Journey To The North – Bishop Auckland

Witton Castle Durham

Land of the Prince Bishops…

Bishop Auckland in the northern County of Durham has always sounded to me like a place I should visit because a place with two names always sounds intriguing to me like Kings Lynn, Saffron Waldron and Westwood Ho!

Westwood Ho! incidentally has the distinction of being the only place name in England with an exclamation mark and this would be very impressive indeed were it not eclipsed by a parish community in Quebec, Canada called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! which has two!!

But I have never been and that is all the more surprising because this is Kim’s home town.

Kim of course has fond child hood memories of the place, now half a century away and like most of us she laments the passage of time and the erasure of childhood memories; from her description of modern day Bishop Auckland I was certain that I was going to be disappointed.

Escombe Methodist Church 1963

Kim, centre row, third from left (1963).  No designer clothes or replica football shirts, hand knitted cardigans and home haircuts – those were the days!

We began at Witton Castle, a crenulated fifteenth century manor house which became the centre of a mining estate three hundred years later but by the 1960s had fallen into derelict disrepair where Kim would play amongst fallen statuary and in haunted rooms but more recently has been purchased, repaired and transformed into a holiday park and a restaurant which Kim doesn’t approve of at all.

All the way around she kept telling me how it used to look and I was reminded of the assessment of Henry Miller about the reconstruction of the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete – “There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration.  I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact.  However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know.  I am grateful to him for what he did…”

There is no real castle at Witton Park anymore, but there is history and I could smell that in the breeze that brushed past my face as we walked around the adjacent gardens.

Escomb Church Bishp Aukland Durham

Next we went to the village of Escomb, once a pit village where Kim grew up and spent her early childhood.  Her memories have been bulldozed away now in frenzied 1960s slum clearance housing improvement projects and the dismantling of the pit and anything associated with it but the main reason to visit Escomb is to see the seventh century Saxon Church, quite possibly the oldest and the finest example of its kind in the country although this claim is contested by Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, Barton in Northamptonshire and Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex.

I liked this place and even though the heart of the village had been brutally ripped out fifty years ago there was a genuine sense of community, after looking around the interior of the church on the way out we chanced upon a local resident who was coming to polish the pews or arrange the flowers or whatever and after only a short introduction Kim and this lady where exchanging memories and comparing a list of local acquaintances.

I have seen this happen before, in 2008 in Pula in Croatia in a chance breakfast encounter in a hotel Kim recognised the local Durham accent of a fellow traveller and within two minutes had established that they came not just from the same county or the same town but from the same village, knew the same people and used to go to the same school – it is sometimes a very small world!

As we drove away back towards Bishop Auckland through woodland and pasture it was hard to imagine that this was once a huge industrialised area with both open cast and deep shaft mining but also a massive ironworks with a mill, which was one mile long and half a mile wide all of which has been demolished with little trace.

And so we finished in the town of Bishop Auckland  where Kim had painted a grim picture of decline and deprivation but I found a pleasant county town with an open market place and an especially fine Wetherspoon pub before moving on to the jewel in the Crown – Auckland Castle, the home of the Prince Bishop’s of Durham.

It turns out that until 2010 this was the official residence of the Bishop of Durham but strapped for cash the church decided to sell both the building and the collection of unique paintings inside until a local businessman stepped in and bought them both and now has grand plans to finance a proper restoration and make this place a major tourist attraction.  I am not so sure about that and was pleased to see it today before the swarms of visitors arrive and even Kim was forced to grudgingly concede that this intervention represents progress.

I liked Bishop Auckland and as I left I was determined to return again quite soon.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a visit somewhere?

Aukland Castle Bishop Aukland Durham

Entrance Tickets – EPCOT World Showcase

Disney World Florida

Whilst it is true to say that I almost certainly wouldn’t go back again, twenty-five years ago I did enjoy three trips to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida in the USA.  The memory of these visits has mostly disappeared into a blur of credit card debt, white knuckle rides, the quicksand of commercialism and the exploitation by the Disney machine but one experience that I do remember was a visit to the World Showcase at EPCOT.

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Entrance Tickets – Castillo del Rey, Cantabria

Castillo del Rey

There was an interesting castle and an old town that stretched from the headland to the church of Santa María de los Ángeles and which enjoyed magnificent views over a busy river estuary to the mountains beyond.  And there was a good view too of the Maza Bridge, with its twenty-eight arches, which was built on the orders of the Spanish Catholic Monarchs in the sixteenth century.

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Entrance Tickets – The Castle of Guimarães in Portugal

Castle of GuimarãesGuimares Castle Portugal

In 1881 the castle was declared the most important historical monument in this part of Portugal and in the 1900s a lot of work has gone into its restoration. We went inside and were struck by the fact that they hadn’t spent a lot of the renovation budget on basic health and safety.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Creepy

Uninvited Sleeping Partner…

During the night a crawly insect had disturbed Rachel but Richard had dismissed this as imagination and told her to back to sleep.  He was forced to reassess his judgment and apologise next morning when he came across a spider that was at least four inches from the end of one of its legs to another.  I wouldn’t have wanted to sleep with it that’s for sure and Richard absolutely wouldn’t tackle it without back-up!

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Postcards from Kephalonia

Sami KefaloniaKephalonia LassiKephalonia Greece

In the first half of 2000 work was getting onerous and less enjoyable and I was beginning to lose my enthusiasm for working for a company (Onyx UK) that was financed by public taxes but was providing an ever deteriorating level of service.  I had a new boss who I didn’t get on with and I needed a holiday so at the beginning of June I went to the Ionian island of Kefalonia with mum and dad and son Jonathan.  As it happened it turned out to be the last time that I went away with dad because he became too ill to travel soon after that.

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Car Hire Misadventures – Rhodes 1998

As usual we hired a red jeep because Rhodes is a big island and there was more to see than just the far north and the main town. We drove along the east coast to the ancient town of Lindos, passing by but not through, the infamous holiday party town and grot spot of Falaraki. Lindos is a picturesque town and an archaeological site on the east coast of the island about fifty-five kilometres south of the town of Rhodes and its big sandy beaches make it a popular tourist and holiday destination.

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