tomato and basil. Then she went onto the jacket potato with cheddar cheese, accompanied by little sides of chutney and salad.

I went for the salad of pear, Stilton cheese and walnuts. All this was on top of some iceberg lettuce. The generous serving of Stilton along with the pear juice was all the dressing that was provided for the lettuce, and it tasted great. We shared everything and it was a great range of flavors. Although all of these choices would be considered “traditional,” I’d say that things have come a long way in England from 40-some years ago when we first visited. Maybe the ingredients available are fresher than had been four decades ago? Imported from other countries in the EU?  Oops. Hope Brexit doesn’t change things to put “traditional” English dishes back in the Dark Ages.

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