At the end of last month we went to Durham mid-week for a short break. We’d previously visited the city for an hour or two as a stopping off point for lunch and a leg stretch on our way up to Alnmouth last year.
Durham is an attractive city with an old centre that’s the perfect place for strolling around. The central area is sited on a hill that nestles within a meander of the River Wear. On this high ground are the atmospheric winding streets, the Norman cathedral and the castle.
The cathedral is justifiably famous and well worth a visit. It was founded in 1093 and the building was mostly erected over the next hundred years or so. It’s an excellent example of the Norman style of architecture. The cathedral seems to be a bit sniffy about photography. I didn’t see the signs and found myself being told off for taking a simple snap (no flash and no service going on at the time). Entry is free, but a donation is recommended.
The close around the cathedral is a good place for a stroll and you can see the castle buildings from here too. The cathedral and the castle make up a world heritage site. There is a charge to visit the castle. We didn’t get around to visiting on our short break, so we’ve saved it up for a return visit.
Durham isn’t a large city so don’t expect to see large department stores. That said most of the major chains have branches in the city and we didn’t feel that anything was missing. There are loads of smaller, independently owned places especially cafes and eateries. In terms of small shops to visit I liked the Oxfam Boutique on Elvet Bridge. We spent part of our afternoons in the pub (because we were child free and can’t normally do that) enjoying a pint with a newspaper and a book. We stumbled upon the Bishop Langley which offered free wi-fi (ask for the code), big comfy sofas and real ale. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s a good location and nice surroundings.
We spent most of one day strolling over to the university campus and visiting some of the attractions over on that side. First up we visited Durham University Botanic Garden. It’s not enormous at 18 acres, but it’s easy to forget you’re in a city there. Pedestrians would be best advised to walk up through the grounds from the entrance near the Park and Ride, as its much pleasanter than walking up the way that’s signed for vehicle access. We enjoyed our visit to the glass houses and there’s a nice little shop and cafe at the main entrance. Entry prices seemed reasonable at £4 for adults and £1.50 for children (and students).
The gardens are the perfect place to escape the city. I can easily see students going there to get a break from their dissertations or exam revision.
The hidden gem on the university campus though was the Oriental Museum. It only costs £1.50 for entry and there’s lots to see. There are galleries devoted to China, Ancient Egypt, Korea, Japan, India and Tibet, the Islamic World and South East Asia. Recently opened are the Korean galleries and the exhibits here certainly opened my eyes to Korean culture. There are lots of little areas dotted around the museum for children and whilst we didn’t try these out (as our child was with his grandparents), I’d imagine they’d provide good entertainment.