Chester-le-Street – Skeeby

We’re not entirely sure where today went either, it certainly began early enough with us both being awake and on the go by 6:15am, and somehow we made it to the car and on the road by 8:45 – after several cups of tea and some nattering over the days plans, and yes, that is code for we sat around talking until we realised what time it was and leapt into action! We drove through the outskirts of Durham first and weaved our way successfully through the streets and numerous roundabouts with some ease, and some frustration that may have lead to a minor detour that took half an hour to correct, and eventually found ourselves at our first destination, which technically no longer exists. No, it wasn’t Brigadoon, but the few people we chatted to, to confirm our location, may as well have stepped out of a bygone era. Not because they were in any way dressed oddly, but because no matter which question we would ask, they’d answer one way, then correct in the next, leaving us thoroughly confuddled and befused.

From there we made our way across the A1 – which was still in the death-grip of roadworks – and then cross-country traversing up and down various lanes until we popped out at our next stop, a quiet little church that I’ve visited once before. I know a lot of people go somewhere and then never go again, mainly because they feel they’ve seen it, so why go back. For me returning to semi-familiar places is like rereading a good book – lets face it, it would have to be good or you wouldn’t have read it the first time, or in this case, gone there the first time – you can always get something extra from the experience, more knowledge, a different viewpoint, or a completely different experience because the circumstances are different. That’s pretty much what happened here. Last time we went it was a year or two after a massive fire had all but burned the place to the ground, very little remained of the original Saxon building, the wooden pews, effigies, everything all contributed to the biggest bonfire the village had seen in decades. Considering that, the ‘restoration’ of the church is impressive to say the least, the new stone work, the crisp and clean plastering, the new wooding seating. It’s different to how it would have been pre-fire – drastically so as it’s now light and airy where before it was dark and somewhat foreboding – but there is still a certain charm about it. It’s quiet elegance, it’s sympathy and resilience towards its parishioners. I’m not keen on churches, but I can’t help but be inspired by the devotion the locals have to their buildings and the skill the builders have shown in creating a new space that is so considerate of the past.

A quick drive down the road and we were standing outside yet another waypoint, but we didn’t stay long at this one, it’s been on our ‘to-do’ list for 15 years, but every time we come by it’s either shut, or we’re there on the wrong day. The latter being the case today. Frustration central. We’ve now decided that it can move to the bottom of the list, as no site is worth this much effort, not when we’re unsure it’s even going to be of any real interest, it’s just in a convenient location to the previous small church. Another 20 minutes down the road and we were driving into what could only, and best, be described as a mad dog’s breakfast. What should have been a lovely and quiet small village was under siege to some voting/polling event and being bombarded by construction in the same area. We had intended on visiting a castle in the village, but after three loops around the block – once into a dead end that had to be reversed up to get out – we decided it too was not worth the near coronary I was currently expecting any minute!

After an hasty escape we scurried down a smaller country road and drove through a few tiny villages to see where some forebears had once lived, wish there was more to say about them, the villages that is, but sadly it was a case of ‘seen one, seen em all’, they all blurred into one as there really was nothing that set any of them apart. We then headed towards what should have been a Roman villa, should have been. The sign said 1.1/4 miles to the site, so we drove and drove, and drove some more, up hills, around blind corners that even Ducky-Foo would’ve been proud of, and finally popped out onto another larger road, the sign pointing in our direction said exactly the same thing, 1. 1/4 miles back the way we’d just come, where there was nothing but twisting-turning roads. We sat there slightly confused, then peered over a few rockwalls and hedgerows before finally throwing our hands in the air and driving on. So far today was not a good day.

By 1pm we arrived in Richmond, and feeling thoroughly cheesed off we sat in the main market – a lovely remnant of medieval times – and glared out at the world, before realising that we both needed the bathroom rather urgently and had no idea where to find said conveniences! A very quick scramble around the square we found a sign pointing in a somewhat vague direction that we could only hope lead to ‘the promised land’ as it were. Thankfully it did. Upon returning to the car we decided to give the castle a go and wandered up the hill to the main entrance – by wandering I mean working our way through the maze of medieval streets that mainly block all view of the castle so that you actually don’t know which direction you’re heading in – and into the building. Our exploration was a brief one, there’s not a whole lot to see of Richmond, but it does have a rather interesting history. Started not long after William the Conqueror, it’s been hand-balled to numerous families down the line, had a couple of major overhauls and was finally decommissioned as it were after the Second World War.

We did try to venture over to another castle after Richmond, but due to rain we didn’t even make it out of the car, so we’ll come back and have another go tomorrow, good thing it’s not far away! Oh, and for what it’s worth, we enjoyed a bowl of creamy vegetable soup for dinner, we had a late lunch of a pork and apple pie from ‘The Noted Pie’ shop and a coffee eclair from ‘Thomas the Baker’ (both in Richmond) so weren’t overly hungry and Sainsbury’s really do do a rather nice pot of soup!