A Weekend Getaway to Durham City

It has almost been a month since I arrived at Newcastle, UK for studies and I am planning to make the best of whatever time I have here. Being a ghumakkar, I have already been to two weekend excursions, one of which was to the Durham City being covered in this post. Photographs were the easy part of this post even with a fairly standard point-n-shoot. God has been extremely generous to UK in terms of natural beauty and the citizens and the government here are doing their best to maintain it. Dazzling greenery, dotted here and there with houses with brightly colored sloping roofs, help in
the creation of some extremely photogenic landscapes. And a photographer does not have to put much of an effort in capturing the best angle as almost all angles are pretty. The tough part was to get the name of the bridges and the buildings correct because of the similarity in architecture and a jeopardized direction sense…

Anyways, at 9:00 am on October 16th, 10 of us set out for Durham from Newcastle in a bus. Durham is located towards the south of Newcastle and one has to cross the river Tyne and green grasslands dotted with white sheep, very much a signature of a typical UK scenery, to get to Durham. On a bus, it takes about 45 minutes. After deboarding the bus at the bus station, we set out in the general direction of the Cathedral and the Castle. One has to cross a street which is mostly uphill. It is about a half-an-hour walk across the old Elvet bridge over the river Wear and the famous market street. On the way, you come across various landmarks. Some of the most spectacular ones were the St. Nicholas Church and the Shakespeare Tavern. Rest of it is a market place, with the usual Greggs, Shoezones etc. When we visited the place, most part of the street had been dug up and was being laid again. It was very difficult to walk…

The Old Elvet BridgeThe river Wear forms a peninsula, encasing the centre of the city from three sides. Towards the base of this peninsula is the market place connected to the rest of the city by the Old Elvet Bridge. The bridge was constructed in 1160 AD and provides some spectacular views of the river Wear.

The Riverside WalkA 1.5 km long walkway originates from the Elvet bridge. The walk is serene and perfect if one wants to reflect upon anything alone. However, these walks should only be taken during the day time as the path is not lighted.

The Riverside WalkThroughout the walkway, the river Wear flows on one side while the other side is mostly wine-covered green hills. Various scents and sounds of nature make you feel one with it and you mostly return feeling peaceful. The walks do tend to get very cold so you should ensure that you are dressed in layered, warm clothing. There are several University buildings across the river whereas on this side of the river, you can see some very picturesque boathouses. The Old Elvet Bridge also leads up to the centre of the Market Place and St. Nicholas Church.

St. Nicholas ChurchThe Church is right in the middle of the market place and is very hard to miss. The place where the church stands today has had a church since 994 AD. However, the building that stands today dates back to 1858 which is fairly new compared to some of the other buildings in this area. The interiors have been renovated very recently in 1980-81. Right in front of the church, there are some stalls that sell fresh fruits, donuts, and chips (fries in McDonald’s Terminology). We tried everything. Strawberries and the donuts were a bit of a disappointment especially if you have tasted the ones in San Francisco. But the chips were traditional English ones and were very good. Anyways, after experimenting with the local food, we moved ahead…

The Shakespeare Tavern - The most haunted pub in England
…and came across the most haunted pub possibly in the whole of England. The Shakepeare Tavern dates back to 1190 AD and mostly because of its age, it is said to be haunted by a lot of spirits. In fact, a few years back a team of paranormal experts conducted some research in the tavern and confirmed the presence of spirits. This is one place I would have loved to visit but we were already short of time (and money).

The River WearThe rivers that I have seen in UK till now (except probably for Thames) are very tame as compared to the wild rivers of India. This particular shot was taken from the Framwellgate Bridge. The bridge that you see in the distance is the Millburngate bridge. The bridge stands out in contrast with the age-old architecture of the buildings around it. Kind of a scene-spoiler in my opinion.

An Evening Shot of the RiverThis picture is of the other side of the Framwellgates bridge and you can see the Prebends bridge in the distance. After the prebends bridge, the river Wear takes a sharp U Turn. On the top-left, you can see the Western towers of the Cathedral. Formal introduction to these towers will follow shortly.

The Main Tower of the Durham CathedralWalking up the Market Street, we crossed the Palace greens to come upon the magnificient Durham Cathedral. The formal name of the Cathedral is The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham. The building itself is a mix of Norman and Gothic architecture which was mostly built in the 11th century with renovations and additions continuing till the 15th Century. The newest addition to the Durham Cathedral is the Central Tower which stands about 217 feet tall and provides a view of the Durham city and surrounding areas on clear days. There was an additional fee to climb up the Central Tower so we did what enthusiastic students usually do…looked up at it regretfully and saved some money…

The Western Towers of Durham CathedralThe Western Towers that we talked about earlier stand on the edge of the deep gorge carved meticulously over the centuries by the river Wear. These date back to the 12th and the 13th Century and are more or less Romanesque. The Cathedral itself has been designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

The Visitors EntranceHere is the Main Visitor’s entrance from the North to the cathedral. After this, till we reached the cloisters, photography was not allowed. The inside of the Cathedral has the Shrine of St. Cuthbert, some very beautiful stained glass paintings reaching right up to the ceiling. These stained glass paintings come to life with the change in the intensity of sunlight. I was looking up at one of these when the sun came out from behind the clouds and suddenly all faces in these paintings became brighter and seemed to shift places. It was one of the eeriest of the experiences I have ever had. Wish I could use my camera then to record a video of the the experience…

A plane flying over the CathedralOnly when we reached the cloisters at the southern part of the Cathedral were we allowed to use the cameras. Here are some pictures from the Cloistral Windows. I happened to capture the plane flying high above the Cathedral. The building visible in this picture is the Central Tower.

The CloistersThe Cloisters themselves were corridors built around a lush green courtyard. Within this structure, there were chambers where St. Cuthbert’s treasures had been placed and a sound and light show about St. Cuthbert’s life is played. Again, it costed more money…and as a result, at a risk of sounding like a Scrooge, I admit that it meant no go for us….

The Western Towers from the CloistersHere is a shot of the Western Towers from one of the Cloistral Arches. All these arches and cold stone buildings somehow make it possible to believe in the supernatural. Apart from this, the fact that we were literally walking amongst the vaults where century old families were buried gave me goosebumps.

On exiting the cathedral, we headed towards the Palace, expecting less of the ‘being haunted’ experience there. But that was not to be. The castle turned out to be another stone building with eerie chapels, creaky stair cases, and cold dungeons that leave you thinking of the people who may have descended into their depths over the centuries and probably never wanted to leave. For us though, we wanted to get out as soon as possible. The fact that the castle building has now been turned into Durham University Student accommodation, caused my MBA friends to thank their stars that they chose not to go for a course there. No offence to anyone from Durham, but all of us are chicken…

Entrance to Durham Castle
With that, let me lead you up to the Durham Castle. Here is the entrance to the Castle Complex. We got a double discount since we were students and were in a group of 10. We suddenly felt like spending some money and went for a guided tour. Not surprizingly, photography wasn’t allowed inside the castle because of the risk of the flashes causing damage to some of the beautiful oil paintings on the walls of the castle.

The Durham CastleOur guide was a charming young lady, probably a student of the University itself. She guided us through many a high-ceilinged halls and kitchens, led us up a creaky, tilted, black staircase and then down a spiral one straight into one of the most spectacular Chapel I have ever seen. Not that I have seen many. But this one was a dream. Not too big, with stone pillars and caved in high windows and barely enough light. A perfect setting for a mystery. My personal favorite in the whole castle.

With this, we had come to the end of our tour. A few people of our group stayed back to experience first-hand, the famous pubs of Durham, but the rest of us headed back towards the bus station to return to Newcastle. We had spent one entire day on our feets and longed for what we think was a well-deserved rest.

10 Comments

  • Ram says:

    With Vibha in England, we are certainly going to get some exciting stories.

    Thanks for taking us around Durham. Although personally I don’t believe much in the existence of spirits, but your mention about the experts confirming presence of the spirits at Shakespeare Tavern has created a curiosity to visit the place during my next trip to England. The Durham Castle also appears exciting.

    Please do keep on sharing your experiences on your visits to other places in North England.

  • aurojit says:

    Hi Vibha,

    ’twas a gripping account of Durham. Yea, such places are great equalisers at least in terms of photographers’ skills. The history, ranging from perhaps 10th century, makes the place further intriguing.

    And Shakespeare Tavern of 1190 was real hit. We are already deep into imagining (and enacting) the paranormal and such activities.

    And good description ‘tame Thames’, etc adds to it.

    Thanks,
    Auro.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Cheers Vibha! Ofcourse after such a picturesque visit to the Durham city you deserve a well needed rest.

    Its a moving description with beautiful pictures. I enjoyed your desire to share a drink or two with the spirits, and ur comment – “so we did what enthusiastic students usually dolooked up at it regretfully and saved some money” and several others as well.

    Beautiful account and as Ram pointed out that now you being there, we expect many more such accounts from you :-)

  • ssk agra says:

    Good photographs and writing work

  • Thank you all for reading the story and to Mr. Ram and Manish about expecting more stories of England, I say “Thou shalst not be disappointed…”. We will probably plan some excursions in November and then during the Christmas holidays…and I hope to dazzle you will more such amazing pics for the beauty of whom I honestly cannot take credit for the reasons mentioned in the post…

    Once again, thanks for appreciating the write-up and the pics…Cheers…

  • nandanjha says:

    At least students get the time (and the carefree sentiments) to go around :-)

    Great pics. When I first saw them at facebook, I began to wonder that what kind of expensive camera you bought (with the background of being a student and saving money and all that). good to know that its a p-and-s.

    Kudos for taking the time to remember all those names (I have forgot most of them), taking us along the walk, brilliant photos. I can’t imagine how much I am longing to offer you a drink at the tavern :-)

    keep taking us around Vibha.

  • Thanks Nandan…it is a Nikon Coolpix S570…I am an all-time Nikon fan because of the colors…

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    Dear Vibha,

    Never have been to UK, thanks for taking us to their. Pictures are awesome , some of the colourful pictures looks like a hand made paintings.

    Thanks for sharing the post on Durhan with us. Looking forward to see some more stories.

  • Naveena Israni says:

    Dear Vibha,

    Your awesome pictures and write-up make me want to visit the place right now! This one’s definitely on my must-visit list!

    Warm regards,
    Naveena

  • Vibha says:

    Thanks Mahesh and Thanks Naveena for your appreciation.

    Durham is definitely an interesting city to visit if you are in the UK. But if you are there, try visiting places such as the Lake District, York, Newcastle, and Edinburgh as well. I have now returned to India but I wouldn’t mind going to the UK again just to visit these these beautiful cities.

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