Beth Watson reflects on the immense beauty of Durham during the summer and begins to contemplate the city’s history.



I don’t think I need to try and describe to you how beautiful Durham is, but I’ll have a go anyway, just for the sake of it. I went out this afternoon and stood on the bridge before walking back to my college on the Bailey, and it just left me kind of breathless. The scene which lay beyond it offered me a quiet sort of serenity I hadn’t really known before. The leaves, branches, and ivy that crept along either side of the structure were glossed over with the shimmers of summer, almost reflecting the glitter and sparkle of the water below. A small part of me felt like Alice, peering into the looking glass as I gazed below me, the water offering on its surface glimmers of the world around it; the crystal blue of the sky, the white light of the unsheathed sun. This reflection, this image, this embodiment of nature and it’s creations was only slightly disturbed by the partially-sunken and shifting oars of the rowing boats as they beat by.


The young rowers and athletic dreamers were panting quickly, their exercise in unison ironically breaking the soft, peaceful harmony of the elements of that summer day, whilst the image of the world within the waves shattered a little with each stride. The soft and silent breeze was penetrated by the abrupt shouts of those within the boats and the chatter of students as they crossed over the bridge from the lecture theatres through to the Bailey. As the sun continued to shine, there was an unspoken appreciation for the shadows overcast by the might of the cathedral overhead. Towering high above the world of man and student, the cathedral was far from threatening. It’s ancient spirals and archaic beauty made it appear almost as a protector, more a beacon than a threat. Almost like a lighthouse, a symbol of hope and history, showing us how time moves on and the world progresses but the marks we make can stand, imprinted on eternity. How often do we get images like those?


The streets of the city themselves appear to be like something out of a period novel or drama; archaic lamps straight from a BBC adaptation of Victorian England; cobbled streets designed to appear aesthetically pleasing, but also to test the balance, patience and pain tolerance of everyone who walks down them. Either under a greyish cloud, a soft blanket of lily white snow, or a shock of golden sunlight which blurs together the jades of forestry along this street, the Bailey in particular holds an intense kind of beauty which can’t be dampened, only enhanced, by every season. The summer sheen of fallen leaves on chestnut streets continues to welcome every student who exits the doors of their college along this road.  This scene before us, around us, is almost perpetually blurred, regardless of the season, like the prettiest of watercolours.


I wonder how many footsteps have walked before me, or behind me, since the infancy of these streets. How many hearts have been broken, or made whole again, through a final or first kiss on the steps of a college with a door made of oak, on the edge of the shadows of history and of prayer, of sublime devotion and subtle extravagance-the shadows of the cathedral. How many carriages had transported girls from a dance in years passed, and how many shots of Vodka had been projectile vomited along the edge of the path? I wonder how many people had looked up at the same sky during the evening and tried to pinpoint somewhere in the stars a reason to keep going, to keep moving forward. Tried, with all their cleverness and all their wit, to work out which star was the second to the right, and how to follow it straight on until morning. I wonder how many people had first seen the windows of this pinnacle of worship, this encompassing emblem of faith, and realized with a bitter snap that there is no God. I wonder how many people had realized there is? I’m not one for religious speculation or devotion myself. I see something beautiful and I accredit to the world, not necessarily to a higher external power, but to something inside us. Everything we take for granted was once someone’s dream. That’s about as uplifting as anything else you’ll find on the #MondayMotivation twitter trend.


These crooked paths, lined with the cracks of time and TESCO’s 5p carrier bags, offer to me a strange series of dichotomies. Nature and capitalism, past and present, biodegradable and non-biodegradable. As an English Literature student, you can stare at anything long enough and it becomes some kind of deep, meaningful symbol for life. In reality, a plastic carrier bag is simply a plastic carrier bag, and a street it just a street, but such details of logic and reality never stopped the likes of Oscar Wilde and until we get a Primark here there isn’t anything else to do other then contemplate the artistic and philosophical mysteries of time. So here we are…


…in a single moment. You are reading this, the product of a moment of creative expression, of inspiration, of insomnia, and so the past and the present are combined into one burst of something.


       Quite like these streets.


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