Saturday Feb 10th 2007
On arrival in Durham, in the early hours of this morning in lashing rain, (I had caught a late train after a busy Friday) I hurried to the hotel. A terrific wailing noise was emerging from the building, and I entered to find an oddly assorted crowd of people, some wrapped in bedclothes......some one had set off an emergency fire alarm and one harrassed night-time member of staff was trying to sort things out. It emerged that no one could turn off the alarm, as it is centrally controlled under a computer system locked in to that of the local Fire Brigade.....who eventually turned out in a fairly leisurely way and went carefully from room to room checking everything, while people shivered in the rain, crowded into a partially-covered outdoor garage area, or endured the appalling ear-damaging siren in the warmth of the foyer.
Finally, it was announced that everything that been checked, no fire found, and a crucial new piece of glass could be fitted into the alarm thus re-setting it and enabling most people to go to bed. Not me, however, as I didn't yet have a room. The poor tired sole hotel staff representative wearily booked me in, behaving with commendable courtesy under the circumstances. I plodded gratefully to room number 13. It was bliss to have the possibility of sleep.
A GLORIOUS CITY
After a good and neccessary breakfast, I met my niece Lucy and we both greeted Jamie as he arrived by a morning train from London - he had had to stay in Town last night for an official dinner. We dropped off his luggage (heavy, because of dinner-jacket etc) and were then ready to enjoy this magnificent city, so headed for the great Cathedral: "Half church of God, half castle 'gainst the Scot". St Cuthbert (7th century, shepherd boy, saw vision, became hermit, and in due course Bishop of Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumbria) is buried here - relics brought from Lindisfarne by monks who thus saved them during a Viking raid.
Is this the most glorious cathedral in Britain? Its great- vast - pillars and Norman arches, all in perfect proportion, lead the eye up and up, and onwards to the High Altar, to the shrine beyond, to great things, to God. The large, clean lines are largely uncluttered, not defaced by the innumerable memorials to 18th century landowners or public figures, and the shrine of St Cuthbert is treated with reverence, candles glowing, a kneeler and prayer-card.....
Over lunch, v. interesting conversation. fascinating, with L., who is studying Anglo-Saxon - all so interesting, especially with reference to Cuthbert, and Bede (also buried in the Cathedral)
....a vast chapter of history about which too little is known.