Yesterday I jumped on a train and headed off to my first book signing of 2011.
My destination: Durham.
It's been a few years since I had a wander around Durham, but the main shopping street is fantastic. I'm not even talking about the shops. I wasn't looking at them, I was looking at the winding cobbled roads, the wonderful River Wear and the architecture.
On my way to the bookshop, I walked down a short street and onto a bridge crossing the River Wear, where I saw this:
I love old buildings, particularly castles, and I certainly didn't expect to see this great stony dragon of a castle looming down over the riverside right where I was walking. I will admit it... I stopped and stared and took this picture.
People were walking past, chatting, and acting like having such a wonderful piece of history watching over them was a perfectly normal everyday thing. Which, of course, it is. Two people I talked to at the signing admitted that they don't even 'see' the castle anymore. It has become an invisible part of their everyday life.
I don't think I'd ever get used to seeing a view like that.
Once I remembered I actually had somewhere to go, I set off towards the market square and up Saddler Street where the bookshop sits.
The signing went brilliantly. The staff in Durham Waterstones are lovely and I would recommend their shop to anyone wanting to pop in for a browse. I spoke to lots of readers and writers, and even discussed Shakespeare with a lovely lady who put my knowledge to shame.
After that, I did a little book shopping of my own, and I was back in awed tourist mode. Here a picture of Saddler Street looking back the way I came:
It is a steep and cobbled street with buildings that press in on both sides, making people look very small indeed. (If you click on the photo you can just see someone walking beneath the black sign. Doesn't he look small?) There are lanterns, mismatched buildings and I even spotted a tiny lane - barely wide enough for someone to walk down - where two people were locked in whispered conversation.
My imagination runs wild in places like this. It feels like walking through the past... and at the top of the street, was this:
Gemma at Waterstones told me that parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed there, and I can see why. It's a Norman cathedral and parts of it have been there since 1093. Isn't it spectacular?
I wouldn't have even taken this next picture if I didn't see someone on the grass clicking away at something behind me.
It's part of Durham Castle, and it's huge! But I would have missed it - quietly sitting there watching time happen around it - if I hadn't turned around.
As you can tell, I am a huge fan of Durham. I only live a train ride away and I will have to go back soon. Next time, however, I will be prepared. I had forgotten how steep everything is... the sloping cobbles and the steps. The countless steps! People who walk them all the time must have thighs of steel.
I didn't take this photo, but here are just a few of the steps right outside the station, which I had to face after climbing at least five thousand* others just moments before.
Next time I visit Durham I will know what to expect.
I will be ready.
I will plan to spend more time exploring the wonderful old city, and I will attack those steps Rocky-style.
*A slight exaggeration, but that's what it felt like to my weary legs.