By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
In the silence of the keep
one forgets time,
even who one is.
Romance gallops as sunlit dust swirls
in search of glory
among the clouds.
(Left, Castle Keep. Photo by John C. Dyer)
But this was a real castle with a real history, the Neville’s Raby Castle near Durham, County Durham. One of post Conquest Britain’s early seats of great power, Raby rises with surprising majesty above Yorkshire’s bucolic rolling green fields.
(Above, left to right, Raby Castle, Stable Entrance to Gardens, Raby Castle Gardens. Below, left to right, View from a Gun, Deer in Castle Park, Raby Castle 2. All photos by John C. Dyer)
(Left, Within the Keep, photo by John C. Dyer)
We came to Raby at the request of friends from the States.
This trip was a reunion of sorts. I had missed my college reunion. The couple we accompanied to Raby attended the same small college modeled on Oxford.
They had attended the reunion. Hence I got the lowdown. I felt reconnected- at least in spirit- with the others who shared that unique experience I call "my Hogwarts.”
It was also an opportunity to meet a new friend from the UK. I share with this friend a heritage whose specific details remain a tantalizing mystery, revealed to a sometimes frustratingly limited extent by a DNA connection most likely somewhere between 600 and 1500 years old.
The testing of DNA was a topic of interest to all of us. Three of us have tested. The other two consider it. I explained the relative uses and traps of autosomal, Y Chromosomal, and mitochondrial testing, the pros and cons of 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and others. Exploring one’s DNA connections is an intermittently fascinating adventure that for me opened up vistas and inspired wide-eyed, open mouthed surprise.
We rendezvoused in Durham.
Durham is another of ancient Britain’s ancient cities. It is perhaps less known to Americans than some others. I find this somewhat surprisingly in that Durham is a relatively short, comfortable hop south by rail from Edinburgh or north from York, two cities that see perhaps more than their fair share of American tourists.
Durham has many attractive features.
The Wear river winds through Durham’s centre. Durham Castle looms, impressive and imposing, above it. William the Conqueror founded Durham Castle in the 11th century to serve as a base for subduing a North most resistant to his rule. The castle proved throughout its history to be impregnable, largely owing to its position above the Wear.
(Above, left to right, Durham Castle, Durham Castle and Cathedral on the Promontory, the River Wear below the Promontory. All photos by John C. Dyer)
Now owned by the University, the castle and the perimeter around it formed by the Wear bring a peaceful, rural tranquility into the heart of the city. We walked the perimeter each night we were there. Romance was apparent everywhere.
(Above left to right, Wear River Cottage, Couple Boating, Riverside. Below left to right, Cathedral from below, The Path, A Couple. All photos by John C. Dyer)
(Below, left to right, Racing Form, Mill Cottage, End of the Wear River Trail. All photos by John C. Dyer)
So was good food and good atmosphere.
We dined twice at the Bella Italia restaurant on the Wear. It lies at the foot of the promontory and the end of the perimeter trail. Both times, both dishes were good value. The first time we were amused by a happy toddler. The second time a former government minister who shall go nameless provided the bemusement- one of two celebrities spotted this trip.
(Above, left to right, Restaurant, Deck, Cherub. Across left, Yum. All photos by John C. Dyer)
Durham Cathedral sits next to Durham Castle. The Cathedral’s origins are even more ancient than the castle. Although the present structure is one of the most striking examples of Norman architecture in Europe, the Christian history of this site extends back another 500 years to the reign of Oswald, King of Northumbria. Unfortunately the fascinating interior of this Cathedral has to be visited. Officials permit no photography.
(Across, left to right, 3 views Durham Cathedral, Cathedral Door Detail. All photos by John C. Dyer)
Careful What You Wish For
We hoped for an “authentic British experience,” so we stayed at a small independent hotel/pub at the foot of a short road leading from the Railway Station. It was certainly ... uhh ... small. Ahem. Or should I say “charming”?
The manager and one of the staff seemed to try, but some staff were, well, trying.
The hotel offered a full English breakfast. We were not interested in that, but did think the second day we might try the scrambled eggs one staff person offered our first morning.
The cook stepped out into the dining area. She pointed to each table setting in turn, saying “They can have one egg, they can have one egg “ and so on, until she came to the last setting. She said, “they can’t have an egg because someone made a snack last night and we are now one egg short.”
Putting the fun back in dysfunctional with service so bad it required the talent, ingenuity, and dedication of a comedy routine. The laughter diffused the irritation, if only temporarily.
I’d have to say in all the traveling we have done in Britain this experience was a singular exception rather than the rule.
As always, the deeply tranquil, emerald green countryside was the star attraction for me. Wherever I travel in Britain the countryside has the same effect on me. It feels like I have entered a symbiotic relationship with a single living creature. OK, I too can hear a radio announcer rumble, "Living the Gaia Hypothesis." That would be a big roger that.
(Above, left to right, Gaia, Tea Time, Dales. All photos by John C. Dyer)
Too soon it was time to part company. Hours of good conversation, intriguing history, beautiful scenery now pages turned, our friends headed off to London. We headed to St. Annes. Hopefully, we will met again.
Durham joins Whitby, Sherborne, Bath, Clitheroe and Wells on that growing number of bucket list entries experienced before I actually added them to the list. I can’t help but think what a lucky guy I’ve become in my dotage.