Monday, 3 March 2014

Durham, Hadrian's Wall, and York

How the hell is it already March?! Where did the time go?? Things have been crazy busy for me the last couple weeks, and I honestly think it’ll be just as insane up until spring break. I had a daytrip to Durham, flat trip to Hadrian’s Wall and York over the weekend, and on Wednesday morning I’m leaving for another long weekend to Holland!

Thursday: I went to Durham and had the wonderful company of Sarah for my 6-hour total train trip. I’ve been wanting to go to Durham for ages, mainly because of the cathedral. In Bill Bryson’s book, Notes From a Small Island, he goes to Durham and says this:
“I got off at Durham, intending to poke around the cathedral for an hour or so, and fell in love with it instantly, in a serious way… I couldn’t believe that not once in twenty years had anyone said to me, “You’ve never been to Durham? Good God, man, you must go at once! Please—take my car.” So let me say it now: If you have never been to Durham, go at once. Take my car. It’s wonderful.”

So ever since that I read that I’ve been wanting to go.

I knew Durham would be good, I just didn’t know it would be that good. We literally had the most perfect weather possible, all sun, no rain, just a bit of wind, blue skies. Unbelievable. The cathedral is at the top of the town and Sarah and I walked along the river to get up there. We looked up and saw it and both started laughing because it was so beautiful. I started crying and Sarah started crying and we walked along the river crying and laughing. It was wonderful. 

Durham Cathedral and Castle overlooking the river

Finally FINALLY at Durham Cathedral!
 The cathedral was well worth the money on the train tickets and the 6-hour trip there and back. It is simply magnificent—two smaller towers at the front and then one main tower at the crossing in the nave. Besides housing the shrine of Saint Cuthbert, the cathedral also has the grave of the 7th/8th century monk and historian Bede. And on top of all of this, Durham Cathedral was used in filming scenes from Harry Potter 1 and 2! The Chapter House (which was closed, and I’m pretty sure I broke the handle) was used as Professor McGonagall’s classroom in HP 1. The Cloisters were used as the setting of the Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch confrontation in HP 2, where Ron’s curse backfired and he started throwing up slugs (no, I did not find any slugs). Sarah and I also climbed the tower of the cathedral (375 stairs up!) and got some pretty amazing views of the surrounding area. 

Perfect place for Ron to belch some slugs

View from the top of the tower
 We got a tour of Durham Castle once we were cathedral-ed out, which is now used by Durham University. There are some lucky students who get to live in the castle as their student accommodation! I will be putting in a word to Luther about installing medieval castles for the next round of dorm renovations. After that, it was 3 hours back on the train to Notts!

Our flat trip to Hadrian’s Wall and York left at 7:30am on Friday morning. I was unamused. It was a 4-hour drive up to Housesteads Roman Fort on the Wall. Again, it was a beautiful day—legit the perfect weather. I didn’t really believe in fate or destiny or that kind of shit, but after this weekend I think I have to. I got three days of the best weather possible for my trips, and if I ever needed proof that England truly loved me, I have it now. It’s like they knew I was coming.

The area around the Wall was gorgeous—green fields, hidden lakes, rolling hills, everything. Hadrian’s Wall really is a superhuman feat of Roman strength. It’s unbelievable how long it is and how much work they put into constructing it. It really is the last frontier of the Roman Empire. I was the first of our group to set off, and had a really good hard walk along the wall. I had some staring contests with sheep and almost fell in mud several times, but it was great nonetheless. The scenery is something I’ll never forget!

From there we spent more time on the bus back to York, got settled into our hotel, I took a shower, and then a couple of us went to a pub for dinner. My bacon cheeseburger was amazing. I’m still dreaming about it.

Saturday: The morning was spent at Fountains Abbey, some of the most spectacular abbey ruins I’ve ever seen. Fountains Abbey was found to be quite corrupt by Cromwell’s surveyors in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, so after the abbot took a large pension and surrendered the abbey, they basically ripped the roof off of this magnificent structure to ensure the monks wouldn’t come back. I just walked around crying, I really don’t know why. It was just so beautiful and so haunting. The grounds at Fountains Abbey are gorgeous as well, so I had a great time walking around and exploring all the different places. We had gorgeous weather again, since England loves me. It was so nice to be there in the morning, before a lot of the people came, when it just seemed so quiet and deserted.

Fountains Abbey

We had a free afternoon back in York, so I went to the Micklegate Bar Museum (the top floor focuses on the Wars of the Roses, which I thought was super interesting. Also, fun fact: Richard, Duke of York, was killed in 1460 and his head was set on a pike on Micklegate Bar in York. Supposedly someone put a paper crown on his head as well). I spent the rest of the time walking around the city walls, which was great! The walls are so old, leftover from the Romans, and give a nice view of the city. That night we had a play in York, and afterwards a couple of us went to a pub. After the first pub, Kula, Jacob and I went to a bar in an old church! Two of my favorite things! Old church buildings and drinking! What what!!

Sunday we had another free morning in York before finally going to York Minster. I wandered around the city more, went to Barley Hall (done as a museum on 15th-16th century life in York), went to York Minster for the 11:30 service, and then met up with the group again. York Minster (the cathedral) is second only in importance to Canterbury as the top Archbishopric in England. It is one of the top cathedrals in England, and has the largest medieval stained glass collection in Europe. Of course, that stained glass collection was under construction when I was there. From the Disneyland Castle circa 2004 to York Minster in 2014, it’s always under construction when I go. Assholes.

The cathedral is great, it has a large stained glass window (destroyed by fire in 1984 and painstakingly replaced piece by piece afterwards) commemorating the marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York and the union of the Houses of Lancaster and York, a beautiful Chapter House (with beautiful stained glass windows), and a large row of statues depicting the Kings of England up until Henry VI. We climbed the tower (only 275 steps, super easy compared to Durham), which gave amazing views of the city, but it was windy as hell and I was cold. My favorite part was probably the crypt, which has an exhibition on the history of the buildings on the spot. They’ve excavated the remains of the Roman fort, as well as the Norman building. The Roman part even has a creek that is still fully functional and bringing water to the river! What! Shit was crazy!

York Minster
Stained glass in the Chapter House
Post-cathedral we got on the bus and headed back to Notts. It was a super busy weekend, but so worth it. And now, after Durham and York, I only have one major cathedral left to see in England!!! Gloucester, I’m coming for you. Once I see that one, I’ll have to finally decide which one is my favorite! It’ll be a tough choice, that’s for sure. Now I’ve got another day here in Notts, and then headed off to Holland early Wednesday morning! Here’s to the next week of adventure!

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