Saturday 15th September 2007
Pierce Bridge to Chester-le-Street
The weather forecast has gradually got better as the week has progressed. Any rain that is around is likely to fall overnight which makes us much happier. The temperatures are not high but while we are cycling we manage to keep fairly warm. We cross the River Tees at Pierce Bridge and continue our journey northwards along the old Roman road called Dere Street. The route today takes us through lots of villages on the way to Durham but hopefully the roads will not be too busy. Very soon we see the hill at Houghton-le-side looming in the distance - the map shows several closely packed contour lines but in actual practice we are only going up by about 100 meters. When we get to Houghton it is soon apparent that we are going to have to get off and walk but we are soon at the top of the hill and there are wonderful views looking back in the direction from which we have just come.
After Houghton the topology of the land becomes more undulating as we pass through Shildon, Leasingthorne and round the outskirts of Spennymoor on our way to Durham. At Spennymoor we come across a roadside truckers cafe which gives us one of the cheapest (and best) cups of tea of the trip at 50p a cup and also provides us with guidance on the best route to take into Durham with warnings of hills ahead. We cross over the River Wear at Sunderland Bridge and follow the busy A167 dual carriageway for about a mile up the hill - but this is easy climbing in comparison to Houghton-le-side. And so into the centre of Durham - lots of traffic and an uncertainty of where I am on the map - but eventually we make it across the river and up to the shopping centre and Cathedral and Castle areas, passing long queues of people waiting to withdraw their money from the Northern Rock Building Society. After buying lunch we eat it overlooking the Cathedral and sheltered from the cool breeze by a high wall.
The architecture inside the Cathedral is quite unusual with pillars (or piers) carved with geometric shapes supporting the roof in the nave. Unfortunately no photographs are allowed so all I can do is refer you to the cathedral website where you can see pictures of the interior. The other slightly disappointing fact is that there are no guided tours so we will have to resort to buying a guide book. But on the plus side the tower is open to the public so at least we should be able to take some shots of Durham from the top of the tower. The cathedral houses the tomb of St Cuthbert - said to be the greatest saint of the North - who died in 687 after a life as a monk, then bishop, on Holy Island. He was buried on the island, but after 11 years his body was disinterred whereupon they discovered that it had not decayed during this period. Viking raids during the 9th century forced the community of St Cuthbert to look for a more secure home for his body and for the Lindisfarne Gospels. Firstly they were moved to Chester-le-Street and then to Ripon and eventually they were brought to the site of the church at Durham in 995 and then moved into the new cathedral after it was built in 1104. Near to the tomb of St Cuthbert, at the east end of the cathedral in the Chapel of the Nine Altars, is a stunning wood carving of the Virgin Mary and of Christ by Fenwick Lawson. This carving was sited in York Cathedral at the time of the fire in 1984 but fortunately escaped damage. (Photo courtesy of the Guide Book)
And so to the roof via 325 steps (nearly 50 meters above ground). From here we have lovely views of the river and castle areas and out into the country beyond. Durham is unusual in that it has no West door - so on leaving we make our way down to the river and walk along the bank to get a view of the west end of the Cathedral perched up high on the hill. An elderly gentleman comes up to us and shows interest in the tandem - another person who has owned one in the past. If we counted the number of people who told us this I reckon that a significant proportion of the population of the country must have owned a tandem or had a desire to ride one at some time or other! He was interested in where we were going and proceeded to give us instructions on the best route to Chester-le-Street where we were staying overnight. His route alongside the river proved excellent, and when we left the river we ended up on the side roads away from all the traffic. Thank you.
Chester-le-Street was not the best place to end up for an evening meal. We asked the landlady for recommendations (as we normally do) only to find out that most of the pubs here only serve meals in the middle of the day - how strange. After a walk round the town in the evening we initially thought that we would have to buy our first take away - all we could find was a pizza house - but then we came across a Chinese restaurant and this provided us with a excellent meal.
Mileage today 29.2 miles Total mileage so far 579.8 miles