The first city I ever fell in love with is Durham.
While I was in England on my graduation trip I visited Durham in order to talk with some professors about their masters programs. An instructor I’d had for summer courses on Robin Hood and the Black Plague inspired me to look at interdisciplinary graduate (called “postgraduate” in the U.K.) programs. What I’d loved about classics was that I could study literature, history, art, and language simultaneously. Many graduate programs force students to choose a subject, but not a time period. I didn’t want to take courses in just the literature department, for example, and have to take whatever courses happened to be offered that term. A master’s program in medieval studies would enable me to study the time period I loved and build on the classical tradition I’d enjoyed as an undergraduate student.
The program at Durham seemed to fit my interests the most, but the city. The city is amazing.
The peninsula of the Durham city center is surrounded by the River Wear on three sides, and at the center of the land is Palace Green. Palace Green is a lovely, well, green space surrounded by Durham Cathedral, Durham Castle, Palace Green Library, and the ecclesiastical buildings. Durham Cathedral is my (and many Britons’) favorite building. The Norman cathedral was built in 1093 for a community of Benedictines, and the brown exterior dominates the landscape as visitors roll into the train station. The gigantic pillars inside do not require any paint or ornate details; the geometric carvings are impressive and gorgeous enough on their own. The castle is open to visitors, and is still a functioning building. One of the university’s colleges is based there, and travelers can spend a night in one of the rooms.
The town is built on seven hills, and the cobblestone sidewalks and streets help the town to retain much of its medieval charm despite the Starbucks, M&S, and Costa. I’ve always felt the most at home in Minnesota where people are kind, welcoming, and genuine. Durhamites are much the same, and their nicknames are pastoral in nature (“pet” short for petal, “flower”).
There’s not a huge amount in the city, but I was delightfully happy there for a year. I loved my program (and graduated with top honors!), and was smitten with the city. Unlike many tourist attractions in England and the U.S., visiting Durham Cathedral was free, so if I needed a few moments of solitude or to clear my head with the sounds of the choir I could visit.
If you can’t leave home to visit this city, you can see the cathedral in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (there’s a plaster portion still in the wall of the arcade which was made to disguise modern pipes for filming) and in Elizabeth. But if you can visit England, please do visit this charming city, and eat a piece of cake for me at Vennel’s Cafe.