Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Down (And Up!) In Durham

Not so bright, but definitely early on Saturday morning, Alien Wally and Mags left Scotland to once again do some raiding across the border in England. Their destination this time: Hogwarts!

Oh, no, wait… that’s just one of the bridges used for the Hogwarts Express. In. The. Movie. In reality, Alien Wally and Mags went to Durham, which turned out to be a surprising and magical place after all.

Although Durham is just south-west of Newcastle, Alien Wally and Mags decided to take a different route to the one they had previously used to go down south so that they could drive through and experience the Northumberland National Park.

And what an experience that was! Mags is sure the Park is beautiful at all times of the year, but it was certainly breath-taking at sunrise on a clear Autumn day, with snow on the mountain peaks (um, large hill tops?).

Snow? Yes, folks, it’s been cold and icy here in these climes, and both England and Scotland have had some snow. In addition to the snow on the hill tops, the ground was also covered in frost.

And then they hit the ice on the roads. Mags means that literally, as Ruby skidded around a corner, her wheels losing grip on the icy surface. For the sake of mommies everywhere, and particularly those belonging to Mags and Alien Wally, Mags would like to state that the previous sentence has been slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect. Alien Wally and Mags were driving cautiously to begin with, which (together with Alien Wally’s skillful handling of the car) resulted in a fairly sedate and controlled slide around the icy corner. Other mommies’ children, however, were not so cautious it seems – upon sliding around the corner, Alien Wally and Mags were faced with not one, not even two, but three cars that had slid off the road and plowed into the embankments at various points.

This trail of carnage continued for the next thirty or so miles. Throughout this section of the journey, Alien Wally and Mags joined a queue of cars driving in a slow-moving and reverent line behind the almighty Gritting Machine, as it made the roads safe for all drivers ever more and amen. The procession paid their respects along the way to the many cars that had gone before The Coming Of The Gritter, cars strewn across the landscape without bumpers, owners standing forlornly next to them awaiting rescue from the many police cars and tow trucks busy mopping up the mess and escorting folks through the treacherous countryside.

Finally Durham was reached, and our conquering heroes made their way through the pretty city, across the bridge and up the hill to Durham Cathedral.

If any cathedral deserves top marks for presentation and style, this is it – from the moment you spot it from down below, to the sight of this large structure sitting pretty across the green before it, Durham Cathedral makes a statement. Unfortunately, no pictures could be taken inside, so you’ll have to take Alien Wally and Mags’ word for it that the inside of the cathedral is even more impressive than the outside.

Like Yorkminster, Durham Cathedral allows visitors to climb to the top of its tower for a bird’s eye view of the city. Had to be done of course, although Mags had a moment of panic when she read the official blurb promising narrow spiral staircases and more steps than the Scott Monument (325 versus 287 to be exact!). Luckily, claims of narrowness were exaggerated much to Mags’ relief – claustrophobia in addition to fear of heights is not a good combination! They weren’t kidding on the 325 steps though, and it was a long way to the top. As always, though, the views were worth it. This is why Mags does this to herself.

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