Having only ever seen Durham from the train – a stunning view across to the cathedral and castle – our visit turned into one of experiencing a city of surprises.
First off, Durham is hilly. it may be compact, but at every turn it was either walking upwards or downwards. Our Airbnb was outside the city centre so every journey in and out was a brisk walk.
We visited Durham in August. Whilst students were absent there was a few tourists like ourselves, and a small number of loud hen parties. But the city centre was neither crowded nor did it feel unsafe.
Durham is not immune to the crisis affecting most town centres – there were a few shop units boarded up -but it still had an air of independently surviving. Even in the evening whilst some towns become empty, Durham’s array of drinking and dining venues were alive and kicking.
As a world heritage site Durham is a pleasant city centre to walk around for the weekend. Its abundance of cobbled streets and stone clad buildings encourage you to explore. The Norman architecture has a timeless and robust feel to it.
In the middle of summer we wanted to enjoy the evening sun set and headed every time to the river where there was a choice of pubs and restaurants with river views. It is worth also heading towards the river first thing in the morning to catch the view with the mist rising.
Wherever we visited the customer service staff were always welcoming and helpful. Durham seems to enjoy having tourists. A visit to a proper local pub outside the town centre endorsed this.
On the first day we visited the Cathedral. In a Norman style it dates back to the 11th Century. I took a moment to sit down and contemplate in what is a moving atmosphere in the cathedral. There are undoubtedly more imposing cathedrals (Notre Dame for instance) but Durham’s is clearly very rooted in its own regional history with St Cuthbert. St Cuthbert has his tomb in the Cathedral. Although originally buried at Lindisfarne his remains were moved to Durham to escape the marauding Danes. This led to the foundation of the city and Durham Cathedral.
Lunch at the Wetherspoons Water House fuelled us for the hilly adventures ahead. The competitively priced real ales are worth the visit on their own.
After a short visit to the indoor market (alongside the usual tat there was local cheese, guns and decades-old football match programmes) we visited the Town Hall. A little revelation, maintained as a living museum with a rich history.
Evening dinner at the Akarsu Turkish restaurant was a treat. The range of meze suited all of us round the table. The bill was not expensive, so, overall, fresh tasty food worth every penny. The Eze ale is nothing to shout about so we moved on for some real ale afterwards.
Ushaw was a chance visit that is a remarkable institution in need of a new opportunity. Once a catholic seminary it is now being restored as a historic building in its own right. There is a real opportunity for the university to take over (as they have with the cathedral and castle), and bring in students (as they have with the castle).
The architecture is designed by members of the Pugin family, not just Augustus, with the highlight being St Curthbert’s chapel. An opportunity at the end of the visit to have lunch in the delightful refectory.
A special mention to the half moon inn with outside television screens so we could watch football (Brentford’s demolition of Manchester United) with a selection of real ales, and the Thai River restaurant – an opportunity to sit outside by the river at sun set and enjoy a generous Tom Yam.
On the third and final day we visited the castle. The pretend medieval fights in the main lawn were pointless – even the actors were bored. This castle does not look like it has seen battle, nor do we get to see much of it, with the visit confined to its stately rooms inside. The castle is now used as dormitory accommodation for students with a tudor refectory. Nonetheless, the setting, by the cathedral is not to be missed.