Editorial #870: A tale of two familiar cities

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We are already at the point in Epiphany term where the candlelit memories of Michaelmas are flickering and we are being plunged into the reality of Durham’s endlessly dark nights and bitter weather. Even the ungritted paths seem to be a sign that it is better to stay in bed in a colder student house than to risk the pilgrimage to the Billy B, going against everything you promised yourself on New Year’s Eve. 

Despite this, there is something inherently irresistible about Durham at this time of year, and whilst you may be yearning for the return of gone-but-not-forgotten Brooklyn Pizza Slice, there is so much to be gained from the quiet birdsong echoing in the back of Epiphany term. 

As an English Literature student perhaps still haunted by A Level Geography, I am captivated by the place of Durham and the way this little city seeps into our lives, our memories, and our relationships. We project ourselves upon this Medieval canvas: for better or for worse, I find myself constantly tripping up on memories of first year, from the rough nights out walking back up South Road, to meeting some of the most important people in my life today.

In particular, I’m always drawn to Durham Cathedral, not as someone particularly religious, but because of how it reminds me of my hometown, Lincoln. Each year I spend away from home, I feel closer to it, and in Durham Cathedral I am overwhelmed with a fondness for memories of my life before I came here. For those of you – probably the vast majority of Palatinate readers – who aren’t familiar with Lincoln, it is a city barely bigger than Durham in the East Midlands, and there was, to me, absolutely nothing special about it before I moved to Durham. 

Prolific travel writer and previous Chancellor for Durham University, Bill Bryson, drew the connection between the Cathedrals in Lincoln and Durham in his seminal work Notes from a Small Island. He described Lincoln Cathedral’s obscurity as “something of a small miracle”, and claimed that “it would be hard to think of a place of equal architectural majesty less known to outsiders – Durham, perhaps.”

I can’t imagine my life without this little city

Once the tallest building in the world (for a startlingly unknown 237 years), it is no surprise that Bryson was captivated by the beauty of Lincoln Cathedral, especially in the shadow of his love for Durham itself. It is a truly majestic building, and always the first (and only) thing I brag about when someone asks me where I’m from. I’m beginning to treasure the fact that I can link so many memories to a specific place, and know that there is something so iconic about this city where I have spent most of my life. 

Durham feels, to me, a hyperbole of Lincoln, exaggerated in its hills, history, and river views in comparison to the undulating plains of Lincolnshire. The city’s physicality completely matches how my memories of it seem so intensely special compared to my home life, where talking about Frepping, Palatinate, and JCR politics is met by confusion. 

It’s so important that we protect this little city. This edition of Palatinate, we are proud to spotlight some of the ways in which students look out for Durham, and most particularly its environment, and how JCRs play a role in protecting this stretching landscape. As students, the small, realistic changes to our everyday lives are sometimes the biggest differences that we can make. 

We’re also pleased to announce that this edition of Palatinate is fully funded by advertisements. For those of you who’ve followed the paper for a while, you’ll know how important financial stability has been for us, and we’re really glad to be taking the steps to ensure this for the paper. As the first edition fully funded by ads since before the Covid-19 pandemic, we really hope that this sets a trend for continuing financially sustainable journalism in Durham. Whilst Palatinate may be just a small part of Durham, I for one consider it to be one of those special niches that make Durham so beautiful, and am so proud of the work that’s been done by everyone on the team to ensure it lasts beyond our time in this city. 

Bryson “fell in love” with Durham at first sight, and justifiably so. In Notes from a Small Island, he writes: “Why, it’s wonderful – a perfect little city, and I kept thinking: “Why did no one tell me about this?””

Even though trying to cross Kingsgate Bridge this week has made me question how I ended up here, I am still constantly endowed with wonder for how such a place has become so important to me. I can’t imagine my life without this little city, and whilst I might disagree with Bryson’s claim that Durham has the “best cathedral on planet earth”, I will always look back on my time here as framed by this quaint yet picturesque landscape. 

Image: Grace Burrin

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