Travels around Durham and Northumberland
Travels around Durham and Northumberland
This is probably my most personal post and I may be a little biased writing this. I come from a small mining village in County Durham, although I left when I was 19. I recently went home to visit some of the places for which I have such fond childhood memories. Also to get to visit s few more places on my bucket list. This is my journey around Durham and Northumberland.
For me Durham and Northumberland have some of the most historic towns and cities and most beautiful countryside I have seen. It really is “England’s green and pleasant land.” Sometimes we focus so much on our travels, we forget what beauty is right under our noses.
It was wonderful going home. It was marvellous having people talk with the same accent as me, to be completely understood and to be able to use words I haven’t been able to use for a long time. This may seem strange as I only moved 130 miles away but accents in Britain are a strange thing. It isn’t just a different dialect, it’s a whole vocabulary of words unique to that area. It is the same with the foods, some, like my favourite pease pudding are only found in that region.
It felt so good to be home. I haven’t lived there for 40 years but it will always be home, it’s the place that formed me and gave me my values and character.. I wanted to visit before I embark on my 3rd round the world trip. I also wanted to share the beauty, friendliness and immense hospitality of my home.
The name Durham combines the Old English word for hill “dun” and the Norse word for island “holme.” In medieval England St. Cuthbert was the most important figure in the North east of England. He was known as the “wonder worker of England” He is famous for allegedly performing miracles not only in life but also in death. He was Bishop of Lindisfarne or Holy Island as it is also known, where he was also buried. There were miracles reported by people who visited his grave and of people being cured of illness.
In 698 the monks decided to build a shrine to honour St. Cuthbert and place his relics inside. By this time he had been dead for 11 years. When his sealed tomb was opened it was found that his body hadn’t decomposed at all, indeed, he just looked like he was sleeping. Even his clothes hadn’t rotted and were still in pristine condition. this further enhanced the mythology surrounding St. Cuthbert.
In the 10th century the Vikings raided the coastline of North east England. The monks decided to move St. Cuthbert’s body to a safer location. the group of monks given this task wandered around looking for a suitable location until they came upon Durham. They built a resting place on the hill. People still travelled to St. Cuthbert’s new resting place and a town soon grew up around it. In 1072 the Normans built a castle on the hill in Durham. in 1093 they began building a cathedral next to it to house St .Cuthbert’s shrine.
Durham Cathedral is the greatest Norman building in England. It was constructed between 1093 and 1133. It has been in continuous use since it was built 900 years ago.
Over 600,000 people pass through is doors every year and it costs £60,000 a week to maintain it.
St, Cuthbert’s shrine can still be visited.
The other famous tomb belongs to the venerable Bede.
In 1137 a tightrope walker was employed to entertain the monks. He was to walk across across a rope stretching from the Central Tower to one of the Western towers. Unfortunately he slipped and plummeted to his death.
You can climb the tower up 325 steps for spectacular views.
It stretches 400 feet in length and its walls are over 3 metres thick.
There is some intricate and colourful stained glass windows such as the Rose Window.
There is also a modern stained glass window called “the Illumination Window.” It is a memorial to a local student called Sara Pilkington. She was in her last year of her arts degree when she. Her parents funded this as a lasting memorial to her.
Bill Bryson called it “the best cathedral on Planet Earth.”
Across from the cathedral sits Durham Castle. It is now home to the students of Durham University. What a fabulous halls of residence.
The Market Place Durham
The focal point of the city and home to the Town Hall and the church of St. Nicholas.
The Statue of Neptune
Also situated in the market place stands this statue of the god Neptune from 1729.
The Statue on the Horse
This huge statue towers of the market place. It is double life size. Many people from Durham don’t know who he represents, so he’s known locally as “the man on the horse,” It’s actually the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry, a very colourful character. He was also a very controversial figure, especially in Durham. He opposed legislations that would have improved conditions in the mines, was against trade unions and opposed raising the school leaving age to 12, as he employed many young boys in his mines who were younger than this. The statue has caused much controversy over the years and continues to do so.
The Durham Light Infantry Memorial
For me the most moving statue in the market place is the memorial statue to the Durham Light Infantry. My grandad served in the D.L.I. in the 1st World War. He was in Egypt, Palestine, Greece and France, His brother also served and was killed in France.
Where to Stay in Durham
To stay within walking of the town and cathedral is the Castle View Guesthouse
Or in a beautiful setting just outside of Durham, how about a stay in a castle. This is the wonderful Lumbley Castle.
Where to Eat and Drink
The Tin of Sardines is Durham’s smallest bar, it has lots of atmosphere.
For good places to eat I’d recommend Una Momento and the Cellar Door.
Things to see in and around Durham
The Angel of the North
The Angel of the North, Anthony Gormley’s tribute to the North East. It’s 20 metres high, the height of 4 double decker buses and the wing span is 54 metres, the length of a jumbo jet. The cost to build it was £800,000. It can withstand winds up to 100 miles and hour and is seen by 1 person every second.
The award winning living museum which tells the story of the North East of England.
There is so much to see and do. An old tram will take visitors around.
There is a 1900s town with a bakery, garage, shop, bank, chemist and sweet shop. The pub there was an actual pub. It was moved from where it stood in Bishop Auckland to Beamish.
There is also a pit village and a coal mine. For me it was a moving experience going down a mine, my grandad spent 52 years down the pit.
This is Tommy. It is a metal statue of a 1st World War soldier which stands on the seafront in Seaham, County Durham. It is 9ft 5″ tall and weighs 1.2 tonnes. Officially it is called 1101 to signify the 1st minute of peace after the armistance was signed
on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 and the Great War ended.
Designed by local artist Ray Lonsdale to commemorate the centenary of the 1st World War, it was meant to be temporary. Locals though had other ideas and wanted to keep it. They launched a fundraising campaign and it is now permanent. It has been voted the U.K.’s best piece of outdoor artwork. Very poignant for me. I was raised by my grandad who served in the Durham Light Infantry in the 1st World War. He was in in Egypt, Palestine, Greece and France. His brother died in the fighting in France.
It was my grandad’s stories of these places which as a very young child first sparked my desire to travel. Egypt was my 1st solo trip. I can’t imagine how it felt for him all those years ago as a 19 year old, never having left his small mining village in Durham and arriving in Egypt. He drove the ambulance which was pulled by mules. He saw some horrific sights and almost died after being stung by a scorpion. This is a fitting tribute.
The Farne Islands
A couple of miles off the coast of the small Northumberland village of Seahouses. They are made up of 28 islands, some only visible depending on the tide. They are home to 23 species of bird. in breeding season these total 100,000 birds, quite a sight.
The most famous residents are their colony of puffins. Puffins are often known as “sea parrots” however in Northumberland they are locally known as a “Tommy Noddy.” They come to the Farne islands between April and July to breed. the other 9 months of the year they spend at sea. Puffins nest underground in burrows and return to the same every year, where they will raise 1 chick. Baby puffins are known as pufflings and are not colourful like their parents, instead being a grey ball of fluff.
The beaks of adultS change colour when they return to sea, becoming a dull grey. The bright colours return when they come back in the Spring. You can tell how healthy a puffin is by the colour of their feet. The deeper, brighter orange they are, the healthier they are.
Awkward on land and in flight, they are excellent swimmers. Underwater their wings become flippers. Puffins can live for over 20 years and many have been recorded living to 30.
Other bird species include;
The islands are also home to a large number of grey seals. they have been counting seals here since 1952. Male seals live for 20-25 yrs and females 30-35yrs. They feed on fish, squid and octopus.
They spend 80% of their time underwater and stay underwater for 4-8 minutes at a time, the longest recorded time was 30 minutes and reach depths of 30 metres.
The terrible storms in the North-east can cause mass deaths, sweeping pups off the rocks. 30% of pups die within a month and 50% within a year. Monks used to eat seals on their holy day of Friday, as with fish, they were creatures of the sea. They also extracted oil from their carcasses.
David Attenborough said that the Farne Islands were his favourite place to spot wildlife.
The Farne islands have also had some famous human residents. St. Cuthbert spent 10 years as a hermit here. Soldiers, sailors, monks, shipwrecked sailors have also made their home here.
The most famous lighthouse keeper was Grace Darling She lived in the Longstone lighthouse with her father. In 1838 she was looking out of her bedroom window when she spotted a shipwreck. The boat was the Forfarshire. She rowed out in the storm with her father, risking their lives to rescue survivors. They rowed for a mile, there were huge waves and ferocious winds. She was 22 years old. Unfortunately, she contracted tuberculosis and died 4 years later.
There are many types of boat trips available to the Farne Islands from Seahouses. There are bird watching tours, seal watching tours, sunset tours and tours like the one I did where you land and spend an hour on Inner Farne.
The 2 longstanding and most popular operators are:
Seahouses is a lovely little place to stay with its harbour, beaches, fresh seafood and fabulous fish and chip shops.
There are also some wonderful pubs.
Where to stay:
The wonderful pub in the photo also offers accommodation:
Another good option is this friendly bed and breakfast
Bamburgh is the quintessential English village. It also has beautiful beaches you can walk along for miles, flanked by undulating sand dunes.
It’s crowning glory is its magnificent castle.
Bamburgh Castle is perched on a basalt crag overlooking the vast stretch of beach and wild North Sea, where it has been for 1,400 years.
A defensive structure has been here since the 6th century.
In 1095 the Normans built a huge castle.
In 1894 the castle was bought by Lord Armstrong and the restoration began. Unfortunately he didn’t live long enough to see it finished but his descendants still own the castle. It is open to the public.
Sunset on the beach is spectacular.
It was also well worth getting up at 3.45am to see the sunrise.
Grace Darling also died in Bamburgh and is buried here.
Where to stay in Bamburgh
I stayed at Hillcrest House a lovely B and B with lots of character, a very congenial host and a huge and very tasty breakfast.
Lindisfarne or Holy Island
This is Lindisfarne also called Holy Island. In 635 a monk named Aidan formed a monastery on this small island at the request of Oswald the King of Northumberland. It has been an important place of pilgrimage ever since.
Where to stay in Lindisfarne
The local pub in Lindisfarne the Old Ship also offers accommodation.