No. 3: Durham

I finally did it. My dog is dead and buried.

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Of course, I’m not talking about my beautiful 7 month old puppy… I finally took myself back to the place where we used to walk our family dog in county Durham (when she was alive), to give her the send off she deserved. More on that later.

My trip to Durham was a bit more ambitious than the previous two weeks. After finishing work on Friday, I had a quick cup of tea with my sister who happened to be in London for an interview (Good luck!), then shot home to have dinner with my girlfriend and pup, before carefully packing a bag and heading to Victoria coach station to board the 2300 coach to Durham, arriving at 0540 the next morning.

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Almost taking a seat in front of a sick and crying baby, I quickly moved and settled in for a night of being rattled around. I managed to get about 2 hours sleep in total, interspersed with staring out of the window and flicking through my book (lost Japan, still working my way through).

For Kit I took:

  1. Litre of Water
  2. Cold Pizza
  3. Waterproof jacket & trousers
  4. change of t-shirt and underwear
  5. Pyjama bottoms (instead of long johns!)
  6. OS Map 308, Durham and Sunderland
  7. Compass
  8. portable charger
  9. Hat!!
  10. Book
  11. Toothbrush & toothpaste
  12. Head torch
  13. Gloves
  14. Waterproof backpack cover (Finally bought one!!!)

As we got closer to Durham, I started to feel a bit of dread – there was a lot of snow and ice going on outside of the coach – where was I going to go at 5.40AM? and why did I think that it was a good idea to send myself up to the other side of the country in the middle of the night, when it’s -2 degrees outside and I’m wearing pyjamas under my jeans because I don’t own long johns!?

Dread or not, I arrived and threw myself enthusiastically off the bus and then stalled… I hadn’t planned this far ahead, and it was cold. I gravitated towards the Cathedral, less for religious reasons and more because it looked great (although I need to get a better camera!).

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At the cathedral I planned my day.

Despite spending the first nine years of my life here, I hadn’t been to Durham for 17 years, I was staying with a family friend, but I wasn’t due at her house until 6/7pm and I had to get moving if I wanted to achieve everything that I had set out to achieve.

Assuming that I would still have some instincts on where to go, I set off in what I believed to be the direction of my childhood home, and amazingly, I walked straight to it without losing the way. It was still dark when I arrived so I went through that village and on to the village where my dad had lived, as I left that second village, the sun began to rise and I  could see that I had a cloudy, but dry day ahead.

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I arrived at Wingate Quarry Nature Reserve at 7.30am after an 8 mile hike out of Durham, along some dull, icy roads. This was where I had come to bury Penny – a golden Labrador-Retriever cross that my mum rescued when I was 7. I loved walking her around Wingate because it has lots of winding paths that go all over the place, she would always fly off as soon as we removed her lead and appear out of nowhere every so often, before tearing off again.

Every time we would try and get Penny back to the car, it was a certainty that she would throw herself into the pond that adjoined the car park, covering herself in putrid mud and stinking out the car for weeks – it only seemed fitting that she gets to enjoy all the foul stinking slime that she could ever want for dog eternity,  so for the last time, I let her into the pond and said goodbye.

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This seemed like a good time to have breakfast (left over pizza – win). Four cold slices later, I was heading back exactly the way I came to see the villages I grew up in.

Everything looked much the same, there wasn’t much to comment on – my childhood home has since been bought and developed, fortunately google maps hasn’t been updated since 2011 (when my parents still owned the house) so I was able to do a before and after:

This house (now two houses) was bizarrely massive, it was a shop before my parents took it on (probably for about a tenner) in the 90’s. The outside walls were coated in crumbling pebble dash and it was impossible to keep warm, no one knew this better than my first goldfish, who was literally frozen into a big round ice lolly one winter and had to be chipped down to size before he could be sent the way of all fallen fish hero’s (flushed).

The irony of this wasn’t lost on me, given the name of the shop (THAT STILL EXISTS!!) which we bought him from.

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Back in Durham, I stopped for a cup of tea before walking another mile or so to the botanical gardens. An amazing lady called, Diana Tree that looked after me when I was young, and died when I was 12, has a memorial bench in these gardens. I had wanted to come back and see the gardens for over 10 years, but in classic non-committal style, had put it off at every occasion. The only catch was that the botanical gardens are spread over 25 acres and EVERY bench there is a memorial bench, amazingly though, I barely had time to call my girlfriend and start wingeing about my tired legs before I found Diana.

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I’ve never spoken to a bench before, but it only seemed right to have a catch up after all that time, so i spent half an hour there and then took off to have a look around the botanical gardens, which were bleak and beautiful.

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Back in Durham, I stopped in at the cathedral for old times sake. There was a cool installation in the cloisters where they were building a lego cathedral, you could pay a pound and add a brick of lego – I didn’t.

At this point I’d done a good 21/22 miles of walking, so I threw myself into a lovely little cafe by the cathedral for a snack. It is appropriately named ‘The Durham Cafe’, sits at the bottom of Owengate, serves tea by the pot and scones bigger than a bunched fist.

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I took advantage of one of the comfy sofa’s to leaf through my book for an hour, passing the time until I left the cafe to finish the day with a family friend, Yvonne, who fed me a delicious vegetarian supper while we caught up on the last decade. We chatted until the late-early evening when I realised my eyes were only a millimetre or so open, and headed to bed, passing out on my way down to the pillow.

The next morning I said thank you and good bye to Yvonne and headed to the bus station to complete the last leg of the journey.

As I arrived to leave, I was spotted by a man that works at the botanical gardens. He stubbed out a cigarette and nodded at me. ‘Ya find that bench yesterday marra? he said. ‘I was gonna come and help ya but you’d arlready gan’.

Durhams alright.

2 thoughts on “No. 3: Durham

  1. The tolls on memory lane get cheaper as you get older especially if you can get a Senior Travel Card which allows you to go there quite often – a lot of older people take advantage of that. However another advantage is that there have been many by-passes built (you may have actually helped to build some in more recent times) which allow you to avoid what were the more unpleasant bits. And although recent road improvement techniques have filled in the depressions that used to be so miserable, it has sometimes meant bulldozing the memories of a lot of the high-points to achieve that – but it’s an easier road to travel now. Things you planted in the past are quite good to look for – some of them are grown quite big and others quietly died a long time ago or were destroyed by vandals. And most of the people you have fond memories of have moved on, or died, so you don’t have to be disappointed by the reality of spending time with them. The ones who really meant something to you have already moved in for good just where you live now.
    It’s always worth being glad that most of the lane wasn’t destroyed by nuclear missiles – but if it has been, you should remember they probably had nothing to do with your buildings or plantings and no-one had anything against you personally whatsoever.
    When you get older, Google Street View and other electronic aids allow you to access memory lane from your living room. Or else just sit on the grassy bank at the end (where you intend to be buried under that tree) and revisit the earlier sections with a drone. In fact re-visiting old memories with a drone is in a long tradition of storytelling.

    Like

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