After our time in Edinburgh, it was down the east coast to Durham England. As Durham was only a two-hour drive south from Edinburgh, we cracked open TripAdvisor to look for interesting towns or beaches we might visit along the way.
We had grown fond of the small villages we had stayed in during our trip around Britain, so we were seeking something quaint. What we found was the village of Dunbar, right on the coast, just before leaving Scotland. The deciding factor for Dunbar was that it was the birthplace and childhood home of John Muir.
John Muir is big stuff in California. We have the beautiful redwood trees of Muir Woods near our home and Brian and his son Mark once backpacked for a week with Mark’s scout troop along the John Muir Trail near Yosemite.
Dunbar was a cute, one-street town right on the ocean. John Muir’s birthplace is a humble building that was shared by several other families. The entire four-story building has been converted to a well-done museum dedicated to John’s life and work. The first floor covered his childhood in Dunbar Scotland, from birth to eleven years old.
The town is rightfully proud of Muir. Along the small town’s main street is a statue of young John Muir.
At eleven, John’s parents moved the family from Dunbar to Wisconsin where they created a house and farm out of wilderness. It was hard years with no chance for schooling. John saved his money and purchased his own text books. Miraculously, he made it into the University in Wisconsin where he studied Botany and the classics.
Dunbar met all of our criteria. A quaint village, a warm place for lunch during a temporary downpour, and a better than expected little museum.
A couple of hours later we continued south down the A1 to the town of Durham. County Durham was the location for the movie, Billy Elliot.
We had planned to go to Durham anyway, but at the beginning of our road trip in Bath, we met a couple of blokes in a pub who said they were on a mission to tell people about Durham’s fantastic Norman cathedral. We told the pair that their advice sounded solid, thanked them, gave them one of our cards, and told them to look for it in our blog.
The cathedral was built in the 11th century and is a fantastic example of Norman architecture, with enormous arches and columns built of local sandstone. It is remarkably intact for a 900-year-old cathedral and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We arrived at our hotel in Durham around 4 PM, parked the car and walked through the small town to the cathedral. It really was impressive. And they were setting up for a service called Evensong so we decided to stay.
Evensong is a service consisting primarily of choral music, a couple of gospel readings and some prayers. The church’s normal choir was on holiday, so they had a guest choir from Atlanta Georgia. They sounded beautiful in the massive church, and we could tell they were excited to be singing in a 900-year-old cathedral. Not much like that in Atlanta. Especially when you add in the church’s massive organ with over 90 pipes.
The cathedral can hold at least 1,000 people for a service, but since there were about 25 folks in the choir and only about 30 in the congregation, everyone got to sit in the large choir section in the center of the massive church. It was a sweet service and the music was heavenly.
The next day, we came back for a volunteer-led tour of the church.
A nice feature of the church was that they do not allow any taking of photographs inside the church. That makes for a much better experience as having everyone snapping photos on their cell phones is very distracting. And how interesting to have to resist the impulse to grab our phones to capture our own photos, both for our own memories and for the blog posting. It was good. It allowed us to feel the spirit of a church that has been a home to at least thirty generations, from baptisms to funerals. (Therefore, pictures in this post from the inside of the church are lightly borrowed from the internet.)
George Washington’s Roots in Durham Cathedral
During our church tour, the guide happily pointed out to us a plaque for John Washington, a former member of the church and an early ancestor of George Washington. But the part the tour guide was particularly tickled about, was showing us the Washington family crest that was posted on the ceiling beam of a walkway outside the church. It bears a striking resemblance to a design that Betsy Ross was to work on a few hundred years later. Coincidence?
A great short visit to a couple of small towns as we move south. Next stop is Cambridge.