10th October 2020
Review by Lily Tibbitts
It was a crisp Sunday afternoon, autumn leaves coating the floor in a mosaic of red and yellow and the hum of people dancing through the street could be heard when I put my earphones in and began my walk around the seemingly ordinary city of Durham. I wasn’t expecting to be transported back in time, but I soon found myself engrossed in the stories that surrounded each place that I went to as I followed the guided walk.
Durham is a city full of history. With the beautiful cathedral that was originally built by a group of Lindisfarne monks and the castle to defend England from Scottish invasion, it’s clear that Durham must be full of stories.
These stories have been told many times and by many different people over the years. From Tony Harrison’s poem ‘Durham’ to Lewis Carrol’s ‘Jabberwocky’ which was inspired by the local tale of the Lambton worm, Durham is full of literature and history that’s just waiting to be uncovered.
This year at Durham Book Festival, thanks to Ruth Robson, there’s a chance to discover this history and see Durham in a completely new way. Guided Walk: A Literary Pilgrimage of Durham is an hour and a half downloadable audio walk around the city, taking you to ten different locations where you can listen to the stories of Durham’s past and present, transforming places from simply old buildings and structures to the sites of extraordinary folk tales and narratives. This is the walk I took, leaving me surprised at how much there was to notice about every spot.
The nondescript building of Durham Prison became the home to the infamous serial killer Mary Ann Cotton who killed her victims with arsenic in their tea. Colpitts Hotel, a normal seeming bar, was transformed into the poetry-reading hotspot that it used to be, set up in the old back room. So many stories and historical facts came to light. It was impossible to see Durham in the same way once I’d listened to each five-minute clip.
By the time I finished, it was getting late. The air was colder and the sky was darker, but the sounds of people hadn’t disappeared, walking around without any idea of what had happened there centuries before. It felt like unknown information that I now shared. The not-so-secret past of Durham city.
This walk is ideal for anyone interested in literature, history or just Durham itself, and you’re guaranteed to feel much closer to the places afterwards. The literary history of Durham is extensive and riveting – this walk makes it easier to discover it.
Listen to the guided walk here.
This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.