Durham - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Durham


With a thousand years of history under its belt, and a skyline dominated by its magnificent Cathedral, the hilly city of Durham in north-east England is picturesque and prominent on the list of the United Kingdom's 'must see' tourist destinations.

Back in 995, legend has it a group of monks from Lindisfarne (the Holy Island off the north-east English coast) were wandering around looking for a place to settle down and entomb the body of their revered mentor, Saint Cuthbert. They stopped to help a distressed milkmaid who had lost her cow, and the animal was found resting on a pretty peninsula formed by the River Wear. The spot seemed perfect for their purpose and they stayed, later starting work on the building of a Cathedral (1093), which still houses Saint Cuthbert's remains. As well as becoming one of England's most influential ecclesiastical centres, the residents of Durham also set about making their mark politically mainly because of the town's strategic position close to the Scottish border. The castle built by William the Conqueror in 1071 saw plenty of military action over the centuries, and stands proudly opposite the Cathedral, now home to a college of Durham University.

Many of the sons and daughters of Durham have made their mark in a variety of fields, from poets and artists to novelists and musicians. One of the most notable modern celebrities spawned by the city is Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister.

History has moulded Durham, and its medieval character has been carefully preserved, making today's city a compact living museum spiced with a wide range of modern facilities. Most of the city centre is pedestrianised, with life centred on the cobbled Market Place where street entertainers provide amusement and modern shops and restaurants trade happily alongside the old Victorian Market. Along the riverbanks, which border the town on three sides, meandering paths and river cruisers provide a peaceful alternative to sightseeing and shopping.

With 630 'listed buildings' (most in the central city conservation area), Durham is the ideal place to experience 'ye olde England' with all the mod-cons.

Information & Facts


Durham has a temperate climate with lower than average rainfall compared to the rest of England and four distinct seasons. Summer weather in Durham is generally warm and sunny, and winters are cool with occasional snowfall. July and August are the most popular months to visit Durham when temperatures have been known to reach as high as 31°C (88°F), but they are also the wettest months of the year. Spring also sees plenty of tourists when average daytime highs hover round 23°C (73°F) as does autumn when temperatures are similar with October usually the driest month.

English is the official language, though visitors will be astonished by the variety of regional accents.

The currency is the pound (GBP), which is divided into 100 pence. ATMs are available in all towns and Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted; visitors with other cards should check with their credit card companies in advance. Foreign currency can be exchanged at bureaux de change and large hotels, however better exchange rates are likely to be found at banks. Travellers cheques are accepted in all areas frequented by tourists; they are best taken in Pounds Sterling to avoid additional charges.

Local time in the United Kingdom is GMT (GMT +1 from last Sunday in March to Saturday before last Sunday in October).

Durham's beautiful Grade 1 listed medieval manor house Crook Hall, dating from around the 13th century, is a short distance from the town centre and one of its most popular attractions. The house and magnificent gardens are open to the public, and cream teas are served in a pretty courtyard in summer, or in front of a roaring log fire in winter. Most visitors are intrigued by the 17th-century Jacobean room in the house, allegedly haunted by the ghost of the 'White Lady', niece of a former resident of the house.

Few buildings in the world can claim to have been in constant use for more than 900 years, but Durham Castle is one of them. It was originally built in the 11th century opposite Durham Cathedral to protect the Bishop from the 'barbaric' northern tribes, after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Over the centuries the core of the ancient castle remained intact, but there have been numerous renovations and extensions. The castle's aspect today is imposing. The Great Hall is one of the largest in Britain, created by Bishop Antony Bek in the 14th century. Since 1840, when the Bishop moved elsewhere, it has housed a college of Durham University. Visitors are welcome on guided tours, lasting about 45 minutes.

Celebrated, together with Durham Castle as one of Britain's first World Heritage Sites, the Durham Cathedral is one of the finest examples of a Norman building in England. An icon of northeast England, the Cathedral was voted as the nation's best-loved building in a nationwide BBC poll held in 2001. Renowned for its immense architecture, ancient history and deep religious roots the Cathedral is a must see for any visitor to Durham. Guided tours are conducted daily, check the website for times.

Durham's colourful local history museum is housed in a medieval church, offering some interactive fun and exhibits detailing the story of Durham from ancient times to the present day. Exhibits include fascinating items like the 'Death Chair', used to carry sick boys from Durham School to the infirmary in days of yore, and a chilling recreation of a cell from the notorious Northgate Gaol. The Heritage Centre also has a brass-rubbing centre and offers an audio-visual show of the history of the town.

A row of stables along the River Wear close to the historic heart of Durham has been converted into a set of creative workspaces, where local artists can be seen at work. Visitors can watch crafts like woodcarving, glasswork, painting and textile arts in progress. Fowler's Yard is run by the Durham Dramatic Society.

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