The handsome city of DURHAM is best known for its beautiful Norman cathedral – there’s a tremendous view of it as you approach the city by train from the south – and its flourishing university, founded in 1832. Together, these form a little island of privilege in what’s otherwise a moderately sized, working-class city. It’s worth visiting for a couple of days – there are plenty of attractions, but it’s more the overall atmosphere that captivates, enhanced by the omnipresent golden stone, slender bridges and glint of the river. The heart of the city is the marketplace, flanked by the Guildhall and St Nicholas Church. The cathedral and church sit on a wooded peninsula to the west, while southwards stretch narrow streets lined with shops and cafés.
Durham’s history revolves around its cathedral. Completed in just forty years, the cathedral was founded in 1093 to house the shrine of St Cuthbert, arguably the Northeast’s most important and venerated saint. Soon after Cuthbert was laid to rest here, the bishops of Durham were granted extensive powers to control the troublesome northern marches of the Kingdom – a rabble of invading Picts from Scotland and revolting Norman earls – ruling as semi-independent Prince Bishops, with their own army, mint and courts of law. At the peak of their power in the fourteenth century, the office went into decline – especially in the wake of the Reformation – yet clung to the vestiges of their authority until 1836, when they ceded them to the Crown. They abandoned Durham Castle for their palace in Bishop Auckland and transferred their old home to the fledgling Durham University, England’s third-oldest seat of learning after Oxford and Cambridge.