It can’t last. It never does. People have been nice to us since we arrived. Hotel clerks have offered helpful advice, bus drivers free rides, taxi drivers warm conversation, and shopkeepers and bar staff have doled out greetings and smiles. It goes further than that . . . Yesterday we decided on impulse to hop on on a local bus run to see some culture and everyday life as it is experienced here in northeast England. Well, it would be kind to say that we did not choose our destination well, but we nevertheless had an afternoon to remember.
We found ourselves on a slow route to nowhere, trundling around what seemed like every village in the old abandoned colliery district between Durham and the coast. On route we were treated to a constantly changing cast of characters; our fellow passengers.
Mostly from villages that no longer had any economic reason for being, our companions were not wealthy in any material sense. Wearing shaggy, baggy, unwashed travel clothes ourselves, we felt over dressed. However it was the personal pride with which people conducted themselves and the way they demonstrated community that made a lasting impression on Sue and I. We knew we didn’t belong, but I, for one that afternoon, would have liked to. We were treated to a lesson in community that transcended material well-being. We glimpsed the glue that still holds people together in these places.
Old ladies and gentlemen, many with walking aids, all looking as if they had taken care with their appearance, climbed sometimes unsteadily onto the bus and headed for seats reserved for them. If there were no seats a younger person, not always so carefully groomed, would stand and offer their seat. People would acknowledge acquaintances and happily chat to the person on the seat beside them. It seemed that meeting or seeing someone you knew while you were on the bus was part of daily life. Two young men, obviously not locals, asked the driver for advice on bus routes. Several passengers offered their helpful thoughts before the driver could respond, and what ensued was a bus-wide debate on the correct interchanges these men should take – all good natured and seemingly with their well-being in mind.
Our bus route was uninspiring and and our destination one we would not bother returning to, but that didn’t matter. We agreed afterwards that we had had a priviliged peek at a community that had not decayed even though it had endured great hardships as a result of the closure of the northern colleries decades ago. It had lost its prosperity. It had not lost its soul.
Today we picked up our hire car and headed north along the A1 to Lindisfarne, managing to avoid significant marital discord along the way. (It is something of a tradition that Sue and I do not always see eye to eye on matters such as map directions and traffic hazards when driving in foreign countries, but today we seemed to have turned a corner – metaphorically). This is a good thing and helped to balance my disappointment at my attempts to capture something of the enduring spirit of this holy and historic place that is Lindisfarne. Sue’s photos were better. There, I said it. That wasn’t too hard.
We also found our Inn for the night (The White Swan at Lowick) so looking forward to some more English hospitality before we drive into Scotland tomorrow.

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