Durham: first impressions
You may already be familiar with Durham even if you’ve never been here. I’ll tell you why. If you watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, you’ll remember the scene in which Harry teaches Hedwig to fly and the scene in which Ron throws up those disgusting giant slugs in HP and the Chamber of Secrets. Those were shot in the cathedral’s cloisters. And if you like British series like George Gently, you already know it is set in Durham in the 70s.
We stayed in Durham, in the northeast of England, for two and a half days in early December. It was cold but bearable, no sign of snow yet. A word to the wise, if you have mobility problems, the steep cobbled streets, and even steeper steps down to the river Wear can be an issue. As I said, the streets were snow free but constantly damp, which made the cobblestones rather slippery.
So, why Durham? Because we like to do short getaways and I wanted to see the cathedral. You probably know by now that I’m a nerd and a sucker for all things medieval.
The Benedictine monks built the cathedral in 1093. Some bits were added in subsequent centuries and it’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. The cathedral was built in the Romanesque style and is very impressive. It opens every day and entrance is free of charge, although you need to buy a ticket for the Treasure. We did and thought it was well worth it. Unfortunately for me, photography is not allowed inside the cathedral, only in the cloisters. During the Middle Ages, Durham became a massive pilgrimage center because people came to see the shrines of St. Cuthbert –a 7th-century English saint- and of the Venerable Bede – of Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum fame.
The imposing Durham Castle, former home of the Prince Bishops who ruled the North (Durham was a principality until 1830), is perched on top of a hill. It was built in 1070 and in 1837 became the University of Durham students’ residence. I can only imagine how wonderful living in a castle must be! The castle is not open to the public except for guided visits.
Durham is undeniably a college town. Students come and go at all times. I’ve seen some wearing the black robes I had only seen in British films. Wednesday night is party night, so Thursday morning is probably the quietest time in town.
If you, like me, enjoy walking along winding little streets lined with ancient crooked buildings, then you’ll love Durham. The most interesting streets to see are Saddle Street, Silver Street and Owengate, which leads to the cathedral grounds.
These are just my first impressions of Durham. I’ll write more specific posts later so stay tuned.