Posted by: Matthew Crawford | January 5, 2011

Snow, Snow, Snow

It’s only barely into winter and we’ve already had two significant snowfalls. The first of them started the day before Thanksgiving, and snow seemed to continue falling for days and days. At the peak of it we had well over a foot of snow on the ground, making travel quite perilous. I gave up walking into town and took the bus instead because I didn’t want to slip on the ice and snow. After a couple of weeks that snow finally started melting, but it was followed a short while later by a fresh snowfall. In fact, we had a white Christmas. December was a very cold month, supposedly the coldest December since they began keeping records of such things back in the 1600s. We got a sled (called a ‘sledge’ here) for Christmas, but haven’t had a chance to use it yet because all the snow is gone now, except for the huge piles of it where it was plowed off the streets. Here’s some pictures of all the snow:

This is a picture of our back garden










This is the view from the front of our house











Here is a picture of the River Wear and the cathedral in the background











Here we are walking through town with the Christmas decorations everywhere











Here is the river again, with the cathedral as well








A close up shot of the cathedral











If you want to see all our pictures of the snow and the Christmas fair in town, click here.

Posted by: Matthew Crawford | December 21, 2010

The Shortest Day of the Year

Today is the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year. This morning the sun rose at 8:28 and the sun is now about to set at 3:40 in the afternoon. It is strange to have such short days. And the high today was only 25 degrees F. We’re ready for the days to start growing longer and for the temperatures to warm up!

Posted by: Matthew Crawford | December 20, 2010

A Trip to York

Although the city of New York has long surpassed its English namesake in terms of size and influence, it cannot compare with the original York in terms of antiquity and interesting historical stuff. We have been hoping to take a trip to York for a while because it is so close, but had not been able to do so. Finally, last week, we had a free day with decent weather, so we headed south to check it out. We decided to take the train rather than the car, because it is quicker by train (only 45 minutes), and the girls really love riding on the train. The rail station in York is only a short walk from the center of town, and the town itself is not too big, so it was easy to get around on foot once we got there. After an obligatory meal at McDonald’s, we went to York Minster first. Here’s a picture of us with the church in the background. 




















One of the exciting things about York is that it has existed as a city since AD 71 when it was founded by the Romans. In fact, the city was the northern capital of the Roman province of Britain, so it’s been an important place for a long time. The minister is built on the ruins of the old Roman fort which at one time housed several thousand soldiers. Roman artifacts and the foundation of the Roman fort are visible in the crypt of the minister. There was even a small bit of pottery which had a chi-rho etched on it. This was an early Christian symbol that served as an abbreviation of Jesus Christ, so it suggests that there were Christians in York during the Roman period. In fact, York has a unique role in the role of Christianity in the Roman Empire. When the current emperor died in AD 306, the troops in York proclaimed their general as the new emperor. That general was Constantine, who would go on to become the first Christian emperor of Rome and end the persecution of the Christians. Just beside the minster there is a statue of Constantine commemorating that event, which you can see in the picture above.

After leaving the minster we wandered about for a while and found Shambles street. This is a historic street because of its name. The expression of something being “in shambles” derives from this street. Centuries ago it was the place you went to buy your meat, so the buildings on the street all had hooks sticking out of them with fresh meat hanging for people to buy. In fact, some of the meat hooks can still be seen today, albeit minus the meat. Over the course of time, the name of the street came to mean what we think of today when we say that something is in shambles. There aren’t any butchers on the street any longer, but it retains its quaint medieval feel. A picture of it is above.

Our last stop was Clifford’s Tower, the remains of the old castle in York. By this time we were too tired and too cold to climb the hill to have a look, but we did take a picture from below. Not much is left of the castle today, as you can see. We plan to revisit York when the weather is warmer so that we can enjoy it a bit more. Still it was a fun day out, despite the cold. If you want to see all of our pictures and videos from the trip, click here.

Posted by: Matthew Crawford | December 12, 2010

Hexham and Hadrian’s Wall

A few weeks ago we took off on a Saturday afternoon and made a quick trip north to see some interesting sites. Our first stop was Hexham, a small market town with a historic abbey. The majority of the current abbey (which is now a parish church) was constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries. However, a church has existed on the site since the 7th century. That means that for the last 1300 years, people have been coming to this location to worship. The original 7th crypt remains, which you can go down into and visit (creepy!), but it is only open twice a day and we were there at the wrong time to visit it. We’ll try to visit again some time to see the crypt.

Here’s a picture of the front of Hexham Abbey:











Here’s a picture of the inside of the abbey:











After we left Hexham, we drove further north for 20 minutes or so to Hadrian’s Wall. This was the site I was really excited about. Hadrian’s Wall was built under the Emperor Hadrian in the 120s, during the time when the Romans still controlled Britain. It was a stone wall that ran all the way across the island of Britain from coast to coast, and apparently marked the boundary of Roman territory. To the north lay the unconquered barbarians. To the south lay the world of civilization – cities, trade, and the rule of law. Amazingly, remnants of the wall are still present today, though over the centuries much of the stone from it has been taken and used for other building projects. Space out along the wall was a series of forts housing troops. We visited the wall at a place called Housesteads, which is one of the best preserved Roman forts in all of northern Europe (perhaps the best preserved, some have said). The fort was built into the wall, as you can see from the pictures, and its foundations are still evident today. The Romans were amazing builders. The room for the commander of the fort was even heated! And the room holding the grain had a raised floor to prevent infestation from rodents and the rotting of the grain. It was a cold day with a bone-chilling wind, but we braved the elements and had a wonderful time.

Standing on top of the wall:











The wall stretching away in the distance:











If you want to see all of our pictures and videos from the trip, click here.

Posted by: Matthew Crawford | October 24, 2010

Finchale Priory

Last weekend on a beautiful Saturday afternoon we took a trip out to Finchale Priory. Now that we have a car, such trips that previously were difficult are now easy. The Priory is only a fifteen minute drive from our house, just outside of Durham city in the English countryside. Finchale Priory was a 13th century monastery that housed a group of Benedictine monks. It was also used as a summer retreat for the monks at Durham’s cathedral. The place is in ruins today, abandoned during the Reformation along with all other monasteries in 1535. The site sits on a lovely bend in the river surrounded by fields and forests. I can see why the monks chose it for a home. You can see the pictures of our visit by clicking here.

Posted by: Matthew Crawford | October 10, 2010

Brimham Rocks and How Stean Gorge

Several months ago (back in May I believe) we took a trip with another family from church to a couple of local sites that are favorites of theirs. The first place we went to was called How Stean Gorge, a limestone gorge with a river running through it and trails throughout the gorge. There was even a small cave we went through at the end of the trail that terrified Violet but thrilled Camille (the difference in their personalities is obvious!). After having lunch there we drove a short distance to Brimham Rocks, a large collection of very oddly shaped and placed rocks. Some of them appear to be placed very precariously on top of one another, but they were all quite stable! Both places were in North Yorkshire, an area just south of County Durham that has some beautiful hilly countryside. We have lots of pictures of both places, as well as pictures of the countryside that you can see by clicking here.

The weather is just beginning to turn to autumn here and the leaves are changing. The curious thing is that the range of temperatures for any given day is far smaller than what we’re used to in Tennessee and Kentucky. A typical day probably has only about a ten degree difference between the high and low (e.g., 57 and 49 for today), which means that it never gets quite as warm or quite as cold as it might back in the states. We enjoy the mild weather, but it would be nice to see blue sky more often!

Posted by: Matthew Crawford | September 15, 2010

Our One Year Anniversary

It was exactly one year ago today when we landed in Dublin and began our adventure on this side of the pond. It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by, yet it is undeniable, for Durham feels more and more like home to us. In fact, thinking back to what the trip over was like one year ago makes me shudder! I don’t look forward to going through the agony of moving again when we move back to the states! In all seriousness, we have enjoyed out last year here immensely and we are looking forward to the rest of our time in England. It is amazing how settled we feel here, something that I’m sure is largely due to the community we have here at the university and at church.

Earlier this month places all across Europe had a Heritage Weekend in which many attractions which usually charge admission were free. We took the opportunity to go to Durham’s archaeology museum, which is housed in the Old Fulling Mill on the bank of the river. It was a beautiful late summer day. In addition to arrowheads, Roman coins and Anglo-Saxon crosses, we saw someone with a homemade 15th century bagpipe. It was lots of fun. You can see the pictures of our day out by clicking here.

Posted by: Matthew Crawford | September 5, 2010

A Trip to Seaham

I should apologize for not posting anything in quite some time. In part it was intentional – I tried to ignore as many obligations as possible while we were back in the states so that we could have plenty of time to visit with people. But in part it was just the inevitable busyness of life since we’ve gotten back. We spent a total of five weeks in America, most of the time in Tennessee, with two short trips to Mississippi and Alabama to see friends and family in those two places. The most startling difference between England and the southern US is the heat! The day we left Memphis to return to England, the heat index was expected to hit 116 degrees F (about 45 Celsius), and when we landed in Newcastle, England the next day the temperature was a pleasant 60 degrees F or so. Oddly enough, I have to say that we enjoy the English weather! The freedom simply to stand outside and not sweat profusely is a gift that is not to be taken lightly. For all of you whom we were able to see while we were stateside, thank you for taking the time to let us catch up. For those of you whom we were unable to see, we’re sorry that our schedule didn’t allow us to do as much as we had hoped. In fact, we were so busy while we were back, that we felt like we needed a vacation once we got back to England!

We are pretty well settled back into life here in Durham. August presented us with pleasant weather most of the time, with occasional rain and generally cool temperatures. Most days I wore long sleeves, and often a jacket or sweater as well. August is a time when many Britons take holidays, so it’s been kind of a quiet month with not much going on at church or in the community. The term at the university doesn’t start until October, so I’ve been working from home quite a bit, researching and writing a paper for the British Patristics Conference that was held in Durham last week. The biggest change in our life since returning to Durham is that we have obtained a car, due to the generosity of some kind friends. The car has some mechanical issues that we are still trying to get worked out, but having the car allowed us to take a trip to Seaham, a small community on the coast that is only about a 20 minute drive from our house. I’ve posted some pictures from our trip which you can see by clicking here.

Posted by: Matthew Crawford | June 26, 2010

From the Cathedral Tower

Last week Brandy and I left the kids with some friends from church and spent an afternoon wandering around Durham. The highlight of the day was going up in the tower of the cathedral. To get to the top you have to ascend 325 winding stairs that often are very very narrow, but the view is worth the effort. From the top of the tower you can see the entire city of Durham and the English countryside rolling away in the distances. You can see pictures of our trip here.

Posted by: Matthew Crawford | June 22, 2010

What It’s Like to Live this Far North

One odd thing about living as far north as Durham is the time the sun sets and rises. We’re nearly as far north as Moscow in terms of latitude. What that means is that in the summer and winter solstices the days get to be extremely short or long. Yesterday, the summer solstice, the sun rose at 4:28 am and set at 9:48 pm. However, it is also fairly light for a considerable time before the sun rises and after it sets. Yesterday dusk lasted until nearly 11:00 pm, and when I went outside at midnight, there was still a light blue haze on the western horizon where the sun had set. Starting today we are on the long journey to the winter solstice, as the days grow shorter and shorter for the next 6 months. Having long days in the summer is quite nice, but we definitely don’t like the short days and long darkness of winter!

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