North by north-east
HIGHLY CULTURED: A Unesco World Heritage Site, history in spades and a sweet shop to die for. explores County Durham.
HAVE vivid memories of stepping back in time at Beamish Museum as a child, my nan at my side, stroking shire horses, heading down the drift mine, writing on chalk boards in the school and buying seemingly bottomless bags of sherbert in the Edwardian sweet shop. Summer holidays at their best.
And as I sat on top of the tram about to discover it again 25 years later – it was just as exciting. We started our short break around Durham at the open air museum, which opened in 1970 with the aim of preserving the buildings, objects and machinery of industrial life in the North in the 1800s and 1900s.
It’s fair to say the highlights of the day – lunch at the coal-fired fish and chip shop and a wallet-busting trip back to the sweet shop – set the precedent for my few days in Durham. Food. And lots of it.
The bar had already been set high in the restaurant of Beamish Hall Hotel. Our hotel for the evening was just moments from the museum in Stanley, in the Vale of Durham. Set amid rolling parkland, the country house hotel has its own microbrewery and Stables restaurant, offering local produce with exotic twists. An evening stroll around the beautifully-kept grounds was very much in order after tucking into a huge plate of lamb tagine.
After a hearty Northumbrian breakfast in the elegant Eden Room the next morning, we made our way to the city centre to explore. It may be relatively compact, but Durham has a lot to discover. We started by making our way up to Palace Green, which is overlooked by the cathedral, Durham Castle, Palace Green Library, and various university buildings, each with hundreds of years of history and now comprising a Unesco World Heritage Site.
A cathedral has stood at the site since 1093, and the Romanesque architecture is quite something to behold. Something, in fact, that is currently being replicated using 350,000 pieces of Lego in support of its latest development project. It’s well worth taking one of the cathedral’s organised tours to discover more about the treasures that lie within – and as part of – its walls.
From the cathedral we headed across to the Palace Green Library, which until August 31, is marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Across several galleries, an exhibition charts the history of revolt, stretching from the War of the Roses to the Occupy Movement. The only surviving 1216 issue of the charter – on loan from Durham Cathedral – is the centrepiece of the exhibition.
After a lofty morning of religion and politics, it was time for more food. This time though, it could be easily excused under the vestige of more history. The lovely Cafe on the Green is housed in the building where the Bishop of Durham,
TAKE IT AS READ: The only surviving 1216 issue of the Magna Carta is the centrepiece of an exhibition at the Palace Green Library.