Historic County Durham Guide
by Ben Johnson
Welcome to Co. Durham and its county town, Durham. Durham is a wonderful place to visit with its university colleges, castle and stunning cathedral overlooking the river. The cathedral with its shrine to St Cuthbert was the most important religious site in England before the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket. More recently it has featured in the ‘Harry Potter‘ films as both interior and exterior views of Hogwarts.
The Roman road Dere Street passes through Co. Durham. Running from York into Scotland, the road crosses the River Wear near Bishops Auckland, with a branch off the road heading to Durham and Chester-le-Street. There is a well preserved section of the road at Binchester Roman Fort by Bishops Auckland.
Bowes Castle was built on the site of the former Roman fort, Lavatrae. The 12th century keep is now in ruins and the site is maintained by English Heritage. One of the largest medieval fortresses in England, 12th century Barnard Castle was once owned by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and then by King Richard III, falling into ruins after his death.
In contrast to these two castles, 14th century Raby Castle remains intact, and with its gardens and deer park is a popular place to visit in the summer. Raby is situated in the beautiful Durham Dales, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty including both Teesdale and Weardale, and where you will also find High Force, one of England’s largest waterfalls.
And don’t forget the Co. Durham coastline: Durham’s Heritage Coast is beautiful and rugged, with craggy cliffs, headlands and sandy beaches. Seaham is a cliff-top seaside town with a sandy beach and harbour below. The town is also home to the church of St Mary the Virgin, one of only 20 pre-Viking churches in the country.
One of the finest open-air museums in England, Beamish Open Air Museum is in Co. Durham. You can find out all about daily life for people in the North East of England during the Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian periods. Wander around the pre-World War One town, visit the pit village and the colliery, and even go down a mine! The history is brought to life by costumed interpreters.