Wednesday, 21 December 2016


Durham was new to me. When I was little, we had a quilt that came from there, but I didn't associate it with a city, it was just the name of the quilt. I'm glad I added it to my list, though, because it is a very beautiful place. 

And boy is it easy to navigate! My first port of call was the cathedral, and as soon as I alighted from the train, I could see it, nestled in fog on the top of the hill over yonder. I had pulled out a map but there was, thankfully, no need, and I could focus on the more important task of looking around at the scenery. 

I'd reached out to people for some recommendations for Durham, and wasn't disappointed. I had a list just long enough to fill the five hours before my final trains to Carlisle. I had been given suggestions of tourist attractions (Cathedral, Castle), places to walk (bridges), a bookshop (The People's Bookshop) and a place for a good lunch (Vennels). So, I set off up the hill, taking several tiny side alleys and steps that reminded me of mountain villages in Italy, and of the back passage around some of the Oxford colleges. By the time I reached the square by the castle, I had decided that the walking boots were about to come into their own, and took a pew to change them. And to shed a few hundred layers. I was wrong about the coldness factor in the North. It was, in fact, warmer in Durham on the top of a hill, than it had been in Birmingham. Concerning, to say the least. 

On the front door of the cathedral, I found something extremely useful. The Sanctuary Knocker, once knocked, would allow a person 37 days of sanctuary in the cathedral under the guise of a monk-like robe. This was a wonderful find for someone writing a novel about a person trying to escape somewhere...I made copious notes. 

After taking in the cathedral (and, of course, the giftshop), I wandered into the Palace Green Library. There was a poster outside for an exhibition all about people who hear voices, which I decided was definitely worth investigating. 

The exhibition includes the various interpretations of 'hearing voices' from the divine, to the creative, to the benign, and the harmful. But the overarching theme was that hearing voices is not necessarily a sign of mental ill health, that it is a fundamental part of the human condition. For example, internal monologues are heard as voices, and some, me included, do voices in their head for various things when reading. There are other voices, perhaps more sinister ones, and the exhibition tackled those too. It was fascinating, and I came out of it realising that my internal workings are not so unusual. 

The sun was setting by this point, and I had 2 hours before my train. My stomach had some very specific ideas about what I should be doing next, so I headed down towards Vennels. And, as predicted by the person who recommended it, I missed it entirely. It, along with the People's Bookshop' is down a tiny little alleyway that looks like it might be someone's back garden or access for their house. 

I made a pitstop in the bookshop on my way, struggling up the stairs with my ever-increasingly-heavy bag (I should not have bought maple syrup in glass bottles in Manchester), and found myself in a small attic room filled with bookshelves and socialist memorabilia. And an old man, who was obviously a regular, taking the weight off his feet and telling the person behind the counter (who was trying very hard not to listen) that if things got much worse, he'd have to go back to eating squirrels. I purchased 'An oral history of the female working classes' and a conference proceedings paper from a conference on women in 1974. Both seemed like great things to use for future research of novels and stories, and I wanted to support the bookshop and its ethos. Afterwards I bought myself a doorstop sandwich and a piece of chocolate cake in Vennels, before wending my way back up the hills and stairs to the station. 

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