Monday, November 12, 2012

England - Durham, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and some family history

From a national park in Western Australia, I'm taking us back 5 weeks and to the other side of the world. (Who says time travel isn't possible?!) This post picks up where my York one left off, as we drove north from Yorkshire to County Durham and surrounds.

One of my favourite views of Durham - glimpses of the castle and cathedral behind the river

I was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, which is about 45 minutes north of Durham. After the maternity hospital in Newcastle, I then returned 'home' to a house in Durham. As such, the area has a certain amount of significance for me. In saying that, after I left as an infant, I didn't return to visit the region until I was 17. I am hardly a local. It is a part of England that I love, though, and I was thrilled to be able to share it with Mr Bite on this trip.

Before launching into our time in Durham and Newcastle, I wanted to touch on my mother's family and their background in England. If you aren't interested in family history matters, feel free to jump ahead to travel photos and tales. For me, the background of this region is part of what makes it important to me, so it seemed appropriate to jot some thoughts down here. I've dot pointed things below, so it's easy to distinguish the history points from the rest of this post.
  • My maternal grandfather grew up in London's north, with summer holidays spent with his grandparents (plus parents and two siblings) on the coast of Sussex. When World War II developed, he joined the British Royal Air Force and was based variously in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. His involvement in the RAF allowed him to attend university after returning to England, something that he says wouldn't have been possible otherwise. He studied geography at Cambridge University and went on to a obtain a PhD in geography and spend his working life in academia.
  • After finishing at Cambridge, my grandfather swapped continents for a teaching job at the College of Wooster, a liberal arts college in Ohio, America. My (American) grandmother was a freshman student at Wooster at the time. She describes the arrival of my grandfather, plus one other British teacher, in the following way: "At the beginning of my second year, two Englishmen joined the faculty. One was a good-looking geographer about whom the female students acted so silly I was determined to find fault with him." 
  • Amusingly, my grandmother went out with the other Englishman (the one she wasn't determined to find fault with) about a year later, only to end the relationship with him and subsequently start seeing my grandfather. They married 6 months or so into their relationship and have been happily married ever since - nearly 60 years now.
  • From Ohio, my newly married grandparents visited England briefly before going back to the US. There, my grandmother finished her Master of Arts degree and attended her graduation ceremony very pregnant with their first child, my mother's older brother. Shortly after his arrival, the now-trio moved to Syracuse, New York, where my mother was later born. A few years later, they shifted to then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in Africa, where one of my mother's sisters was born.
  • From Africa, the family moved back to America, to Hanover, New Hampshire, where my grandfather taught at Dartmouth College and my mother's other sister was born.
  • Apparently determined to pack in a huge amount of travel, Hanover preceded a return to Africa, this time to Nigeria. My grandparents loved Africa in many ways and they remain heavily involved in African-focused charities to this day. 
  • Given the limited school options in Africa, my mother and her older brother were sent back to England for schooling from the age of 9. In part to avoid this happening on a long-term basis, the family moved from Nigeria to Jamaica when my mother was 10. 
  • Through all of the above, the one constant visiting place was Sussex in England, where the family returned for any available holidays and where my mother's youngest sibling, another boy, was born during one visit. In case you've lost count, there are 5 children in total, 3 born in America, 1 in Africa and 1 in England (now, 2 of the 5 live in England, 1 in Australia, 1 in Canada and one in Hawaii!). My grandparents current house is in that same region of Sussex.
  • When my mother was 16, the family returned to England - to Durham. My grandfather took a job at Durham University just in time for her to complete her English A levels there.
  • Although my mother left Durham after school, and spent time in mainland Europe before she met and married my father, she returned to where her parents were living before having me. My own parents were based in Oman at the time, for my Dad's work, but planned to return to England for my delivery. It made sense for them to head to Durham where my mother's parents still were, which is why my birth happened in that particular part of the country.
Durham castle

So! Long history aside, Durham does mean a lot to me. It is also an incredibly beautiful town. The university is based in and around Durham Castle, which adjoins Durham Cathedral, and both are World Heritage Sites. It is very much a university city so it doesn't take long to walk around the town, but it is scenic if not particularly large.

More of Durham river

We had two nights in Durham, with one day allocated to within the town. Unfortunately, Durham Castle was closed as it was the first week of the new university year. The castle includes some of the student accommodation, and was taken over by Fresher week celebrations and welcomes.

Lucky students that live in here!

We did visit the cathedral, however, and even climbed the tower (yes, another one), which I hadn't done before. It provided impressive views, back over the river and towards the castle and town centre beyond.


Cathedral views

On our second day, we visited Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. I could allocate a whole post to that city, too, with it's change from a run-down industrial city to its current day form, but I will restrain myself. I will finish with two photos instead, capturing Newcastle's river area (there are many, many bridges) and some old town architecture - complete with hire-as-you-go bikes.



It was a really lovely few days.

Are there places, geographically speaking, that mean a lot to you?

25 comments:

  1. Wow what a rich tapestry is your family history! I just loved this post. And I am pleased to say that I have stayed in Durham some years ago when friends lived there and we had a great visit to the cathedral and drove out to Hadrian's wall which was just so atmospheric in the mist. It is one of my really fond memories of travel in the UK. And I think I loved it even more because I had travelled through durham on the train quite a few times and always admired it from afar.

    Re newcastle, I have never visited but I have often admired the Angel of the North - a favourite modern sculpture of mine. I also remember the first time I saw a picture of that modern bridge in newcastle and I was so sure it was a picture of sydney harbour bridge!

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    1. Thank you so much Johanna - I wasn't sure how many people would read such a lengthy stretch of writing, so I'm really glad you enjoyed it. I'm also thrilled that you have been to Durham, and that you liked it. I've only been to Hadrian's Wall once but it was also misty (and indeed ice-y - it was winter) and quite amazing to visit.

      I had to convince Mr B that the Newcastle Millenium bridge really did open and shut like an eye...he was very skeptical at first!

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  2. This is such a great post Kari! Thank you so much for sharing your family history with us :). I actually love reading about others history and really felt like I was reading a great story. :) Your write so well and I was hanging onto every word. :)

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    1. Thank you so much Brandi - that really means a lot.

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  3. That's such a lovely post about your grandparents. They certainly must have led an interesting life with their five children and all the traveling and all the places and countries they set up home. It must have been very special for you to spend those few days back in the town where you were born xx

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    1. It really was Charlie - I so love going back. And my mother's upbringing was most definitely an interesting one (sometimes I think a little too interesting for her liking)! There are some amazing tales from their various homes, that is for sure.

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  4. Loved thr family history and the pics. A uni friend of mine was an American from Wooster College - I have the T-shirt!

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    1. How fantastic! I know so little of America that I can't picture it at all, but if I ever find myself in Ohio I will definitely visit.

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  5. Kari, thank you sharing your family history with us! Fascinating! Your grandparents sound like such wonderful, funny, and passionate couple! I had to chuckle when I read "..I was determined to find fault with him." PUhaha! She sounds just like me. I don't like conforming to the crowd ;). But then I somehow end up doing so in the end. To my defense, it's never my intention..it just happens. Nigeria, Jamaica, America, England..Your family's been all over the globe! As for my family, it's either Korea or America. I have yet to set foot in any other places. Yes, I'm deprived. That's why I enjoy reading your posts so much! You do an excellent job in describing these marvelous places! Keep them coming!!

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    1. Thank you so much Min! I smiled at my grandmother's words, too, because they do sum her up fairly well. She is definitely not a conforming sort of woman ;) As you say, though, sometimse our intentions are swept away despite all efforts to the contrary (in her case, clearly for the best!).

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  6. wow! looks like such a beautiful place! great photos!

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  7. This is a great post Kari, your mother and her siblings being born all over the world is exactly like S's mother, but his grandparents were RAF.

    I thought I would feel more of a connection to Vienna which is where my Dad's family is from, but not having a member of the family to show me around meant it was a bit difficult. I hope I can have a trip with my parents there for Dad to show me all the important stuff. I've yet to go to the parts of Germany where Mum's parents were from, it will be interesting to see what I feel when I do.

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    1. Another coincidence / similarity for us ;) I think it was my grandfather's time in the RAF that sparked his interest in geography and travel - he still loves travel now but has to console himself with less of it, unfortunately.

      I think it would make a huge difference visiting a family place by yourself. I hope you can get back there with your parents one day - I imagine it would be very different having him to show you around.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your family history Kari! I've been intrigued by the odd comment you have left about your Mum's experience in Jamaica and your early travels to Oman so it was great to be able to read the timeline of events and gain a better understanding. Love your photos too!

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    1. Thank you Mel - I was a little worried people would find it rather too much so I've been relieved that others have found it as interesting as I do! It was helpful to set everything in order in my own mind, it is hard to remember which countries followed which sometimes :)

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  9. I look at your travels and family background and I am mesmerized! You have experienced culture, felt the beauty of the world and appreciate the ties of family. You would be very interesting to sit down and have a cup of coffee with, or glass of wine (better)! Love the story of your grandparents, 60 years..pretty impressive. Great post, Kari. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you so much Teri! And it definitely would be nice if we could transfer blog comments to in person discussions sometimes - although I suspect it is my grandmother who would have the richer stories, mind are passed down from her ;)

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  10. Wow! So beautiful, Durham especially!
    Thanks for sharing this story in your post.
    I would have to say that I don't have anything to that scale, but when I see pictures of Italy, It always reminds me of the friends I met and my time there studying abroad in college. It was such a turning point in my life and I learned so much.

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    1. I imagine the study abroad experience would have been amazing Kristen - definitely a life changing experience. I do wish I had done something like that sometimes, it gets harder to immerse yourself in different cultures when you get tied down with work and the other aspects of adult life!

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  11. You're totally going to be one of those retired ladies researching her entire family history back to the dark ages, AND IT WILL BE GOLD. You'll probably have, like, a Mayan princess in there or something.

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    1. I have a feeling my mother & grandmother will have done it all :P No Mayan princess yet but I'll hope!

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  12. What an amazingly interesting family history! So cool and ties to such beautiful places!

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  13. The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lot of great information which can be helpful in some or the other way. Keep updating the blog, looking forward for more contents...Great job, keep it up..
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