Time out: Medieval, magnificent

25 November 2009

by Natalie K. Watson


Durham is the highlight of the north-east of England, and the heart of Durham County.


Durham has a magnificent cathedral — the finest piece of Norman archi­tecture in the British Isles — and its uni­versity is the third oldest in England. On a peninsula in the River Wear, the old city is full of cobbled streets and has a Victorian covered market. From the railway station, the visitor gets an unfor­gettable first impression of the cathedral and the castle. (Another breath­taking view is from the exercise yard of HM Prison Durham, al­though no photography is allowed there.)

Getting there

By train on the East Coast Mainline, between York and Newcastle; by road on the A1M. A shuttle bus to the centre of the city departs from the station every 20 minutes.

High point

Durham Cathedral, with its shrines of St Cuthbert, whose bones were translated here from Lindisfarne, and the Venerable Bede, has attracted pil­grims since the Middle Ages. Wander in the cloisters or between the mas­sive Norman pillars, and be trans­ported back to the time of the Prince Bishops. Or admire Fenwick Law­son’s haunting statues made of local wood. And don’t forget “The Col­lege” (the name given to the cath­edral close) behind the cathedral. Durham Cathedral and Castle form one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the UK.

Other things to see

A walk on the riverbank and across the city’s three stone-arch bridges gives a vivid impression of the Prince Bishops’ city. Durham Heritage Centre and Museum, on North Bailey, tells the story of the city from medieval times to the present day.

The Durham Light Infantry and Art Museum offers exhibitions on the history of the local regiment, and on other aspects of local and military history.


The annual Miners’ Gala (pro­nounced “gayla”), with its splendid display of banners and brass bands, on the second Saturday in July, is a reminder of the city’s proud history of mining and trade-unionism.

Near by

The Bowes Museum, in Barnard Castle, houses an out­stand­ing collec­tion of European fine and decor­ative arts, and has an acclaimed ex­hibition programme. Bede’s World, in Jarrow, comple­ments a visit to Durham with fascinating exhibitions about the life and times of the Venerable Bede, England’s first church historian.

Food and drink

For an atmospheric drink in an old-style pub, try the Shakespeare on Saddler Street. A local favourite is Bimbi’s Fish and Chips on the Market Place (“The secret is in the batter”).




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