Much of this week was spent running through the cobbled streets of Durham (a quaint city-town in the North-East) with Will’s family, attempting to pack in four castles in three days (we did it!) and see numerous sites of medieval importance. We tore through the place at the pace of the Norman conquerors of yesteryear – eating teacakes on Palace Green early in the morning, climbing the three hundred plus steps to the cathedral’s peak and admiring the holy Lindisfarne Gospels late at night.
I spent much of our visit quietly pondering the ‘what might have beens’. Over four years ago, after a flurry of emails and academic exchanges, Durham University offered me a place to study liberal arts at St. Cuthbert’s College (which the students, allegedly, affectionately call ‘Cuth’s’). I ummed and aahed, hesitated and wondered, but I had never been to Durham and Bristol’s Victorian villas and elegant bridge had already stirred my imagination.
I spent a frenzied, gorgeous, exciting and life-changing (there’s my dramatic side again) in Bristol, hundreds of miles from St. Cuthbert’s and never regretted my choice. It was only driving into the city on Wednesday, five years on and a lifetime in between, that the cogs of my mind began to whir and I remembered my fleeting encounter with the place quite suddenly. In four years elsewhere, I had not thought of Durham once.
The city was lovely, entirely different from Bristol – small and quiet, sweetly romantic and sat in the bend of a mighty river (just like Regensburg). All climbing ivy, hidden windows, secret passageways, damp cobbles and the patchworked sandstone of a thousand years. The what-might-have-beens tumbled through in sequence and I could quite imagine the life I’d never known. Autumn walks up the hill towards the green, wrapped up in my duffel coat with a pile of books in my arms. Riverside picnics and late-night library nights overlooking the cathedral. Sandwiches at the market square and a date with a nice boy in a window seat on a rainy winter’s day. Coffee in the teashop on Palace Green and a job in the bookshop on the street sloping northwards. We even ambled by the college where I would have lived. It is a beautiful street, cobbled and old, and I’d have been joyous there.
I would not change my seasons in Bristol for all the world, but sometimes it’s nice to imagine, isn’t it? Somewhere out there my alter-ego is wandering those ancient streets in her duffel coat, holding hands with the boy in the window, a bookbag over her shoulder. Perhaps one day I’ll write my novel about the girl who chose Durham and wouldn’t change her seasons there for all the world.