“A Perfect Little City”

That is how Bill Bryson describes Durham in his Notes from a Small Island.  I have never read the book but, as a former Durham student, have that quote firmly embedded in my brain.  There were some who found the city rather claustrophobic and who were desperate to escape at the end of their degrees, but I have always been firmly in the Bryson camp.

A couple of weeks ago, a few of us decided to return to Durham for a weekend, to re-visit some of our old haunts and to catch up with friends.  As is now becoming the norm, I also took my camera along for the trip.


The view from Wharton Park, a popular spot for anyone wishing to take photos of the cathedral and castle.

My college was St. John’s, so I spent two of my three years as an undergrad living on the Bailey, in close proximity to both the castle and cathedral and to the River Wear – a great combination!

Photo 1 is the view from Framwellgate Bridge, which happens to be the bridge in photos 2 and 3. 

The natural light was fading as I took the shot of the bridge and, in my first couple of attempts, the artificial lights were a vibrant and distracting orange.  I altered the white balance and successfully tamed the lights a little – but then found, when I got to a computer, that the photo had a blue cast to it.  This was easily corrected using photo editing software but increased the orange lighting again!

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Durham Cathedral is, of course, a prominent feature of the city’s skyline.  Photos were not allowed inside the cathedral but it was an interesting challenge to try to capture something of its external grandeur.  The weather was against me; although rather better than the forecast had suggested, it was grey and overcast, and this meant that some of the photos looked a little flat and lifeless.  From time to time it also meant that I needed to use a slow shutter speed, as well as a large aperture and high ISO, and this increased the risk of camera shake.  Having left my trusty tripod at home, I had to pay attention to this and sometimes abandoned a photo opportunity because I couldn’t get the settings quite right.

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Photos 1 and 5 were taken in the cloisters.  Sadly there was no sun, and so no shadow, but there were still a few of us trying to capture a good image, including a man who was absolutely determined to take a self-portrait…

As students, my friends and I were not exactly typical.  Our preference was usually for chocolate cake rather than beer, and for an hour or so in the playground rather than a night clubbing!  It was fun doing both of these – eating chocolate cake and visiting the playground – with my friends’ young daughters.

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All three photos were taken in Wharton Park.  My friend and I spotted the building at the same time and agreed that, despite its dilapidation, or perhaps because of it, it would make an interesting subject, framed by the trees.

For more photos of Durham, all in black and white, including images taken in the cathedral and on a sunny day in the cloisters (!), take a look at Royston Thomas’ book, Images of Durham.  His photos are well known in the city, particularly amongst students and tourists, and have been sold worldwide.