Sunday, September 09, 2007

Back to my Past

St Aidan's College is on Windmill Hill. Although the view of Durham is magnificent

the climb back up after a hard day at lectures and lab work is 'very severe'.

However there were compensations - during the many periods of deep snow there was good if terrifying sledging (four on one of the mountaineering club's survival bags) and I am sure the 'Aidan's Maidens' were the fittest students in the university (we were all maidens then....

now, apparently although there are still 'Maidens' there are also 'Members' (males)). This is a photo from 1978 - I am on the front row on the far right.

I retraced my steps. It was such a well-trodden path: down the steps across the road, past the entrance to St Mary's then down another hill to Prebend's Bridge (and its flasher who sometimes reportedly also risked the college grounds)

then over the river to the old cobbled street called the Old Bailey.

On the right then St Cuthbert's (and a geologist called Roy with blue eyes and a beard) then St John's with the twins and the girl who went out with both of them serially, St Chad's (and Paul who took a photo of me pulling a face and then sent it through the post like a postcard which disturbed my parents, a quiet, gentle giant of a chemist called Robert and the politically-active Venge who sometimes burst into my room (once or twice when I was still in bed) because he wanted to tell me something), then Hatfield (and Mike who I only got to really know after we had both left), and finally, perhaps most notably, the oldest college of all: University College

or Castle (and the home John the mathematician who always made me laugh, the serious and handsome engineer called Tim who I encouraged (cruelly, now I think about it) to go to Africa (he did) and finally Jeremy the botanist who directed plays in this theatre

and 'married' me with a ring made from grass and then abandoned me so abruptly that I suffered from what the Victorians called 'Green Sickness' for over a year).

My footsteps are heavier and happier now. They made loud echoes through the entrance to the Cathedral grounds

and on through the ancient buildings to the Palace Green

which is flanked by the Castle (and the lone piper who wailed atmospherically from the walls at dawn during June balls),

the library (where the results were posted in the glass cabinet on the wall),

and of course the Cathedral. In medieval times a criminal had to knock for sanctuary but nowadays all are freely admitted.

I am sure it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. However photographing is not permitted inside so am unable to show you the pillars near the pulpit that are filled with fossils - and our manic lecturer pointed out with what seemed to be authentic excitement: dibunophyllum bipartitum. Even now I remember the name - long white shells preserved in the grey mass of shiny stone.

But here is the quad, and here are the cloisters. There is something about the way the sun shines through that always causes my breath to catch and it is easy to imagine the monks shuffling.

It is this cathedral that dominates Durham. Wherever you go it is there:

towering from the wooded cliffs of the South

and from the west where the small town meets the Wear. I have heard it called a jewel and I was always aware of its shining. I was privileged to go to university there - something that I realise more each time I visit. As students we were treated very well - and as graduates were welcomed just as warmly. The organisation of this reunion of about 2 000 graduates must have been difficult and even though I managed to stay only a short time much appreciated this opportunity to revisit my past.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely post, Clare, I so much enjoy your photo essays.
Good on Bill, also.
I empathised very much with the previous post (walking away).
My niece Grace is just starting at Durham this term, reading English. I hope she'll enjoy it. I don't know if her college is uni- or mixed, must ask her!

Mon Sept 10, 09:40:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Maxine!
Congratulations to Grace - apparently Durham is the top place in the country for English...and I think all the colleges are mixed now - even St Mary's - although I heard they have preserved an all-female corridor.

Mon Sept 10, 10:47:00 pm  
Blogger Marly Youmans said...

I thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the past. And am glad the footsteps are happier.

Wed Sept 12, 04:43:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ho Marly - pleased to see you back!

Wed Sept 12, 06:47:00 pm  

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