Newest Review: ... is to take advantage of the park and ride initiative which has been a success over the past few years. You can park all day for approx £2... more
DURHAM CITY......without the bull
Durham in General
Member Name: proxam
Durham in General
Date: 19/08/03, updated on 19/08/03 (96 review reads)
Advantages: Interesting, historic city
We left our hotel (in Yorkshire) just before 9am to return home - and as home was only a 2-3 hour drive, we decided to stop off somewhere for an hour or two and, although I'd only ever passed through, I'd heard good things about Durham so decided to visit. It's lucky I did, otherwise I'd have nothing to write about in this review!
So is it worth going to Durham?
- Yes it is. But don't just take my word for it, let's ask travel guru Bill Bryson what he thinks.
"I got off at Durham... and fell in love with it instantly in a serious way. Why, it's wonderful - a perfect little city.... If you have never been to Durham, go there at once. Take my car. It's wonderful." ---- (Notes from a Small Island, 1995)
Hey, if it's good enough for the Bryser, then it's probably good enough for me.
The history of Durham is inextricably linked to that of St Cuthbert, a 7th century monk who performed 'miracles'. His body was eventually buried in the city in 995AD. In 1072, William the Conqueror bestowed vice-regal powers on the first bishop, beginning the tradition of Bishop Princes, and building started on the Cathedral. These BP's had almost total control over the area and had the power to mint their own coinage, raise armies and collect taxes - all with the purpose of protecting England's vulnerable border counties from the not infrequent incursions by the Scots. (Wha's like us?)
These unique powers were only returned to the crown in 1836.
The city became a site of pilgrimage which, together with its special position, encouraged the growth of the city from the castle and cathedral downhill to the river crossings.
Most of the mediaeval street layo
ut still exists today, although very few of the houses of that period survive.
The Cathedral has a quite spectacular setting, standing high on a hill in a loop of the River Wear, it's visible for many miles around and is especially striking at night when the cathedral is lit up and can be viewed even while driving along the M-way.
Durham's a small city and as it lies very close to the A1(M) motorway, it's very accessible, in fact, a short drive along a dual carriageway from the M-way exit brings you directly into the heart of the city and ample parking. Which co-incidentally, is how we arrived.
We parked the car in a multi-storey just on the edge of the city-centre and made our way to the tourist information office just across the street. It was well stocked with leaflets and booklets about, not only Durham, but the surrounding area as far south as Yorkshire and as far west as Carlisle.
We didn't have a lot of time to spend in in Durham but it's not exactly a sprawling metropolis and everything we wanted to see was in the compact, mediaeval heart of the city so off we jolly-well went, free map in pocket, to slog our way up the hill to the Cathedral.
At the bottom of the hill is the Market Square and leading off from this, the Victorian Market. We popped in for a quick look expecting it to be pretty much a run-of-the-mill market...and it was! To be fair, there were one or two stalls selling antiques (more like bric-a-brac) and some arty types, so it wasn't too bad. The market hall itself was quite attractive with it's glass roof but the floor had a very pronounced slope - didn't those Victorian builders have spirit-levels then?
From there we made our way up to the Cathedral with only a small diversion in the opposite direction down Silver St - which reminded me that I had a map in my pocket.
The Norman Cathedral, a World heritage Site, was founded in 1093 and is the
shrine of St. Cuthbert. You don't actually have to walk up the hill to it (although it's not much of a slope) as there is a shuttle bus service linking it with the rail station, bus station and various car and coach parks.
The building itself is maybe not quite as dramatic as Canterbury Cathedral, but it does have a wonderful setting and its position is more reminiscent of a fortification than a place of worship. It's not surprising really, as across the quadrangle sits the castle itself.
I like to visit Cathedrals and marvel at the whole ambience of them. It amazes me that in times when people didn't even have clean drinking water or adequate shelter, never mind powertools, edifices such as this could be erected. It's testimony to mankind's warped priorities.
What motivated the architects and engineers to such ingenious construction solutions, or the craftsmen to such wonderful examples of their skill?
Piety and devotion....religious zeal....booking a place in heaven? Cynical old git that I am, I tend to think it was more about securing a well-paid job that would support you and your family for many long years.
One thing's for sure, they don't build 'em like that anymore.
Entry to the Cathedral was free although they do look for a donation to cover the £40,000 annual maintenance costs. Not being shy, they suggest £4 as a suitable gift.
We didn't visit the castle as it was by guided tour only and that didn't appeal.
Close by to the Cathedral is the Durham Heritage Museum which is housed in the historic church of St, Mary-le-Bow. A fee of £1.20 lets you wander around amongst some displays and artefacts from Durham's long history.
Everything is laid out chronologically beginning in the 10th century and leading up to the present day. There are displays, models and 'hands-on' activities including a reconstruction of a Victorian cell from Durham Gaol,
and many other interesting objects from everyday life in the city.
Upstairs, there's an audio-visual facility (a TV with a video) about the city's history and there's a shop where you can buy souvenirs.
There are many other museums in the city, which we didn't have time to see, including:
Durham University Museum of Archaeology, The University Oriental Museum and the Durham Light Infantry Museum & Durham Art Gallery.
We decided not to stay for lunch, although there were lots of options and some very inviting pubs, but it was a little too early for a beer (according to Mrs P).
We didn't spend that long in Durham and probably didn't do it justice. We didn't do things like: take a boat trip on the River Wear....visit the Botanic Gardens....check out the stained glass windows and painting displays in the Town Hall....experience the history of Durham by watching the film in the Sacred Journey Centre....attend the Gala Theatre....have a meal in one of the many restaurants or picnic by the river....or just chill in one of the numerous pubs......
But then we can always return and do the things we didn't get round to this time...you know, I think we probably will.
Thanks for reading