Bishop Auckland is a pretty little place, with a market square where early this morning I walked around the trestle tables being loaded with sweets and an assortment of small cheap items you never knew you needed. The sky was uniformly white and part of it had descended into the square and gave the whole scene a quiet surreal feel. Off the market square is a respectable high street, and at the other end is the entrance to the Bishop's Residence. Some of the houses are clearly old, built from an attractive honey-coloured stone with small windows and leaded lights. I didn't have time to see the Bishop's residence but judging from the entrance it was obviously quite grand.
It seems strange to think there were once Prince Bishops, who were virtually monarchs of their diocese, and the Bishop of Durham was a particularly important one in the north of England. I would like to learn more - the idea of these small fiefdoms and how they came to be and then declined in importance sounds interesting.
The town hall in Bishop Auckland is a striking place, well-kept and modern looking inside and well-used. Last night was the first time they had tried showing a film (LADIES IN LAVENDER which sounds very good) and it was a sell-out. Unfortunately it clashed with my talk of course, but even so I had an audience of twenty (mainly the Weardale Writers) and they were enthusiastic, friendly and interested. A lot of work had gone on to publicise my event with many posters like this one over walls and at the entrance, together with beautiful pictures of icebergs so I was very pleased. Gillian Wales, the Centre Head met me at the station and made sure I was fed and I enjoyed myself very much.
At the last minute I decided to stay the night - having realised that the car journey was likely to be four and a half hours each way - and booked into the Queen's Head hotel on the market square. On Friday and Saturday they have a disco until the early hours, but last night I was assured that I would be able to hear the tumbleweed - which turned out to be true. They gave me a suite rather than a room with a huge bath and a four poster bed, quite palatial, and it was quite a pity I was there for such a short time.
The people of Bishop Auckland don't seem to rate their town very highly - '...run down,' one said, '...seen better days,' said another, '...small, not much here,' said someone else, then 'Do you think so?' a taxi driver said doubtfully and rather incredulously when I commented that I thought it pretty. The railway line certainly gives a feel of remoteness. It is at the end of a small branch line from Darlington. The station has only one platform and there is a vigorous growth of weeds on the tracks and a determined amount of graffiti on the walls - which has just as determinedly been almost wiped off again. But I liked it there. I liked the feeling of antiquity and the way it has clearly grown randomly like those copper sulphate crystals in the BRITISH ARTSHOW 6 exhibition.