Pocket Britain

An historic northern city and one of England's most attractive settlements

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The best way to arrive in Durham is by rail, from the south. The train travels over an old Victorian viaduct, giving breath-taking views of this northern city's trees, roofs, and chimneys. It is often considered to be the best railway view in the entire continent, and is certainly the best introduction to one of England's most attractive settlements.
The city's name is said to come from an old fairy tale - the story of the "Dun Cow". This legendary beast lived hundreds of years ago in the nearby area. It was gigantic - ten times bigger than a normal cow - and it was rumoured to have inexhaustible milk. But when some local peasants tried to put that tale to the test, the Dun Cow became enraged. It went on a rampage, destroying much of the local area. Eventually it was slain by a northern folk hero - Guy of Warwick, who cut off one of the fallen beast's horns to show to the townsfolk. This ancient relic is still on display in Durham Castle - although it's likely that it's really an elephant's tusk in disguise!
Even without the true horn of a Dun Cow, the Castle is still one of the best sights in the city. It was built in the late 11th century, in order to strengthen William the Conqueror's hold on his new Kingdom. The fort proved to be one of the most important strongholds in the north, thanks to its strategic location. It became an invaluable base for the English armies, especially in countless battles against the Scottish. Throughout the structure's long history, its defences have never once been broken. Since 1840, it has been used by Durham University - making it the oldest student accommodation in the world. The young men and women still use the Great Hall for their meals, just like the noblemen of years gone by.
For many centuries, the castle served as a home for the bishop of Durham's cathedral, which stands just next door. It is one of the best examples of Norman architecture in the world, and was once considered to be the most important religious building in England. This was because of St. Cuthbert, whose remains and treasures still rest inside the church. Cuthbert was a 7th century monk, who performed hundreds of miracles during his lifetime. Even after his death, many people with life-threatening illnesses would make pilgrimages to touch his shrine - and in mere seconds, they would find themselves to be completely healed! In recent years, the cathedral was used as a set for the Harry Potter series of films.
The cathedral and castle are jointly listed as UNESCO world heritage sites - and even today, they're the pride of their city, nearly a thousand years after their construction. They tower over the rest of Durham from the top of their tall hill, lending a unique atmosphere to the place. In fact, this is regarded as one of the prettiest cities in the UK. The River Wear winds through its centre, with beautiful wooded banks. Almost every structure in the central area is a listed building, meaning that practically the whole city centre is a conservation area. Take a slow, leisurely walk around the place, and you might come away with the feeling that nothing has changed here in hundreds of years.
Visitor Information
Durham Cathedral is open daily, 9.30am to 5pm (Sundays 12.30pm to 5pm). Entry is FREE, but a donation is requested. Durham Cathedral DH1 3EH. Tel: 0191 386 4266

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