Durham was an entity unto itself when under the power of the Prince Bishops of Durham. These medieval churchmen ruled with absolute power, making Durham their own kingdom. After the middle ages, they lost influence and were eventually superseded by the crown.
Durham Cathedral is the bishops' legacy. Sited high on a hill above the river, it dominates the view of the city of Durham. Founded by Lindisfarne monks in 995 to house the relics of St Cuthbert, the cathedral lasted until 1093 when it was replaced by today's building. The rather austere interior is architecturally interesting for its massive drum columns, pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses. In the cathedral are the relics found in Cuthbert's coffin.
Auckland castle at Bishop Auckland is now the official residence of the Bishop of Durham. The staterooms and the chapel are open to visit as is the next door bishop's deer park and 18th century deer house.
On the same site as the cathedral is Durham castle, begun in 1073 as a home for the prince bishops. Designed as a motte and bailey castle, it has changed over time and now houses Durham university students. In the castle is a Norman chapel built in the Romanesque style. Be sure to take one of the interesting guided tours of the building. The great hall dating from the 13th and 14th centuries is of special note as is the Black Staircase (named for its dark oak wood).
Near Durham is Beamish Open Air museum. Spread over a large acreage, this is a good family day out. You can take an old-fashioned tram ride, go underground in a mine, and stroll streets of old buildings that include a pub, cottages, shops, and a school. There's even a farm.
Another place to visit near the city of Durham is Crook hall. First constructed at the end of the 13th century, what remains today of the original building is the screen passage and great hall. The rest was built in succeeding years. The staircase is reputedly haunted. There is a small acreage of gardens surrounding the hall.
The attractive market town of Barnard Castle is worth a couple of days in a trip. It's situated beside the river Tees in attractive countryside and has its own castle. The ruins, in the care of English Heritage, are extensive and look down on the river. There are two priories to visit as well. Finchale was constructed on the site of St Godric's 12th century hermitage, and the very atmospheric ruin at Egglestone was home to Premonstratensian monks from 1196. Parts of the nave and chancel remain. Another nearby religious building is Escomb Saxon church still in good condition.
South of the town is Rokeby Park, a 1720 country home built as an Italianate villa in the Palladian style. It was the setting for Sir Walter Scott's ballad "Rokeby'. It contains a collection of 18th century needlepainting pictures, period furniture and a print room.
Much grander is Raby Castle, begun as a 14th century fortified house and converted into a country home in the 18th-19th centuries. The original building was a curtain wall with eight towers around a central keep, and today the entrance is still through a fortified gateway. The Neville family were the original owners of Raby until the Crown confiscated it in 1569. In 1626 it was bought by Sir Henry Vane the Elder and his descendants are still the owners. The castle underwent much restoration in the 1700s after purposeful destruction by one of the enraged family members. Visits show off the 18th and 19th century interiors with a medieval hall and minstrels' gallery and 14th century kitchens.
The stone ruins of 12th century Bowes Castle (English Heritage) overlook the river Greta valley, guarding the approach to Stainmore Pass. The Bowes museum is a French chateau housing a museum founded by John Bowes and his French wife Josephine. It contains fine collections of paintings, ceramics, furniture, and textiles. Time your visit right to see the articulated silver swan in action.
In the southern part of the county is Weardale, named for its river, the Wear, once a hunting ground for the prince bishops. Stanhope is 'the capital of Weardale'. Lead mining took place in the area since the Roman times. The great lead-crushing mill known as the Killhope wheel, on Killhope Burn in upper Weardale was part of the lead-crushing mill. There's a museum at this most complete lead mining site in the UK. High Force waterfall in Teesdale is a popular countryside attraction.
The Durham Heritage Coast is eight miles of limestone grassland, cliffs, denes, and stacks. The Durham coastal footpath is 11 miles long and covers clifftops and the Durham wooded ravines from Seaham to Crimdon, both with sand beaches.
For opening times and full details of attractions see the Attractions section of our website.
Tel. 0 1388 601 627
Web: Auckland Castle
Barnard Castle town
Tel. 0 1833 638 212
Beamish Open Air Museum
Signed from A1 Chester-le-Street exit
Tel. 0 191 370 4000
Web: Beamish Open Air Museum
Binchester Roman Fort
1.5 miles north of Bishop Auckland
Tel. 0 191 383 4212
Tel. 0 1833 690 606
Web: Bowes Museum
Castle Eden Dene National Nature Reserve
South of Peterlee, between the A19 (signposted) and A1086 roads;
also signposted from Peterlee town centre
Tel. 0 191 384 8028
Palace Green, Durham
Tel. 0 191 374 3800 for tour times
Durham city, on hilltop
Tel. 0 191 386 4266
Durham University Botanic Garden
Hollingside Lane, South Road
Durham University, Durham City
Tel. 0 1322 863 467
Web: Durham Botanic Garden
1.5 miles south-east of Barnard Castle
Off the B6277
Tel. 0 191 269 1200
Three miles north-east of Durham
On minor road off A167
Tel. 0 191 269 1200 (regional office)
Hall Hill Farm
On B6296, Near Lanchester
Tel. 0 1388 731 333
Web. Hall Hill Farm
Killhope Lead Mining Museum
Alongside the A689, 2.5 miles (4km) north-west of Cowshill
Tel. 0 1388 537 505
Web: Killhope Lead Mining Museum
Elvet Hill, University of Durham
Tel. 0 0191 334 5694
Tel. 0 1833 660 202
For photos and more information see our article Raby Castle
Web: Raby Castle
North side of A66 near Barnard castle
Tel. 0 1833 637 334
Web: Rokeby Park
Durham Tourist Information Centres
Woodleigh, Flatts Road
Tel. 0 1833 630 272
The North of England
Open Air Museum
Beamish, County Durham
Tel. 0 191 370 2533
Town Hall, Market Place
Bishop Auckland, County Durham
Tel. 0 1388 604 922
Darlington, County Durham
Tel. 0 1325 388 666
Gala Theatre, Millennium Place
Durham City, County Durham
Tel. 0 191 384 3720
Durham Dales Centre
Tel. 0 1388 527 650 or 0 1388 526 393
Open: daily; April-Oct, 10am-5pm; Nov-March, 10am-4pm
Tourist Information centre; tea-room; craft shop; garden; parking
Web: Durham Dales Centre
Priory Grounds, Church Street
Guisborough, TS14 6HG
Tel. 0 1287 633 801
Hartlepool Art Gallery
Church Square, Hartlepool
Tel. 0 1429 869 706
Middleton in Teesdale
10 Market Place
Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham
Tel. 0 1833 641 001; Fax. 0 1833 641 001
20 The Upper Chare
Peterlee, County Durham
Tel. 0 191 586 4450; Fax. 0 191 518 1786
Photos by Barbara Ballard
Photo Durham coastal walk courtesy North York Moors cam
Photo Durham Cathedral courtesy Visit Britain
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See also Desmesnes Mill at Barnard Castle