Monday, June 09, 2008

Quite the find.

I'm just back from a trip to England, where I

went on an ABC tour* to Edinburgh, York, Durham and Exeter.

In Canada, where the weather goes in a week or two from sub-zero to 32 degrees, masonry takes a lot of punishment and tends to fall down after a while.

These jaw-dropping buildings, created three hundred years before Columbus discovered Wal-Mart, are all over England, but sadly ravaged by that arch-vandal Henry VIII. Later, Oliver Cromwell finished off what Henry had left untouched, his yob infantry knocking the noses off all the medieval tombstone effigies and smashing all the reachable stained glass with their pikes.

Most cathedrals had their saint franchise--Thomas A' Becket in Canterbury, for example. There Henry demolished the saint's shrine, tossing the bones out on a trash pile and looting the gold and precious stones that adorned the shrine to fatten his coffers.

Durham, in the north of England, has a wonderfully muscular Norman cathedral. The looters set to work to pick off its shrines of Bede and St. Cuthbert, but on cracking open the tomb of St. Cuthbert discovered the body intact--incorrupt. Muttering "Blimey!", they shut it up quick and went away, leaving the body undisturbed.

Durham is England encapsulated--a little microcosm of the best of the country. A visitor could do worse than take the express train up from King's Cross and book into a local hotel for a five-day stay. Cobbled streets, knockout scenery (the huge towers of the cathedral rise over the gorge on a cloud of the trees' green spring fuzz), good shopping, picturesque alleys called "vennels", good eating, neat pubs, and the mirror-like River Wear snaking through the town. And it has the some of the world's friendliest people: two smiling local women, dressed in finery for a Saturday night out at the local bistro, offered to help us with our suitcases, and locals went out of their way to find us directions to where we needed to go.

Definitely worth a return trip--longer next time.

*ABC--Another Bloody Cathedral.

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