Tour the castle
Unlike the Cathedral that is built on Bedrock, the castle may well have existed for over 900 years, but its had to fight for its survival for all of that time.
It could well have ended up as a large pile of rubble in the river at several points in its chequered history.
The Castle became (and still is) a college of the University of Durham in the early 19th Century. This means that tourism has to work around academic activities. It also however means that the Castle has an unending supply of bright engaging students who act as tour guides to help supplement their income.
I know they are all well trained, and many are quite knowledgable.
Tours run every day from Easter to September
and Mon,Wed, Sat & Sun afternoons- although it is worth checking at the porter lodge to confirm that a tour is going ahead on a certain day. It is good value at 3.50 an adult.
- Castles and Palaces
- Historical Travel
A brilliant regimental Museum.
I don't believe I have ever done this before on VT and I am certainly not going to make a practice of it but I would like to dedicate this tip, such as it is, to the memory of the late R.S. "Geordie" Taylor, a wonderful man and dear friend now sadly taken from us and a very proud former member of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI).
From the paragraph above, and certainly if you have read some of my other pages, the reader will know that I absolutely adore military history and regimental museums. If there is such a place in town, that is my first port of call and so it was in Durham. I had read about the DLI museum and knew a little of the history of that Regiment and so I wandered a bit out of town on a dismal allegedly Spring day, through a pleasant prk and arrived at the fairly modern building you can see in one of the images. This in itself surprised me a little as, due to a number of factore, not least the constant and pernicious defence cuts, local regiments no longer exist and museums to them are normally tucked away as an adjunct to some other Museum. It seems almost unfashionable these days to commemorate the heroism and sacrifice of our forebears.
It was a dank, overcast day in April when I visited, so it was unsurprisingly quiet. Before I even entered the building and whilst finishing my cigarette, I had a chance to look at a couple of monuments outside, most strikingly the one to all recipients of the Victoria Cross from the Regiment. If you don't know, the VC is the highest bravery award available to British service personnel and is awarded extremely rarely. They range from Private Byrne in the Crimea in 1854 to Private Wakenshaw in North Africa in the Second World War. More of him later. As an ex-soldier, it was very sobering to stand here and think about what these men must have done to be honoured in this way.
Cigarette finished (I know, it is not good for me and I certainly do not recommend it) I wandered inside to be greeted by an extremely friendly chap. i was subsequently to find out that he was not actually an ex-Serviceman himself (not unusual) but an historian and he gave me a few pointers as to what to look for particularly. I took myself into what is a well laid out and very informative Museum which, despite the Regiments long history, seemed to concentrate on the two 20th century World Wars.
It really is a fascinating Museum and I had it more or less to myself. I had intended to spend perhaps an hour or 90 minutes but in the end I spent much longer than that, the place was so fascinating. In the way of VT, I only have space for five images here so I have created a travelogue to showcase some more of the things I saw. I should say that I had asked for permission to take photos (not always allowed in UK museums) and was told I could photograph whatever I wanted. I did not even have to resort to my VT Blogger Pass!
I do not intend to bore the reader here by listing all the individual interesting things I saw in the Museum, I shall explain more in the travelogue but I would just mention the field gun which Pte. Wakenshaw (mentioned above) died heroically serving and the medal room which is wonderful, there are no less than eight VC's on display here. It is still a work in progress but the staff are trying to research histories for all the soldiers whose groups (of medals) are displayed. I spent a lot of time in there.
OK, I have stated my interest in military history and if that is your game, this is one of the very best Regimental Museums it has been my pleasure to visit. Even if you are not so much of a military history buff, it is still a great place to visit and I do recommend it.
Here are the logistics, taken from the attached website and others.
Adult: £3.50, Annual £4.50
Seniors: £2.50, Annual £3.50
Groups: By appointment
Children: £1.50, Annual £2.50
1 Apr - 31 Oct Daily 10am - 5pm. 1 Nov - 31 Mar: Daily 10am - 4pm. Closed Christmas Eve & Day.
For travellers with disabilities I quote, "The DLI is fully accessible for visitors with disabilities. Please contact us for more information to help plan your visit. "
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
The most impressive sight in Durham is the cathedral. It's huge, the inside is really beautiful (but unfortunately taking pictures is not allowed). Bill Bryson even called it '"The best Cathedral on planet earth".
Apart from the wonderful perpendicular ceilings and colourful windows there's also a Coal Miners' Memorial, St. Cuthbert's Tomb, a cafe, a big shop and several war memorials in the cathedral.
Outside the cathedral there are two beautiful Celtic crosses.
- Religious Travel
- Historical Travel
As you might know I love market halls and covered markets. The one in Durham is located at the market square and almost invisible from the outside. It's quite big inside with the usual strange mixture of spices, books, fruits and clothes. Loved it!
The Great Hall is now the dining hall of Durham university - what a fantastic place to have as a canteen! It is one of the largest and most impressive of its kind in the country, being nearly 14 metres high and over 30 metres long. If it looks familiar to you -perhaps you saw it on the Harry Potter films.
You can walk almost the whole length of the horseshoe sweep of the river that enloses Durham. You can start on either side at Framwellgate Bridge, but I'd recommend the bank furthest from the Cathedral for some better views. If you do take that side you have to cross back at Prebends bridge, about 1/2 way round, and finish the walk on the cathedral side. Eventually you'll end up at Elvet Bridge.
- Family Travel
In the middle ages fugitives seeking sanctuary would knock on the north door of the Cathedral using this striking lion-like knocker (actually this is now a copy since 1980 and the original can be seen in the cathedral museum). Tis woul alert the watchmen in a chamber (now gone due to erosion and reconstructuring) above the door to let them in. They could stay here for 37 days max. during which time they had to choose between trial and voluntary exile
HM Prison, Durham. Once the country's most secure prison housing some of it's most notorious criminals. One of these, John McVicar, became the first man to escape from the jail, back in the 1970's. His story was later made into a film starring Roger Daltrey (of The Who).
Nowadays it has been superceded by the even more secure Franklands Jail on the outskirts of Durham, but it still houses some notorious crimanals including Myra Hindley "The Moors Murderer".
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Entering through the inner arch of the gate house you'll have a good view of the castle buildings which are on three sides of an irregular-shaped Courtyard. There are tours available so if you enter without being a resident or on a tour you may be asked to leave the premises - as happened to us!
It's a stairway to heaven....
This seemed like the most appropriate song to ascending the 325 steps to the top of the cathedral.
It's been a number of years since the exterior of the Cathedral has been fully restored and the scaffolding taken away. But now you can see it in it's full glory.
It only costs a couple of quid to ascend, although there used to be a cheaper method : namely climbing the scaffolding. I remember a good friend of mine (also a VT member) who got fairly rat-arsed one night and scaled the heights. Sourbugger for once in his life took the sensible option and kept his feet firmly on terra firma.
Great view !
- Religious Travel
What a lovely pair of knockers...
As you approach the entrance to Durham Cathedral take a good look at the pair of knockers than stand proudly on the door.
They are not original, as they were removed a few years ago to be placed in a museum.
This event famously featured on a BBC childrens show. The clip is still often repeated on those "Bloopers" or "It'll be all right on the night" cock-up shows.
When the presenter of the piece handed over to Simon Groom the Blue Peter presenter back in the studio,he remarked "Mmm, what a beautiful pair of knockers." Simon denied it was intentional sexual innuendo...but do we really believe him ?
The original purpose of the knockers was to summon night watchman if a person presented themselves at the Cathedral seeking sanctuary.
Perhaps Simon Groom needed a similar service after his utterance !
Palace Green (II)
The two dominant features of Durham are The Castle and The Cathedral. They stand beside each other at the top of a hill above the city, totally surrounded by the loop of the river Wear. The Cathedral is one of the finest Norman Cathedrals in Europe, and stands in a lovely close (called Palace Green), with the castle opposite and nice, historic buildings on all sides.
- Family Travel
Saint Abbs on the Scottish coast
One day in February, we drove up the Scottish coast from Durham and stumbled across the absolutely charming and beautiful village of St. Abbs. It's basically a straight drive up from Durham, only at the end do you need to follow a smaller road.
What a day we had! The village is so picturesque with nothing to spoil the view. It's a little village lying steeply on the cliffs, piled-up houses and a cute little harbour.
It was only February, but we sat outside in a little cafe right next to the harbour eating hot soup and sandwiches. People were pulling in the lobster traps and diving in the icy water.
This village is so worth a visit!
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- Diving and Snorkeling
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
Durham Cathedral is massive - not as big as York, Lincoln etc, but it is a lot more "soiid" looking due to its Norman rather than Gothic design.
From that respect it's quite plain looking too, and the same goes for inside, where it lacks the decorated vaulted arches of the later cathedrals.
One thing to look out for though is the stonework of the central columns, which are nicely done in coloured sandstone and with a little carved decorations.
- Family Travel
The castle and cathedral stand opposite each other; on one of the other sides (seen here) stands a row of buildings that contains the old almshouses. These are now a nice restaurant/tea rooms.
Opposite that is the Durham University Library, and houses the "Archives and Special Collections".
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