A trip back into history
Durham, a small city in the north-east of England, is home to a magnificent castle and the world’s first-ever Romanesque cathedral, commonly considered the finest piece of Norman architecture in the world and one of Britain’s most treasured World Heritage Sites. Some inspired mason working on this massive structure during the 11th century got the smart idea of using pointed instead of round arches to support the huge roof. A few centuries later, the new science of mechanics provided an explanation as to why he was right. Anyway, a thousand years after it was built, the cathedral is still there and the roof is still supported. The building is both metaphorically and literally breathtaking, as you’d know if you climbed the 325 steps to the top of the tower and admired the sunlit view over the River Wear and its medieval bridges, the ancient cobbled streets, and the green expanse of countryside beyond. The Venerable Bede is buried there, and so is St Columba; there’s a charming legend about how Columba’s remains got to Durham, and I’ll probably include a version of it in my novel.
Researching the novel was my motive for spending two or three days in Durham, a city I hardly knew, during this past week. For various reasons, good in context but boring and inconsequential otherwise, I’d decided to send my protagonist to university there, so I needed to find out those details you can only ascertain by getting your feet on the ground. Internet searching can give you almost all the necessary factual information, but until you take yourself to a place in the flesh, you can’t evoke it for the reader via showing rather than telling. Now, thanks not least to the charm and friendliness of the people I met and to the lovely warm summer weather I enjoyed, I’ll have no problem envisaging the scenes when I write the relevant parts of the text.
I stayed in a hotel called (seriously!) the Honest Lawyer. There’s a story in that, too, and some day I might write it. But so greatly did I enjoy my stay in this gem of northern England that I’ll make a longer visit there before I’m much older.