I genuinely think Durham has one of the most fantastic urban views in the country, and as we go through this post I shall explain why. We had one crazy day, where we headed over to the Angel of the North (see Gemma’s Post) near Newcastle, then headed down to Durham, then back to Newcastle for a little exploration before heading home. So this is what we got up to:
Status: County Durham, City, England
Date: 04/11/2012 & 11/04/2014
Travel: Car, Northern Rail (Carlisle – Newcastle Central), First Transpennine Express (Newcastle Central – Durham)
Eating & Sleeping: Esquires Coffee House
Attractions: Durham Cathedral, Durham Castle, River Wear, Mill Museum of Archaeology, Durham Museum, Wearside Walks etc
Arriving in Durham by train, you get some beautiful views out over the city, as the station sits on a small hill overlooking the rest of Durham.
The Cathedral towers over the rest of the city, and on the left you can see the Castle, although slightly shorter. That is where we were headed, via the river and a few of the historic bridges.
On the right you can see Our Lady of Mercy & St Godric’s Church, built between 1863 and 1864 in place of a chapel that was temporarily erected a few years earlier in 1859. It stands out well against the blue sky, as do the other landmarks of Durham, so we knew we were in for a treat as we moved down into the city centre.
Durham is on the East Coast Main Line, which runs through the city over this impressive arched viaduct from 1857 when the present station was built.
There were once three stations in Durham, on Gilesgate, Shincliffe Town just outside the city from 1839 and Durham Elvet from 1893. None of these three stations survive today, leaving only the newer mainline station.
Moving out onto Leazes Road, a bridge crosses the River Wear over to the central island section of Durham. From here you get an absolutely stunning view, one of the best in the UK in the inner city.
You can see both the Castle and the Cathedral looking out over the river here, and the impressive series of weirs on this part of the river. It was amazing to stand here and just gaze out over the views, whilst everyone else was just walking past, probably because they live here and see it everyday but still I would still take a moment to stop and look every time I cross this bridge if I was in the city.
Also from here you can see the Framwellgate Bridge, the oldest one in the city. It was built in 1127 by Bishop Flambard (1060 – 1128) who died just one year later. The original structure was covered in shops, and had a gatehouse at one end to restrict the amount of people and carts coming on to it. This was removed around 1760. When the car came along the bridge wasn’t wide enough so the shop were removed and the whole thing widened in 1859. There are two other historic bridges in the city and we found them both over the course of the rest of the day.
We kept going, right into the heart of Durham, to curve round to the Castle/Cathedral and then back down the river from there. WE arrived in the central Market Square which contains a number of landmarks including an enormous statue of Charles Vane, the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778 – 1854, British Solider and Nobleman).
Next is the Town Hall, sat in the corner of the Square next to the Church. This stands together with the Guildhall, and forms one site. The Guildhall (the former Town Hall) is the oldest of the two buildings, having been built in 1356 and rebuilt and gifted to Durham by Bishop Tunstal in 1535. The Scottish invaded in 1664 necessitating another rebuild. By 1849 the building was too small for the ever growing city so a new Town Hall was designed, and built next to it in 1850, opening a year later in 1851.
The Town Hall section is the part directly next to the Church, with the Guildhall the building with the small spire next to it. Next to that is the Market Hall, leading through to the large covered market on the other side of the wall.
The final part of the square is the Church, called the Church of St Nicholas. Originally there was an old 12th century Church here, but it was replaced in 1858 by this one, built to a design by J. Pritchett from Darlington. It really fits in well with the rest of the buildings in the square and this is an amazing part of Durham that on our first trip we didn’t make it too sadly.
A market is still regularly held in the square, and there is plenty of space for it. A street singer accompanied our visit, and whilst I am not usually a fan of them and think they can spoil the atmosphere of a place, I was very impressed this time. I actually really enjoyed it and it made our exploration of Durham even more special so kudos!
The rest of the buildings in the square have a nice old style and streets lead off from each corner of the square. We followed the one going off to the left, towards the Castle/Cathedral.
On the far side of the square quite close to the Church, is a statue of Neptune, the Roman God of the Sea. In 1720 an idea was put forwards that by digging a canal to connect up to the River Tyne at Gateshead and Newcastle that the city could become a thriving port. This wasn’t taken any further however in 1759 another idea to make the River Wear navigable to Sunderland was proposed, although the increasing size of ships made this impractical. Durham has never created it’s own port, and I think it would have spoilt the beauty of the city centre. The Neptune Statue is a reminder of what could have been, and it’s a nice little addition to the square.
On the way to our main destination we spotted a path leading down to the river, which can be found on either side of Durham City Centre as the central part of Durham is almost an island/peninsula. The river flows under this bridge, round behind the Cathedral and then round to the front of the building and back through the bridges we saw before.
This bridge is called the Elvet Bridge, constructed from 1160 onwards until at least the next century. There are 10 spans, however it may carry on further under local buildings so it could be 14 in total. The bridge was built to link the outer areas of Elvet into the city centre. It is one of three historic bridges linking to the island section of the city centre.
The Cathedral was built between 1093 and 1133. There are 3 towers, two at the front and the main central tower. The front towers are a staggering 144 feet tall, with the central tower being even higher at 218 feet. Before the Cathedral was built a 10th century building called “White Church” stood on the site, and housed the shrine of Cuthbert (634 – 687) of Lindisfarne (An island off the Northumberland Coast).
In 1650 Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658, English Military Leader) used the Cathedral as a prison for Scottish prisoners of war. A lot of the woodwork was subsequently destroyed by the prisoners for use as firewood due to to the terrible conditions they were being kept in.
After George Nicholson completed the Prebend’s Bridge he was allowed to smooth out the exterior stonework on the building. The tower was restored between 1854 and 1859 by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878, English Architect) who also worked on other fantastic buildings such as St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, the Albert Memorial in London and the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station.
It was also featured in the Harry Potter films as Hogwarts, although it was altered slightly using CGI. Inside it is as beautiful as the other cathedrals we have visited so far, and you can explore its towering depths as well as the attached courtyard. Durham is also one of the 27 sites in the UK with UNESCO World Heritage, and it covers both the Castle and the Cathedral. Other UNESCO Sites in the UK we have visited included the Liverpool Waterfront, the Old/New Towns in Edinburgh, Stonehenge, the Devon & Dorset Coast, various Castles in North Wales and of course the magnificent Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
The Castle Keep stands on a small mould in the complex, and is visible from most places in the courtyard that separates the Cathedral and the Castle itself. It’s a fine looking building and the view from up there is rivalled only by the one from the top of the tower of Durham Cathedral.
The Castle was built in the 11th century, and contains an impressive 14th century great hall. This hall was the largest great hall in Britain until it was altered near the end of the 15th century. The Bishop of Durham was appointed by the King of England, and uses the Castle as the Bishop’s Palace until 1837 when the then Bishop, Edward Maltby, donated the building to the new University of Durham as student accommodation. This was because at the time Auckland Castle in the nearby town of Bishop Auckland became the new primary residence of the Bishops.
Today the Castle is open for tours, but only guided tours as the castle is a working university building.
Outside the Cathedral stands an ornate Celtic Cross, looking out into the valley of the River Wear. The rest of the square is a lovely peaceful setting, and includes the Old University Library, as well as great views out from the top of the hill. A large green marks the centre, with old black lamp stands stood around the outside.
We walked down the hill from the Cathedral to the River, and it was here where we walked on our very first visit to Durham 2 years ago. When we came then, it was very foggy and you can see the incredible difference between the picture from that visit, and the one from today.
Walking down the river, the mist curled around the tops of the towers. Personally I thought this was the most spectacular view we had encountered during our travels so far. Just seeing how natural the whole situation was, the Cathedral rising out of the hill, with the wisps of mist trailing off it, and looking down the river, tree lined and not seeming at all like a thriving metropolis, but somewhere that was one with nature. It was fantastic, the weather being just right to lend it that beautiful air of mystery.
Now, although there is no fog to be seen, the views is just as impressive with the shining water running through the valley, and it shows how amazing the area looks in any weather at all.
We kept moving, and again you can see how the view has changed over our two trips. There is another weir at this section of the river, to go with the ones up near Framwellgate. The wears were created for industrial reasons, with one of them serving the Old Fulling Mill which you can see over the river below the Cathedral. This is now the Archaeological Museum.
A Salmon leap is a major part of the 2nd wear back downstream. Every year in June the Durham Regatta is held on the river, since 1834. There have been 177 races so far, and crews from Europe are frequent amongst the UK entrants. Similar to the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, also an annual event, the Durham Regatta is fought over between teams from colleges and universities from all over the country and is the climax of the studying year.
I took this panoramic shot looking down the river earlier, and you can see the third historic bridge, linking the city centre with this side of the River Wear. This one is called Prebends Bridge. and it was built between 1772 and 1778 by George Nicholson.
The original bridge from 1574 had been washed away the previous year in 1771 so a new bridge was required. It can take road traffic but it is mainly used by pedestrians as the far side is a dead end.
On the right hand side is a stone plaque, which reads:
“Grey towers of Durham
Yet well I love thy mixed and massive piles
Half church of God, half castle ‘gainst the Scot
And long to roam these venerable aisles
With records stored of deeds long since forgot”
This words were written by Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832, a noted Scottish novelist and poet) who wrote a poem about County Durham in 1816 called “Harold the Dauntless” and it is from here that the passage was taken.
Looking back along the river, over the weir to Prebends bridge, you can see how tranquil the area is. When the fog descended it was such as a mysterious place as you couldn’t really see where the river went, as you can in the newer picture. It’s a fantastic scene and the change in weather only serves to make an even more memorable experience, seeing how well the view adapts to the weather.
A walk down this section of the river is genuinely the best way to enjoy the scenic nature of Durham. This is the most amazing section of the River, and of course you can see all of the main landmarks and enjoy the historic bridges. This is the second time we have done this walk and I can’t wait to return and do it a third one day.
We moved up on Framwellgate Bridge and this time we could see all the colours of the Castle, as last time with the fog encircling it.
Looking more closely at the Castle, it really does look like a fortress, and it would look perfect if the cliff it was perched on looked out to sea instead of a river. It amuses me that quite by chance the picture coincided with a gull flying over it, again reinforcing my view of it as a cliff top sea fortress.
The river itself is called the Wear, and it begins in Wearhead, a hilly village in County Durham. It then winds its way 40 miles East through Durham, and on to the city of Sunderland where it flows out into the North Sea.
I shall leave this post with a view from our arrival into Durham. When we first visited, we parked up at The Gates Shopping Centre which is just behind where I took this photograph from. As we were in the car we didn’t start up on the hill by the station, so the first view we got off Durham Cathedral from our first trip was this one.
We could barely see it, with mist covering the central tower and the two smaller ones at the front. It really did look incredible, like a forbidden city in the depths of the Amazon Jungle. And little did we know what an adventure we were in for!
Durham is a fantastic city and a true gem of the North of England. The station is one of the main stops on the East Coast Main Line between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh, calling at Peterborough and York before Durham, then Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh afterwards with regular extension services to Dundee and Aberdeen. Other local trains can take you to most local towns and cities. The nearest airport is in Newcastle around 26 miles North. If you take the train to Newcastle and change to use the Metro you can get from Newcastle City Centre direct to the Airport, which has both domestic and international flights.
Durham is a beautiful city, and we were fortunate enough to witness the city in two completely different aspects on our first visit for which I am truly thankful. Since then, on our second visit we have seen the city from a whole angle, and I think Durham is somewhere that will always deserve another look, to reassure myself that the views we got were real, as it is the kind of fairytale setting most people can only dream of seeing…