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Review: Durham


United Kingdom

County Durham

  • By SilverTraveller gevans

    3 reviews

  • 2014
  • Wife

28 people found this review helpful

I can well appreciate the engineering prowess that lies behind modern skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa, Taipei 101 and the Petronas Towers. You don't project a building 500 metres or more into the stratosphere without pushing the boundries of architecture and construction science. And of course some of these modern behemoths aren't just gigantic, they're aesthetically pleasing. But I still prefer to gaze upon, and wander around the majestic marvels of a bygone age. The Pyramids, Machu Picchu, The Taj Mahal. And of course cathedrals in our country like York Minster, St Pauls and my own favourite, Durham Cathedral.

It isn't just the intricate detail, acres of beautiful stained glass and internal grandeur of these thousand year old and more temples, it's knowing they were pieced together, painstakingly and laboriously, by hand. Not a crane in sight, not a lift, a cement mixer or cutting tool, at least not one motor driven. Admittedly the rich and powerful men who commisioned these magnificent buildings didn't have to concern themselves with labour costs, planning permission or their effect on the environment. They had egos the size of a , well, cathedral and nothing was allowed to get in their way. So the limit of their endeavours was pretty much the extent of their imagination.

And of course the idea of a huge and dominant edifice was to intimidate the local serfs. And you don't get any more imposing than Durham Cathedral, sitting atop it's rocky promontory it can literally be seen for miles. It's surrounded by the River Wear, think Ile De La Cite and Notre Dame in Paris, and in conjunction with the adjacent castle it is visible from all areas of this very compact city. But its vastness doesn't take away from its beauty and serenity, a few minutes spent contemplating life among its pews and galleries always gives a feeling of peace whether you're religious or not.

Almost overwhelming though the cathedral is, there's plenty more to enjoy, not least because the other dominant aspect is the University. So as you can imagine, bars, cafes and coffee shops are in abundance. I believe during term time, and especially when parents and other family members visit for special occasions, the permanent residents of Durham are actually outnumbered by those from the Uni. Which means they don't always cohabitate in perfect harmony. But the students do add to the sense of carnival when they're kitted out in fancy dress for Rag Week and their many other charitable fundraisers.

I've always found Durham to be very similar to its relatively near neighbour, York. A walkable city and one in which you're never too far from the river. The Wear certainly doesn't pass through Durham at a rate of knots, it meanders, twists and turns so you inevitably find yourself on one of the many bridges if you're going any distance. And these are great vantage points to take in the sights, relax for a while and chat to fellow tourists and students.

As one of the great seats of learning, particularly Law, Durham is hosting the Magna Carta exhibition in 2015. I have to say this isn't something that would grab my interest and hold it. I can appreciate the importance of these historical documents, but I've previously gone out of my way to see the Bayeux Tapestry and the Crown Jewels and I've denounced them as tea towels and overrated paper weights. Sorry, but as I say I prefer something on a more grand and visual impressive level.

More to my liking are the Botanic Gardens.As well as an abudance of exotic plants the centre hosts events showpiecing work of local artists and photographers, has educational classes for youngsters and there's a wildlife Watch group. Admission is nominal, £4 for adults, £3 for concessions and a mere £1.50 for students and children. Extremely good value and the Gardens are interesting, well set out and there's a knowledgeable and helpful team in attendance. The centre is a short walk from the centre or you can jump on a local bus that goes by Collingwood College, one of the accommodation blocks at the University.

No destination scores highly with me unless there are attractions outside, as well as within, the area. Durham is a bit special in this department and the pursuits range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Fancy some outstanding natural beauty? Well England's most majestic waterfall, High Force, is a short drive away. Culture and learning? How about Bowes Museum. The beaches of Tyne and Wear are within easy distance and there's farmer markets aplenty in a lot of the small towns dotted around the vicinity. Step back in time in the multi-prize winning Beamish Museum. Or pretend you're nine years old again and take the controls of a Bulldozer or JCB at Diggerland. We absolutely loved the place and you can even Go-kart if you haven't created sufficient mayhem swinging a half ton bucket about !

Whatever your passion, one thing we'd surely all agree on is that accessability is key. Durham is etremely well serviced by trains and lies just minutes off the A1M. Newcastle is a short hop and the vast complexes of Eldon Square and the Metro Centre are within easy reach. Newcastle's underground system has been impressively extended and now covers most points of interest including the airport. Premiership football takes place at St James' Park which is in the centre of the city and Sunderland also host top flight matches a short bus ride from its own centre. It would be eminently possible to enjoy the delights of the area with or without a car.

Diverse entertainment and as we found, quite reasonably priced. Definitely worth a look if you find the pace in much bigger cities to be just a touch frenetic.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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