Friday was scheduled to be a semi-rest day, with nothing but a relatively short cycle (35 miles) planned for the late afternoon. In the morning we drove to the nearby city of Durham, County Durham and headed for their tourist information office. They recommended we followed a walking route through the city, but it turned out to be rather dull. In fact, Durham seemed to be a bit of a ghost town: there was almost nobody in the streets and nothing happening. After eating a good Southern lunch served in a basket, we got back into the car and drove out to Durham’s university: Duke’s.
We parked at the Sarah P Duke gardens where Andy and I sat down in the shade with our copies of Harry Potter and set to work. After finishing the book (nice end, shame about the epilogue) I walked around the lake and watched some turtles basking in the water. Duke’s Students’ Union is a little more impressive than the English Durham’s; some of the branded clothing (’stash’, for Durhamites) was manufactured by Nike and the Union building contained a McDonald’s and several shops. To be fair to English Durham, it’s a little harsh to compare the facilities at a campus university to ones at a collegiate town university, but Duke’s still gave off an air of wealth and quality. English Durham may have Palace Green, but Duke’s has some stunning 1920s architecture (including a very cool chapel that would make a pretty impressive cathedral for any English city) as well as facilities that don’t feel like they’re on the losing side of a battle against degradation.
While buying postcards (sadly, they all said “Duke’s” and not “Durham”) I mentioned to the shop assistant that we were from Durham, England. She didn’t seem able to care less. Assuming she must not have understood the gravity of what I was saying, I told some random passers-by who had mistakenly asked us for directions. They also couldn’t have given a monkey’s. I’m sure if an American told me in Durham, UK that they were from Durham, NC I would at least pretend to be interested in their home town.
We left Durham with our illusions of uniting the twin cities shattered, and I set out to drop the cyclists just to the south of Raleigh to start a 35 mile drive to Benson. Then it started raining and lightning bolts shot dramatically across the sky. This was accompanied by a massive traffic tailback, so we decided it wasn’t worth putting the cyclists out in the middle of a storm and drove directly to Benson. It took three hours by car, so they’d have probably been quicker on the bikes.
On our return, I received an email from Durham Alumni telling me all about the trip that I was on at that moment. How odd, I thought. Not for long though, as it turned out that Neil had sent them an article a couple of weeks ago. The message, and link to this website, was sent to thousands of former Durham students around the world, and I had already received a reply from a former Mildertian Engineer who was now based in Rochester. Thanks in part to the email, the website is now receiving hundreds of visits every day.