England Grand Tour (2021): Day 2: Getting Reacquainted with Durham

Before lunch

We had breakfast at the local branch of Caffè Nero, a few minutes’ walk away via Elvet Bridge and the Market Place. In due course, we set out again with the intention of spending the next few hours on the city’s famous peninsula, created by a bout of dramatic meandering by the River Wear. The peninsula, also known as ‘the Bailey’, is the historic heart of the place that Bill Bryson once described as the most perfect little city in the world, being home to both the glorious Norman cathedral and castle. The latter is nowadays an integral and active part of the city’s prestigious university, a fact that may make it unique in the UK. As cities go, Durham, with fewer than 50,000 residents, is at the smaller end of the scale. And for lovers of trivia, County Durham is the sole example of a county in Great Britain to use the style of name more readily associated with Ireland.

As we approached Palace Green from Owengate, I was expecting to see the well manicured lawn familiar from previous visits. Instead, we were greeted by the sight of two enormous tents, as the green had been turned into a Covid-19 testing centre. We initially walked along the western edge of the square, taking in what we could see of the castle (closed for Covid) and the university library. But the star attraction was – and was always going to be – Durham Cathedral, final resting place of St Cuthbert. The building dates from 1133, although additions were made in the 15th century. The entire complex – castle and cathedral – once formed the headquarters of the Prince-Bishops of Durham; nowadays it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We were pleased to see that the cathedral was open for visits, and I was delighted to learn that the previous outright ban on photography had been lifted. Few people would want to see frivolous posing for selfies inside a great church, but I have never seen any harm in respectful photography.

After our cathedral visit, we spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon exploring the quieter, more southerly parts of the peninsula, seeing (for example) the choir school and Prebends Bridge. As everywhere seemed to be full to bursting point, we bought some lunch in a local sandwich shop and took it back to our room to eat.

After lunch

We set out for a further walk around 3pm, much of which followed the banks of the River Wear. Our route took us across the concrete Kingsgate Bridge, down to the riverbank, south to below Prebends Bridge, continuing round the tip of the peninsula and northwards to Framwellgate Bridge, across the bridge and southwards on the left bank of the river, then around the bend to St Oswald’s Church.

Later, we had a ‘teatime’ cocktail in the hotel bar, thereby avoiding what was likely to be its busiest period. We then headed out for a second drink at what soon became a very crowded outdoor venue. We drank up and left as quickly as possible. We bought takeaway burritos and a bottle of wine to take back to our hotel room, where entertainment was provided by YouTube on the TV screen. Bruce arranged a late checkout to ease arrangements for the following day.