According to a recent online poll, the recipient of my lastest lick is Britain’s favourite building. This news grated a little as my beloved York Minster is currently sat at no.2 on that list, so I approached this leg of the task with a little scepticisim. Certainly I would lick Durham Cathedral, but it would leave a bitter taste.
Annoyingly, the view from Durham station revealed just one of the reasons why the cathedral here has won such plaudits. I’d followed this route many times before so I was prepared for just how heart-melting the sight of it is, perched atop a rocky outcrop next to the castle, dominating the city below it with Norman magnificence. It was certainly a lot easier on the eyes after Darlington, which has some serious work to do if it also wants to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status.
Once off the train we trekked up the cobbled streets of the old town, cursing the hills that this city seemed to have in abundance. Before the long we were stood in the quite substantial shadow of the cathedral, that dwarfs every other building for miles.
So, to the licking. It being a Sunday we feared disapproving looks from throngs of worshippers, so decided to get the job done outside. Whilst looking for a suitable spot our eyes were drawn to this splendid fellow at the cathedral entrance:
In the distant past, fugitives would gain refuge by knocking on the cathedral door with this great brass knocker. On laying eyes I had different intentions and my initial impulse was to lick it, but my conscience got the better of me. Idiot, what a photo that would have made! We later learned that someone had recently tried to steal it, no doubt as part of some stupid bet involving cathedrals.
Lisa wisely suggested including the knocker in the photo somehow, as double proof that Durham had received my attentions. After choosing a suitable spot nearby to lick this was achieved, much to our delight. Durham Cathedral may be a joy to behold but its taste is disappointingly bland, I’m sorry to say.
With the task completed we headed into the murky interior of the cathedral itself, which is truly stunning. The nave appears almost brand new, its immense columns and Romanesque arches showing few signs of the kind of wear and tear time and church-smashing bastards like Henry VIII bring. To complete the whole jaw-dropping experience the choir was in full song, whilst a small congregation listened on with bowed heads.
These sights and sounds were beginning to soften my stubborness, and I had to admit (secretly) that Durham Cathedral is actually pretty damn brilliant. A walk around the cloisters, with its calming atmosphere and stunning views of the main tower only strengthened its case, and I began to believe that I may actually be turning into some kind of cathedral pervert. Thank God Lisa was there to prevent me from doing anything I would later regret.
I’d also wanted to see the tombs of St. Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede, but the service was still in full swing and we could not reach them, so we stepped outside into the glorious autumnal sunshine. Leaving the cathedral behind we explored the zig-zagging paths down the wooded hillside to the River Wear. The river sits in the middle of a gorge which that day flowed lazily as we walked by. Rowing boats floated past, under the great bridges that ford the gorge, captained by big-shouldered young men and their swooning girlfriends. Every now and then we would come aross a beautiful riverside house, half hidden in the trees and we cursed the owners for being so lucky. We were only a few hundred metres from the city and yet it felt so rural here.
A splendid day and a splendid lick.