The heart of the old historic market town of Durham is built on sandstone outcrop, isolated within a loop of the meandering River Wear.
Durham Cathedral © James McRoy (CC0)
The city centre has a relaxed and intriguing atmosphere, encompassed by trees and steeped in history. Its magnificent cathedral, which towers above the city, is visible for miles around, having stood on its rocky outcrop for over 900 years. The grand buildings around the cathedral grounds stand as testament to Durham's rich past, when the Bishops of Durham once held great power over the North of England.
The city centre is well served with museums illustrating Durham's long history of Christian, social and industrial heritage. The Market Place is overlooked by the statue of the 3rd Lord Londonderry, founder of Seaham Harbour and one of Wellington's bravest cavalry generals. The nearby Town Hall, built by public subscription in 1851, has a hammerbeam roof similar to the one in London's Westminster Hall. The riverside footpath is a real delight for walkers, leading its pilgrims along tree lined banks, past elegant bridges and picturesque old mills to luscious grassy picnic areas. Visitors can also view the old city, set in its forest of trees, from a pleasant boat trip on the River Wear.
Tourist Information Centre:
|2 Millennium Place, Durham, DH1 1WA - Tel: 0191 3843720|
Durham Cathedral is one of the most outstanding examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe. Its mighty columns and elegantly carved stone-ribbed vaulting span the shrines of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede. During the Civil War, these buildings were used as a hallowed jail for 4000 Scottish prisoners, captured at the Battle of Dunbar. Exhibits in the cathedral museum include a letter sent by Edward IV in 1473, requesting the return of an escaped prisoner convicted of treason. The museum also displays St Cuthbert's beautiful gold cross and the remains of his original coffin, carved by the monks of Lindisfarne, following his death in 687.
More than 300 arduous steps lead to the top of the cathedral's central tower, however, the climb is richly rewarded with superb views across the surrounding old city buildings and castle to the Georgian suburbs beyond the river, and further across the rolling countryside westwards toward the far distant Pennines.
The current cathedral was built over the site of a wooden church, built in 995 to house the shrine of St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Originally constructed by the monks of the Holy Island who moved St Cuthbert's body, under threat of Danish invasion. The shrine became one of the most popular places of pilgrimage in the North of England during the Middle Ages. The tomb was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1538, during the dissolution. St Cuthbert's remains were re-buried under a plain stone slab and rediscovered again much later in 1827. His present shrine is now situated near the Chapel of the Nine Altars. The Venerable Bede, whose famous work the 'Ecclesiastical History of the English People' established him as the father of English history, is buried at the opposite end of the cathedral.
Durham University, founded in 1832, is the oldest in England after Oxford and Cambridge. Parts of the college campus are located near the cathedral precincts, occupying many fine old buildings in the highest part of the city. College Green, just south of the cloisters, is particularly attractive in early summer, when its lawns are carpeted with pink and white blossom.
The University Botanical Gardens, in Holingside Lane (south of the city), has trees and plants from all over the world and is well worth a visit
Once a palace of rich bishops from 1072 to 1836, is now a humble university residence. The Castle is unique among England's northern strongholds because it never fell to the Scots.
Part of Durham University, it is the only British museum wholly devoted to oriental art. With Chinese ceramics dating back to 2000 BC, 18th century jade, plus artifacts from ancient Egypt, the Near East and India.
Tells the story of County Durham's Own Regiment, 'The Durham Light Infantry', from its formation in 1758. Exhibits include, battle relics, original uniforms plus weapons and equipment from the two World Wars. The Medal Room displays eight original Victoria Crosses.
The Church of St Mary le Bow, in North Bailey, was rebuilt in 1685, after its tower fell and destroyed the nave. The original tower formed part of the city's fortifications, the present tower was erected in 1702.
St Mary the Less in South Bailey dates from the 12th century but was completely rebuilt in 1847. A carving of Christ in Glory in the chancel is said to be early Norman.