Destination Durham; Durham's Totally Packed with History, but Kirstie McCrum Discovered That Its Past Comes in a Weird and Wonderful Package, Making It a Unique Holiday Destination: TRAVEL

South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales), October 2, 2010 | Go to article overview

Destination Durham; Durham's Totally Packed with History, but Kirstie McCrum Discovered That Its Past Comes in a Weird and Wonderful Package, Making It a Unique Holiday Destination: TRAVEL


Byline: Kirstie McCrum

WATCHING teams of rowers shuttle up and down the River Wear, it's easy to imagine Durham as a city where time has stood still.

The rowing is part of collegiate life in Durham, home to one of the UK's top universities, but even when students are home for the holidays, the rivers are a crisscross of watercraft which wouldn't look out of place in Brideshead Revisited.

The history of Durham is its most endearing feature for the many thousands of visitors who pound its cobbled streets year after year. But much as it is a destination for those wishing to take in the hundreds of years of enduring tales, a visit to the North East confirms that the modern sits very neatly beside the old.

The modernity is in evidence from the second of our arrival at our glamorous hotel, the recently refurbished Best Western Honest Lawyer. Set a few miles from Durham just off the main road, it's recovered from horrendous flooding last year to become a truly chic bolt hole, with helpful service and gorgeous decor, including four-poster beds in eight of the bedrooms.

The hotel restaurant, Bailey's, boasts a posh head chef and offers wonderful meals with seasonal ingredients. Its relaxed atmosphere and refined food makes it a dining destination in its ownright,andthe whole place has a great atmosphere, perfectly positioned for holidaymakers looking to explore England's rural North East.

Venturing into Durham, we head, like so many before us, to Durham Cathedral. It's the building that gave the small townits 'city' label andhasbeenstanding as aproudmonumentto religion since 1093. The imposing structure with its central tower reaching 217 feet is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in the UK and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with nearby Durham Castle.

Away from the facts and figures, to stand in the grounds of the cathedral and gaze up is daunting and exciting. There is a grandeur to old churches, but the majesty of the stone and the stained-glass windows gleaming in the midday sunshine make the picture of Durham Cathedral postcard-perfect. Plenty of other tourists think so too, as wherever we chose to stand and stare, we seemed to be in the way of someone else's digicam snapping.

Inside, the cathedral is almost more awe-inspiring, with stone walls and features which seem to be carved fromgreatness. The vaulted ceiling above the nave reverberates with a sermon as we enter, and the silence of the assembled people is almost deafening in the massive space, each alone in the church but united by the wonder of the edifice. Visitors canclimbthe tower,whichpromisespanoramic views of the city and beyond, but it's not for the faint of heart.The viewof thesurrounding area highlights the mix between an ancient settlement's rich historical buildings and a modern town's bustling heart of shops and offices. Back on the ground, across the Palace Green Durham Castle makes an admirable stab at matching up to the cathedral.

Built in the 11th century, the castle is open to the general public, but only through guided tours, since it has been used as a home for Durham University students since 1837. Its impressive great hall is one of the tallest and longest in the country, and it seems almost surreal that it is used for university dining, a sort of Hogwarts plus.

Themost breathtaking feature inthecastle is the Black Staircase. Rising outside the Great Hall, the dark oak staircase is 57 feet high and boasts intricately carved side panels. …

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Destination Durham; Durham's Totally Packed with History, but Kirstie McCrum Discovered That Its Past Comes in a Weird and Wonderful Package, Making It a Unique Holiday Destination: TRAVEL
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