As someone who started their university career in the time of murky pixelated images from Google on a projector and small photos in heavy art history books (some severely outdated but still in use), when I get to visit these historical places in person it is an even more special experience. Similar to the feeling of seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time and realizing (though you've read the dimensions numerous times) that it's not a large portrait, seeing monumental buildings for the first time is overwhelming. No matter how many photos you have seen, they never do justice to what is right before your eyes and Durham Cathedral is no exception.
My visit to Durham was a long time coming, 10 years to be specific. I first was introduced to the cathedral and the city's history in 2008 in my Medieval Art class at the University of Arizona. Architecturally it's beyond impressive, the history is fascinating and let's face it: it's just damn pretty. Whether it's raining, blazing sunshine or overcast the cathedral is a dominating presence over city and riverbank.
Usually most would avoid taking a weekend trip in the middle of winter in England but I tend to do what everyone avoids. Luckily the weather smiled down and let us visit Durham with sunshine (only for a few hours BUT still appreciated). Not only did we get the chance to visit this emblematic historical city, our B&B was rich with it's own history as well. We opted for something historical, homely and welcoming. The Old Post Office in Lanchester just a few miles from Durham city center did not disappoint.
The Old Post Office building itself dates from sometime in the 18th century. There are different dates shown on the entrance lintel and the back lintel leading to the garden. The entrance attributes the house to Mary and Sarah Brown in 1788. I admit it, it's really cool to step into your B&B for the night through a door that is 230 years old! Upon arriving we were warmly welcomed by Keith Gill, host and owner of the B&B. We were shown to our themed room (all rooms have a post office theme!) completely outfitted with a lovely tea and coffee station and homemade cookies! One fantastic detail is that breakfast is homemade for you in the morning by Keith himself. You just choose from a very tasty sounding menu the night before and the time you'd like to dine and viola! VIP breakfast. In your room you have a very informative packet with history of the area, biographies of those who provide supplies to the B&B and sights in the area to check out. I have travelled extensively and yet to find a place to compares in attention to detail like The Old Post Office.
Keith is extremely knowledgeable about the history of the area and kind enough to share fun historical tidbits to enrich your visiting experience. I value history from locals as there are many things that may not make it out of the area into history books. This makes the visit all the more worthwhile. It is also endeering to hear about the area from someone who is passionate and loves where they live.
History and quaintness aside, I was unnecessarily excited to meet the onsite chickens! All the breakfasts are made with yummy eggs from this jovial bunch. Keith and Pauline were kind enough to humor me and let me frolic with the feathered folk and give them their breakfast. :)
After our hearty locally sourced breakfast and the chicken chat we made our way to the main destination: Durham Cathedral. I am not embarrassed to admit that while driving into the city and seeing it for the first time that I gasped in awe and got teary eyed. Those art history books from the early 2000s did not do justice to what my eyes were feasting upon. The cathedral towers above the rest of the city and makes quite a statement as it is right up against the river looming over everything.
Durham Cathedral is open for visitors daily however given that it is an active place of worship photos of the interior were not permitted. Founded in 1093, the cathedral is one of the best preserved examples of Norman architecture. It towers over the rest of the area with magnificent architectural elements that look as if they were finished just recently. Inside it just as astounding as the exterior. When first entering I was taken back at the immensity of the columns. I've studied this building, I've read its history and dimensions for sometime but nothing beats seeing those chevron columns for yourself. The sunshine was kind to stay during our visit inside allowing the light to gently dance along the inside from the triforium and clerestory levels.
On top of its fame of being a Norman architectural jewel, Durham Cathedral also houses some famous tombs. The relics of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne have found their final resting place here. According to the legend, his remains were carried by monks in fear of Viking raids. They sought out a safe place for the saint to rest. After following two milk maids who were searching for a "dun" cow or brown cow, the remains stopped on the spot where the cathedral stands today. Along with Saint Cuthbert, the Venerable Bede also rests here. Bede was an English monk in the 8th century and most well known for his work Ecclesiastical History of the English People .
Unfortunately due to some heavy rain and lack of time we didn't get to explore the neighbouring castle but we will return for sure. The cathedral and I need some more time to get acquainted so I can truly appreciate every single arch, column and capital.
For the complete historic weekend, I highly recommend booking your accommodation with Keith & Pauline at The Old Post Office and taking time to explore the vibrant university city of Durham. Though weather can be unpredictable, when the sun rays are able to peek through the clouds and glitters on the tower facade like a kaleidoscope it takes your breath away.