One of the first things to do when visiting the ancient City of
is simply stop and stare at one of the
most magnificent settings for a cathedral that could be imagined. Nature
supplied the site in that the River Wear has created a deeply incised valley
and a narrow peninsula with steep sandstone bluffs that are mainly wooded. Durham
It was to this spot that, in AD 995, the monks of
brought the body of St Cuthbert, who had died in AD 687. The legend of why
Durham was the final resting place of the saint’s bones is that the monks were
told in a vision to seek a place called Dun Holm, and they only discovered
where this was when a milkmaid was overheard saying that her cow had wandered
off and was probably at Dun Holm. The monks therefore followed the milkmaid,
found the cow, and also the ideal place to end their journey. They promptly
built a wooden church to house St Cuthbert’s remains.
The original church was replaced by a cathedral, built in the Romanesque style, that was begun in 1093, took only 40 years to build, excluding the towers, and is largely what can be seen today.
A good way of appreciating the splendour of this building from the outside is to walk the path that runs alongside the river. There are in fact two paths, one on each side, but the best views are from the outer path, looking across the Wear up at the three towers of the Cathedral. The walk takes about 30 minutes to complete, and is definitely to be recommended if favour of trying to see the views from the roads that are slightly higher up, as the trees get in the way.
The interior of the Cathedral is every bit as breathtaking as the exterior. Durham Cathedral is one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture to be seen in the world, being remarkably complete. It has many features of interest that cannot all be described in a short article, but the visitor will doubtless be impressed by the lofty stone-vaulted ceiling, the massive stone pillars with their varied geometrical decorations, the Shrine of St Cuthbert with its pillars of local marble including easily seen fossils, the Galilee Chapel containing the tomb of the Venerable Bede, and the “Sanctuary knocker”, on the north door, which is a very rare surviving example of Romanesque metalwork (although what you can see is actually a copy of the original, which is carefully preserved).
Although the Cathedral is undoubtedly the greatest attraction of
it is not the only one. The bishops of Durham City Durham
originally occupied Durham
Castle, but in 1832, with the founding of ,
the bishop moved to a new palace at Bishop Auckland and gave the castle to the
University. It is still a University building, occupied both as a college and
for student accommodation. Durham University
Because it is a working building, the Castle can only be visited on a 45-minute guided tour, such tours being more frequent during college vacations than in term time. Although the main keep was largely rebuilt after the University took over, visitors can still see the 15th century kitchen and the Norman chapel, and can climb the massive hanging staircase.
Slightly out of town to the south is the University’s Oriental Museum which has collections of Chinese jade, Japanese woodblock prints and Arabic calligraphy. Nearby is the Botanic Garden which contains plants from around the world, both outdoors and in glasshouses, and a collection of tropical insects. A one-hour science trail offers many interesting discoveries for explorers of all ages.
In the other direction, namely north of the city centre, is the Durham Light Infantry Museum, to which is attached the
. The former houses exhibits
relating to this famous former regiment, and the latter specialises in modern
and contemporary art, mounting a series of temporary exhibitions. Durham Art Gallery
June and July are good months for visiting
as there is a lot going on. The second weekend of June is when the Durham Regatta is held. This event
goes back to 1834 and is therefore nearly as old as the Durham and Cambridge Boat Race (and has taken
place more often). July is Festival month, with arts and music events taking place at various locations,
particularly the International Brass Festival for the first two weeks and the
Durham Miners Gala on the second Saturday. Oxford
There is a lot to see and do in the city of
and even more in the towns and countryside that are only a few miles away! Durham
© John Welford