Around eighteen of us met next to the “man on a horse” statue in the historic Market Place in the city centre. Our hosts for the occasion Charles and Paul welcomed us, distributing an impressive illustrated sheet of information concerning our intended route, a round of colleges, woods, riverside and industrial relics. We were well set up for a good tour of Durham city and its surroundings.
The historic centre of Durham occupies a stately peninsula in a loop in the river Wear, a World Heritage Site on which stands the Cathedral and Castle. We initially passed along the spine of the peninsula with its ancient houses, then through an archway to emerge above the river with its views back to the cathedral and its towers. The eighteenth-century Prebends Bridge took us across to an intricate route past some of the university’s colleges, and we climbed to a point where we could pause for a view back across the valley and beyond to more distant landmarks.
Passing more colleges with a range of different ages and styles we reached a wooded section, still, we were told, owned and maintained by the University. We descended steeply and found ourselves on the route of an old waggonway which used to link nearby collieries with the river and on towards the coast at Sunderland. With all sign of industry long gone, the path offered us an easy walk among the trees. At one point where the rails once crossed a viaduct, the former arches had been converted into modern houses.
We now entered Shincliffe, an attractive and mainly residential village still within the Durham city boundary. A busy pub was full of many Sunday visitors, but we diverted to the quieter parish churchyard. Here we sat down for our lunchtime sandwiches, and took time to chat and relax.
On leaving Shincliffe we were soon back to the old railway route, and then crossed a busy main road to a more open stretch alongside fields and wider views. We could still see the cathedral, now with a more distant aspect but with its Rose Window prominent on the east end. Our route led gradually downhill to Old Durham, in which there was a farm with some exotic animals (we were told, but perhaps they were hiding), and more significantly the walled Old Durham Gardens. Our visit coincided with a “Music in the Gardens” event so we were able to sit down for a while and enjoy the entertainment and atmosphere.
An hour later we were away from the garden an emerged alongside the river. Here was the scene of further activity, with boat club rowers going up and down against a backdrop of pleasant greenery and the cathedral still prominent. Back close to the city and the peninsula we passed Dunelm House, a controversial sixties concrete building which some would like to see demolished.
We climbed back up to the cathedral green where we were directed to a quiet café and yet more opportunity for refreshment. Finally at the end a most interesting day we thanked our facilitators and dispersed.
Thanks once again are due to Charles and Paul, to Ivor for some of the images accompanying this report, and to all the participants who contributed to another enjoyable day’s event.