Durham CastleLike the rest of the North East, County Durham has a long history of independence and for much of its past was controlled by the church. Part of the Kingdom of Northumbria, then a liberty, it next became the Palatinate of Durham and, from around the 11th century, the so-called ‘Prince Bishops’ were in charge - in fact, incredibly, County Durham had considerable independence from the rest of the country until 1971. There is a lot to see in this historic area - from the grandeur of Durham Cathedral to the stunning beauty of the North Pennines, from the medieval splendor of Raby Castle to the fascinating social history on display at the open air Beamish Museum. Castles and charming scenery are a good reason to come, but the local people are an even better reason to linger. The North East generally is known for its hardy but infinitely friendly inhabitants. It’s the kind of place where everyone calls you ’pet’ or ’flower’ and will happily make small talk as you stand in line for the bus.


Durham CastleOne day in 995AD a group of monks from Lindisfarne, carrying the body of St Cuthbert and in search of ‘Dun Holme’, the prophesied safe resting place for his remains, met a milkmaid in search of her dun cow. As she thought it might be in ‘Dun Holme’ or Durham
(pop 42 940), they followed her and, open reaching the wooded hill, began to build what would one day become the magnificent Durham Cathedral. This is how the quaintly beautiful and quintessentially English city of Durham came into being. The old part of town is largely taken over by the university, which houses its students and academic departments in the historic buildings that line the steep cobbled streets. Below, hugging the cathedral, castle, and colleges is the River Wear (pronounced to rhyme with ‘ear’), where students train for the university’s renowned rowing teams and tourists try their hands at old fashioned row boats.      

Durham’s compact historic centre is settled on a peninsula and surrounded by the River Wear. The train station is high on a hill to the north west of the centre and on Station Approach – there are access ramps and pedestrian bridges as well as a steep flight of stairs from Framwellgate Peth on the intersection, but if you’re on foot with luggage, it can be a tiring climb. The bus station is on North Road, just to the south of the train station.

Durham Cathedral on the River WearDurham Cathedral
[+44 191 386 4266, free entry] is visible from miles around and dominates the landscape. It is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in England and, perhaps, in Europe. It was begun in 1093 under the second Bishop of Durham, an office which held such power in the region that later the term ‘Prince Bishop’ came to describe it. The cathedral was completed in around 50 years and the central body of the building today reflects much of this original design.

The cathedral was built to house the remains of one of England’s most venerated saints, Saint Cuthbert, who was a key figure in the spread of Christianity throughout the North East. The tomb of Saint Cuthbert, although, like the rest of the building, severely diminished after its plunder by Henry VIII’s men, is still situated in the cathedral behind the Neville Screen, a huge Caen limestone screen given to the cathedral by John Neville in the 14th century.

The Galilee Chapel, which dates to 1175, contains the black marble tomb of the Venerable Bede (673-735AD), England’s first historian, whose Ecclesiastical History of the English People is still a major source for the period. There are also some fine 12th century wall-paintings here which are thought to feature St. Cuthbert.

On the western side of the cloisters are the Monk’s Dormitory [adults £1] and the Treasure’s of Saint Cuthbert [adults £2.50]. Both of these rooms have good exhibitions displaying objects from the cathedral’s history. The Treasures exhibition includes St Cuthbert’s coffin and his pectoral cross.

Durham Castle
[Palace Green, +44 191 3343800, Guided tour necessary adults £5: see top photo] is also known as University College: it is actually home to part of the Durham student population. William the Conqueror began construction of a defensive mound on the castle site in 1072. As the residence of the Bishop of Durham, the castle was gradually added to over the years and its foundations continually strengthened. It remained the Bishop’s residence until 1837 when it became part of the university: it was at this time that the now imposing Keep was considerably rebuilt.

The university run
Botanic Gardens [Hollingside Lane, South Road, +44 191 3345521, adults £4] are a relaxing spot on a sunny afternoon. There’s a tropical greenhouse as well as an arid greenhouse with cacti, and a host of other kinds of garden including a bamboo grove and woodland garden. If they whet your appetite for gardens, you might also visit Crook Hall and Gardens [Frankland Lane, Sidegate, +44 191 3864521, adults £6]. Here, traditional English style gardens fan out from Crook Hall, first built in 1208 with expansions in 1671 and 1720.

The university’s Oriental Museum [Elvet Hill, +44 191 3345694, adults £1.50] has a wonderful collection of artefacts with both archaeological and artistic value from Egypt, North Africa, and from across the Near- and Far East. Similarly, the university’s
Old Fulling Mill Museum of Archaeology [The Banks, +44 191 3341823, adults £1] has some interesting artefacts, though its strength is in its Medieval and Post Medieval collections of artefacts from digs in and around Durham.

If the weather is nice, there’s no better place to be than the River Wear:
Prince Bishop River Cruisers [The Boathouse, Elvet Bridge, +44 191 3869525, adults £5.50] offer one hour cruises along the river between Easter and October. The boat has a bar and ample space on the upper and lower decks to allow visitors to leisurely take in not only the charming river bank scenery up to Durham Racecourse but also some spectacular views of the cathedral; but if DIY is more your thing, hire a row boat from Browns Rowing Boats [The Boathouse, Elvet Bridge, +44 191 386 3779, adults £3.50 with a deposit of £10] and discover the river for yourself.  


Durham Castle [Palace Green, +44 191 3344106, ranges from single rooms to suites £28.50-180] The castle is the perfect place to stay in Durham with a wonderful location and, of course, a superbly historic atmosphere. The accommodation is used by students in term time so it is fairly basic.

Three Tuns Hotel [New Elvet, +44 191 3864326, £59-118] The Three Tuns is in a great location but could probably use a revamp in the furnishings department. Still, it’s good value and the building has considerable history.

Castle View [4 Crossgate, +44 191 3868852, £80-85] As its name implies, this B&B commands a breathtaking view of Durham Castle across the river. Castle View is in a convenient location and the accommodation is bright, spacious, and modern. 

Fallen Angel
[34 Old Elvet, +44 191 3841037, £150-300] It has to be admitted that the Fallen Angel is a bit pricey but it has very, very cool themed rooms, which are so well designed that you’ll want to book a night in each and every one. Great location too. 



Beamish MuseumBeamish Museum [Beamish, +44 191 370 4000, Admission charges are on a sliding scale according to the season, adults from £7.50-16] is an open air museum where it is always 1825 – or 1913. Most of the buildings were brought here from other towns in the vicinity and reassembled. They are filled with authentic artefacts but it is the costumed staff, who provide a wealth of information about the industrial and social history of County Durham, that really bring the past to life. Explore the Town with its cobbled streets and working tram as well as a range of interesting buildings and shops: there’s the Sun Inn, a licensed pub dating to the 1860s; the Co-operative department store; and the Jubilee Sweet Factory. Beyond the Town, there’s the Home Farm, the Colliery Pit Village, and Pockerley Old Hall, the latter which was an original building on the site and dates back to at least 1183. 

Go North East buses 28 and 28A between Newcastle and Chester-le-Street stop by the Beamish Museum entrance. Get around the museum site itself on the beautiful period trams and the replica 1913 bus.



Barnard CastleBarnard Castle [Barnard Castle, +44 1833 638212, adults £4.20] is the name of a high defensive castle and the town beneath it. The castle was named for its 12th century founder Bernard de Balliol. There are lovely views of the Tees Gorge and some fine architecture in the castle itself to admire. In the town, look out for the octagonal Market Cross or Butter Market, which has been used as a gaol, court, town hall, and as a dairy market. 

The Silver Swan, Bowes MuseumNearby is the French chateau style Bowes Museum [Barnard Castle, +44 1833 690606, adults £8], which houses a fantastic collection of European art, with works by Goya and El Greco, as well as some oddities like the breathtaking Silver Swan musical automaton, crafted in 1773, which Mark Twain, in The Innocents Abroad, described as having ‘a living grace’.

Barnard Castle is on the north-eastern bank of the River Tees. From Barnard Castle (the castle itself) you can walk to the Market Place and from there take the south bound Compass Royston number 70 towards Darlington. This bus stops right outside the Bowes Museum. To return, take the same bus, north bound towards Barnard Castle.


Pennines heathlandT
he Northern Pennines are one of England’s natural wonders. A haunting landscape of disused lead mines, beautiful valleys, and, in summer, purple blankets of heather, the area is also home to many rare species of plants and animals, the latter including red squirrels, black grouse, and otters. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is popular with walkers and is traversed by the Pennine Way. High Force and Cauldron Snout, two impressive waterfalls, should not be missed.

The Northern Pennines stretch from Barnard Castle and Kirkby Stephen in the south to Hadrian’s Wall in the north. For more information about getting around this area, try here or here.