Marian @ Krysan


Planting Golden Seeds in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, and Durham






 Durham, the Jewel in the Crown


6 June 2012 

Dear Friends

In the middle of the Second World War (1942) I was born into an old Durham mining family and fell head over heels in love with the magic of Durham as a child. Over the years, nothing's changed and Durham City has remained the Jewel in the Crown for me. Like my parents before me, I love Durham with a passion: I love its castle, its cathedral, its cobbled streets, and - most of all - its people. Durham is where I am in my comfort zone and - as you will discover - I'm not alone in this.

  • You've never been to Durham?
  • Good God man, you must go at once!  

Of course, (as with most everything else) I'm quite one-sided in my opinion about Durham's place in the Greater Scheme of Things. So, today I'm enlisting support from outside the fold - a second opinion from American author Bill Bryson.  

Bill Bryson called Durham a "perfect little city" and described the North East as "one of the friendliest corners of the planet"  and he isn't always complimentary about the places he visits. But Durham he likes.

So much so that he didn't hesitate in accepting the invitation to become Durham University's chancellor. In April 2005 he succeeded Sir Peter Ustinov, having already received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree at the university.

In his travel book Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson wrote glowingly of his first visit to Durham in 1973: 

"I was heading for Newcastle, by way of York, when I did another impetuous thing.  I got off at Durham, intending to poke around the cathedral for an hour or so and fell in love with it instantly in a serious way.  Why, it's wonderful - a perfect little city - and I kept thinking: 'Why did no-one tell me about this?' 

"I knew, of course, that it had a fine Normal cathedral but I had no idea that it was so splendid. I couldn't believe that not once in twenty years had anyone said to me, 'You've never been to Durham? Good God man, you must go at once! Please - take my car." BRYSON, 1995

  • Durham
  • Land of the Prince Bishops  

"The cathedral, a mountain of reddish-brown stone standing high above a lazy green loop of the River Wear, is, of course, its glory. Everything about it was perfect - not just its setting and execution but also, no less notably, the way it is run today.  For a start there was no nagging for money, no voluntary admission fee.

"Outside, there was simply a discreet sign announcing that it cost £700,000 a year to maintain and that it was now engaged on a £400,000 reservation project on the east wing and that they would very much appreciate any spare money that visitors might give them. Inside, there were two modest collecting boxes, no irksome bulletin boards or stupid Eisenhower flags, nothing at all to detract from the unutterable soaring majesty of the interior."  BRYSON, 1995

  • Stained-glass windows
  • Motes of colour 

"It was a perfect day to see it.  Sun slanted lavishly through the stained-glass windows, highlighting the stout pillars with their sumptuously grooved patterns and spattering the floors with motes of colour. There were even wooden pews."  BRYSON, 1995 

Here to amuse are a few Bryson-statistics re the every-day economy of Britain circa. 1973 when both he and I were young folk!  

"The pound was worth $2.46.  Average weekly take-home pay was £30.11.  A packet of crisps was 5p, a soft drink 8p, lipstick 45p, chocolate biscuits 12p, an electric kettle £7, a black-and-white TV £60, a colour TV £300, a radio £16, the average meal out £1. ... You could have eight days in Tenerife on a Cook's Golden Wings Holiday for £65 or fifteen days from £93."  

"Decimalization had arrived - just passed its second anniversary and people were still converting in their heads. Some of  us still do!  'Good lord, that's nearly six shillings' - and you had to know that sixpence was really worth 2½p and that a guinea was £1.05. ...  This was the year that Britain entered the Common Market and - it scarcely seems credible now - went to war with Iceland over cod." BRYSON, 1995  

  • Red-letter days
  • To sum up ...

A bit nearer home, 1973 was also the year that two young Durhams bought a nearly-new semi-detached-house for an unbelievable £7,250 and became first-time home-owners.  This was much to their delight and also to the delight of their parents. This was 'a first' in more ways than one for a working-class family who had struggled to make ends meet for eons.

Women's liberation - Round One. 

Also by 1973, I was the mother of two young children, we had a colour TV, a bright red telephone, and an Eldiss caravan. Enter the 'material girl'. This was still only for the few and, in our case, it was a novel lifestyle financed absolutely from scratch by two jobs at the cutting-edge - policing and teaching. North eastern women were now working outside the home full-time and full-on.    

Women's liberation - Round Two.

If the sixties had been busy, then for me the seventies and eighties got even busier.  The only way to adequately describe these years is to say that I was educated (and educated others) to within an inch of my life. The Open University became a fact of life, as did 'burning the midnight oil' and, of course, writing. I would defy anyone to match the pace I set myself over many years; and I have no regrets as I loved (and lived) every second of every day.  How many can look back and say that? 

Reminiscences over - for now.  Please, enjoy - 

  • a final, perfect little clipping
  • about the best cathedral on planet Earth

"I'm no judge of these things, but the window at the choir end looked to me at least the equal of the more famous one at York, and this one at least you could see in all its splendour since it wasn't tucked away in the transept.  And the stained-glass window at the other end was even finer.  Well, I can't talk about this without babbling because it was just so wonderful.  

As I stood there, one of only a dozen or so visitors, a verger passed and issued a cheery hello.  I was charmed by this show of friendliness and captivated to find myself amid such perfection, and I unhesitatingly gave Durham my vote for best cathedral on planet Earth.

"When I had drunk my fill, I showered the collection pot with coins and wandered off for the most fleeting of look at the old quarter of town, which was no less ancient and beguiling .."   BRYSON,

I think you'll agree with me that 'it's always good to have a second opinion' and who better than Bill Bryson!  My thanks go to a gentleman, humourist and scholar for a great read and a kindly invitation to take his car.  Should you be inclined to SEARCH OUR SITE using 'Durham' as your key word, you will find fifty more pages which mention our fair city that you might also enjoy.  Details of Bill's book Notes from a Small Island are given below.  It's a worthy read. 

  • A Durham woman born and bred 
  • Marian @ Krysan  


Planting golden seeds in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, and Durham


BRYSON, Bill (1995), Notes from a Small Island, pub. Transworld Digital. Kindle Edition, £5.84.  Available for download now.  Published 2 March 2010.

On 2 March 2009, Bill Bryson was granted Freedom of the City of Durham and joins the list of Freemen which includes Sir Bobby Robson.  He is the first American to be granted the award.


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(1) The reality of the other person lies not in what He reveals to you but in what He cannot reveal to you. Therefore, if you would understand Him, listen not to what He says but rather to what He does not say.

Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931)

Lebanese-American Poet, Philosopher & Artist

(2) For every step you take toward mastery, your destination moves two steps further away. Embrace mastery as a lifelong endeavour. Learn to love the journey.
- George Burr Leonard (1923 – 2010)
American writer, editor, and educator who wrote extensively about education and human potential.


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