Newest Review: ... interesting detail. A favourite with children is the delightfully spooky vaulted undercroft which also has years old graffitti carved ... more
Finchale Priory (Durham)
Member Name: noodlesandwich
Finchale Priory (Durham)
Date: 09/09/11, updated on 12/09/11 (104 review reads)
Advantages: dramatic ruins, picturesque spot, no charge
Disadvantages: need good weather, could be more information available
Finchale Priory, (pronounced 'Finkle' and also known as Finchale Abbey), is a ruined monastery, a daughter house of Durham Cathedral, situated a few miles further along the River Wear. It began life as a hermitage for St Godric who lived in the twelfth century. After his death, monks were sent to establish a priory on the site. The saints tomb is marked by a stone cross although his remains are no longer there, (it's not known what happened to them). The abbey is a Grade I Listed Building and Scheduled Ancient Monument. It's an English Heritage site and is free entry, although there is a charge of £2.50 for the car park. The gates are open from 10am to 5pm.
I'd say it takes no more than an hour to have a good look around these dramatic ruins. Many of the walls are impressively high, with tall arched windows, there are spiral staircases, huge columns, original flooring and lots of other interesting detail. A favourite with children is the delightfully spooky vaulted undercroft which also has years old graffitti carved into the walls and columns. The Heritage Trail website, (www.theheritagetrail.co.uk/priories/finchale_prio ry), gives a more professional assessment: "there are some well-preserved examples of heavily decorated capitals on the original arcade columns, and beautiful tracery in the filled-in nave arches of the church. Also surviving on the south wall is a fine, double piscina and two carved seats of the sedilia." Whenever I visit Finchale I'm always surprised by how much more there is to it than I remember. Plaques indicate the different areas but there is a lack of solid information around. There's not usually anyone on the booth at the gate, (there was once a small entry charge and tickets, postcards and booklets were sold here).
Just outside you will find a cafe, a kiosk which mainly trades in ice cream and ice lollies, and a few picnic benches. It may be possible to purchase a guide at the kiosk but I'm not certain of that. There are public toilets of the basic single bog behind a barn door type. Access for people with disabiliites is limited; the road down is sloped and around the abbey the ground is grassy, uneven and there are some steps, the toilets are not adapted for wheelchair users, (these and the cafe are not owned by English Heritage but by the local farmhouse). There used to be peacocks wandering around, but I haven't seen any this year. There also used to be a couple of swings, a childrens play area would be a nice addition to the site in my opinion. There is a camping and caravan park directly behind the abbey.
It's a picturesque spot and on sunny days there will be a few familes around. Not everyone comes down here to visit the abbey, some come to fish or otherwise mess about on the water. There's a peaceful atmosphere about the place. A wooden bridge, (it had to be replaced not long ago after floods), leads across the river to some nice walks on the other side, the river banks are undulating and sandy along here, I've spent some enjoyable time on what can feel like mini private beaches. Whilst there will generally be a few people milling around in the summer, in my experience it never gets really busy, possibly because it's at the end of a long dead-end road. The only available shelter is in the little cafe or the undercroft so you need good weather to visit, but if you're in Durham and looking for a pleasant cultural experience off the well trodden tourist path, it's worth taking a trip to Finchale.
Getting there: The number 63 bus from Durham stops at the end of the road, which is around a mile long. By car from the A1(M) North of Durham City, at junction 63 head south on the A167 for around 4 miles then follow signs to Finchale Priory, it's not far from the Arnison shopping centre and is signposted from there. Postcode for satnavs: DH1 5SH
Summary: Dramatic ruins in a picturesque location
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