Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Durham-other interesting stuff

Durham is one of those cities where you just keep tripping over odd things.   Next to my B & B was a little church.  I noticed that all the tombstones had been stacked up against the wall, I suppose to make mowing the lawn easier.
You have to look hard to find a small plaque that tells you that St. Margaret of Antioch church was built circa 1150.  You realize just how much history you have piled up in the UK when you see a structure built 350 years ante Columbus just sitting rather casually maintained on a side street.

Here is a newer structure in the University district.

It recognizes Sir Ove Arup, a modern architect who apparently was a real whiz with concrete.  One supposes he approved this memorial, but it looks to me a bit like the old "head on a pike" thing that befell those out of favor in times past.

Here is a modern depiction of an ancient story.  Outside a cinema complex we see the monks trudging about on their long journey with the coffin of St. Cuthbert.  This is not quite in synch with the whole Dun Cow story and the wagon that would not move, perhaps it depicts the earlier wanderings.
Other than the cathedral, the most historic building in Durham is the Castle.  Indeed, collectively they make up a World Heritage site.  But this is no conventional castle.  Once the home of the Bishops of Durham it was donated to create a site for Durham University.  Behold, the oldest and undoubtedly coolest college dorm on planet Earth!

It is open for tours only on the weekends, and not during final exams.  Our tour was lead by a very nice young lady in the "Hogwarts style" robes they wear for official occasions.  She was a self proclaimed "old stones geek" who delighted in telling us tales of the frequent discovery of ancient doorways and rooms walled up for centuries.  Alas, no interior photos allowed.  I mean, it is a college dorm.

But how cool would it be to live in a dorm with its own pub, dungeon and armory!  Actually the main dining hall was fairly well equipped...there were suits of English civil war armor lining the walls and two long racks of Napoleonic era muskets.  We were told that twice a week there is formal dinner with students and Masters in the Great Hall, and that elaborate drinking games were common.  I wonder how often someone has reached for a musket!

A photo from the Durham University website:

These are the Black Stairs.  They date to the 1600s, just after the Bishops got the place back from Cromwell.  Garrison troops always make a mess of things, and as part of the renovations the Bishop commissioned an elaborate free standing four story spiral staircase.  It started slumping right away, and the central pillars had to be added.  But the crazy tilt remains, challenging tipsy undergrads and visiting tourists to this very day.  It is also said to be haunted by The Grey Lady.  Cleaning ladies have refused to work on the Stairs.

Outside photos were allowed.  I rather liked these crests of arms from a couple of the Bishops of Durham:

Apparently these guys had a sense of humor.  Also a thing for birds.

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