County Durham is a place of real contrasts. It can be split roughly into five areas, each with its own characteristics. While the northern part of County Durham is hilly, with river ravines, woods, moorland and crags, the eastern part is dominated by the coastline. The south is well populated and features the towns of Stockton and Darlington, and the west is very wild and rugged, and is part of the North Pennines. Probably the most famous area is Durham city itself, with its unmissable cathedral and castle.
Durham City is one of the most attractive and interesting places in the north east, and is a fascinating mix of ancient and modern. No one can fail to be impressed, and even overwhelmed, by its magnificent Norman cathedral; like all cathedrals, built to the glory of God, but also illustrating the power of those who caused it to be built. Through the centuries County Durham has been an important powerbase – it’s not called ‘The Land of the Prince Bishops’ for nothing! Nearby is the castle, which is now a university – one of the most prestigious in the country. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the cathedral and castle sit high above the River Wear, commanding marvellous views. Inside the cathedral lie the remains of both St Cuthbert, enshrined behind the High Altar, and the Venerable Bede. If you’re feeling energetic try climbing the Tower!
The way to the cathedral is extremely steep, but you can catch the cathedral bus to the south door. After looking around the cathedral, you may be ready for a bite to eat, and in Durham there is a great choice of eating places. There is a convenient and modern shopping centre (look out for the sculpture featuring the monks of the holy island of Lindisfarne, carrying the body of St Cuthbert to Durham), and lots of interesting and quirky shops in its cobbled streets.
Durham’s Heritage Coast is a treasure store of rare plants and wildlife. Walk along the coastal path for a real ‘back to nature’ experience, and enjoy the magnificent views. The town of Seaham is on this part of the coast, and has a traditional promenade and esplanade for a relaxing walk. The North Beach with its rock pools will be a source of fascination for children and adults alike, and is sheltered by a long sea wall. Much hard work has been done on this coastline to restore it to its present condition, and wildlife preservation projects are in place to protect the flora and fauna. Durham’s largest wooded coastal ravine, Castle Eden Dene, is a National Nature reserve, and home to a rare butterfly, the Durham Argus. The porpoises, Minke whales, and basking sharks which visit this coastline, are also subject to protection plans too.
Travel inland and you’ll find yourself in the Vale of Durham. This stretches from the north of the county to the agricultural land in the south, and encompasses many places of interest, including Bishop Auckland and Auckland Castle, home of the Bishops of Durham. Another venue for a great day out is Beamish Museum. This museum tells the story of the people of the north east during the early 19th and 20th centuries and has a town, a village, a colliery, a manor house, and a railway. You can also have a (bumpy) ride on an old fashioned open topped bus!
The Durham Dales are designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and are comprised of Weardale and Teesdale. The Dales are one of the most important areas for wildlife, being home to colonies of wading birds, like lapwings, plovers and curlews. There is so much to see here, and a good place to start is Stanhope, in the heart of the Dales. The Weardale Railway begins here, and you can catch a ride on it for a wonderful scenic trip to Wolsingham.
There’s a lovely woodland walk to High Force; this is England’s longest unbroken fall of water, and drops 21 metres (nearly 69 feet).
A visit to the magnificent Bowes Museum in the market town of Barnard Castle is a great experience; and while you are in the mood for sampling County Durham’s heritage, Raby Castle, an impressive medieval edifice awaits. It is surrounded by a park with herds of fallow and roe deer, and has lovely walled gardens.
Railways have played an important part in the county’s heritage, and the Stockton to Darlington Railway was the world’s first passenger railway. You can find out more about this by visiting Head of Steam, the railway museum in Darlington. Here, you can see, and actually touch, ‘Locomotive l’ the first passenger pulling engine in the world!
This is just a taste of the variety of fascinating things to do and see when you visit County Durham. There is so much more, so why not come and find out?