If you have the privilege of walking through the Palace Green towards the North Door of Durham Cathedral, you will see a lion/beast looking bronze door knocker. During the Medieval ages, this was a holy ‘get out of jail free card’. Even for murder! If you could outrun locals with torches and pitchforks, angry fathers or what passed for law enforcement, you could knock on this large bronze knocker starting around the year 1135. A fugitive from serious crimes (only) was allowed sanctuary for 37 days inside the church. They had to exchange their clothes for a black robe with the yellow cross of St Cuthbert on the left shoulder. Just too really stand out as a wanted criminal of course. On the 38th day they had to make a choice – either stand trial for their alleged crimes or leave the country (England) via the next available port – usually Hartlepool.
Now in those days – there was no trial by jury. Your choices were:
• Ordeal by fire – after they burned you, you had to heal completely in 3 days
• Ordeal by water - tied up and thrown into water – you had to float
• Ordeal by combat – with a guy who could afford to have things to steal from and he had a suit of armour, a sword and combat training – although he could ask you to undergo the first 2 if you were a big man
So this scary looking piece of brass could save your ass. Even if you stole that bit of livestock as well. The most common type of knockers at the door? Murderers!
OK, so you elect to go to Hartlepool instead. Brave choice (especially if a Frenchman and/or monkey is involved – a story for another page on VT). You had to stay on the King’s Highway there – in your distinctive robe. Otherwise....well, ever been dying to have a pee on a roundtrip? Leave the highway and instant death. Even for just some guy who stole an ass.
By 1623 (took them a while) Parliament passed a law to stop this literal free passage for swift footed criminals. The knocker has been safely housed in a glass case in an exhibition within the cathedral since the 1980’s.
Proving most criminals are stupid, the replica was damaged during a bungled theft attempt in 2010. Stealing from the house of God is not a bright idea. Especially since you no longer have a divine get out of jail free card!
(You can buy your own replica in the gift shop.)
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- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
- Arts and Culture
Durham has many many many tea shops that also have cakes - indulge in a British afternoon tea for under £5. Its worth it, whether you are admiring the view or escaping from the cold!
2. A 'Chip Butty'
These are generally found across Northern England, but if you need something very filling on a cold day - ask for a 'chip butty'. This is a chip sandwich (chips in some bread!), and can be served with gravy, many different sauces or butter. Ridiculously calorific but have one, and you are hooked!
3. If in doubt - follow the students!
If you are looking somewhere cheap to eat in town and you visit during the University term, follow the students! In 3 years of studying at Durham, most students know where the cheapest, best hidden places are, and tend to avoid the overpriced tourist traps.
- Budget Travel
Coal mining has been an essential part of the North-East since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Nowadays the pits have all gone - and it has been a traumatic change for many of the local communities with the wholesale closure of pits following the collapse of the miners strike in 1984.
Despite all this the tradition of the 'big meeting' or Durham Gala still continues. These days there is more of a carnival rather than a political atmosphere, as people take time to remember the traditions and history of the area.
The parade in 2004 is on July 10th and begins around 9 AM.
- Arts and Culture
Stottie cakes are a kind of large, flattish white loaf that you find in Durham and the rest of the North-East.
Only one of them makes for an excellent sandwich.
Several bakeries sell them, although branches of "Gregg's" the bakers are most often credited with reviving this regional bread on a commercial basis.
- Food and Dining