Yesterday we went to Durham – “a perfect little city” – according to Bill Bryson. In his book Notes from a small island, Bill Bryson summarises so well the feel of the place, so I’m going to copy and paste his words here:

Why, it’s wonderful – a perfect little city – and I kept thinking: ‘Why did no-one tell me about this?’ I knew, of course, that it had a fine Norman cathedral but I had no idea that it was so splendid. I couldn’t believe that not once in twenty years had anyone said to me, ‘You’ve never been to Durham? Good God, man, you must go at once! Please – take my car.

He is right. It is a perfect little city and if you’ve never been there, then you absolutely must go.

The city is built on an imposing peninsula, formed by a loop in the river Wear. There is a magnificent castle, now the University, and a Norman cathedral which is apparently the greatest Norman building in all of England. Both sit high on a hill overlooking the river Wear and surrounding countryside. It was an important defensive position against the Scots.

The river Wear with a tiny bit of the Cathedral visible in the distance
Durham Castle
Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral overlooking the River Wear


We might have had a nice family shot in the next photo except that Daniel so often refuses to stand for photos and he took off, while Elizabeth looks bored to tears, but she did really have a nice time. Honest. She told me when we were walking around the Cathedral that she’d like to live there one day.


I took so many photos, hundreds in fact, but most of them didn’t turn out so well because I always seemed to be pointing the camera into the sun. This next one though, is probably the best of the day.


Some of Harry Potter was filmed in Durham Cathedral. I half expected to see witches and wizards on their way to class.

Durham Cathedral.

Do you remember the scene where Harry stands in a snow-covered courtyard and releases Hedwig? That was filmed in Durham Cathedral in the exact same spot as my next photo:


Durham Cathedral.

The Cathedral shop. Impressive.

I was not allowed to take any photos from inside the Cathedral itself but it was magnificent. If you want to see what it was like you can visit their website: Durham Cathedral.

Construction of the Cathedral began in 1093 so it is getting close to 1000 years old. Imagine that! How did they build stuff like this without modern technology? The ceiling inside is vaulted stone and is said to be the first of its type on such a scale in all the world. I wonder whether any modern architecture will still be standing in 1000 years? Perhaps I am cynical but I doubt it. Modern society seems to have chosen short-term profits over beauty and quality.

Durham Cathedral

Sadly, we could not go into the Castle. It is owned by the University and the only way visitors can get inside is by way of a guided tour but because the semester has just begun, they were not conducting tours that day. Something to do with students settling in and some sort of party – perhaps they are still mopping vomit from the floors? I guess that means we will have to go back. 🙂

Durham Castle Keep.


The last photo is of an inscription on Prebends Bridge by Walter Scott, Scottish novelist/playwright/poet.


It reads:

 Grey towers of Durham

                             Yet well I love thy mixed and massive piles

                             Half church of God half castle ‘gainst the Scot

                            And long to roam these venerable aisles

                           With records stored of deeds long since forgot.

– Sir Walter Scott, 1816

22 thoughts on “Durham”

  1. Beautiful photos, Rachel. I love the family one sans Daniel. Elizabeth looks as though she’s contemplating the meaning of life. Your favourite photo is a stunner.

    1. The whole place was so beautiful that I was a little disappointed when I looked at my photos. They really didn’t capture the same gorgeousness that I had I seen in person.

  2. Lovely pictures! The castles look just like I imagined when reading fairy stories of princesses and knights and all that stuff! No need to be disappointed with any of your shots. They are all captivating!

  3. Yes they are beautiful pictures. And they inspire our imagination about the history of the region. One reason that we no longer build such beautiful architectural structures is that labour costs are now a major cost. In those days labour was very cheap and completely exploited. Many would have died during the building of those cathedrals and castles. But they are beautiful and longer lasting than today’s buildings.

    1. It is true that labour was once very cheap, especially slave labour, however today we have modern technology and machinery at our disposal.

      Not all modern structures are ugly. I recently saw an inspiring TED talk – Thomas Heatherwick: Building the Seed Cathedral. (http://www.ted.com/talks/thomas_heatherwick.html) Heatherwick provides some examples of the things he designs and they’re very beautiful. So I don’t think there’s any reason we can’t have beautiful, lasting architecture today.

  4. Rachel, once again you post has reminded me a lot of where I have been. The two times I was in Germany I used to go out and explore castles once or twice each month. I took hundreds of 35mm photos that all ended up mounted on slides, the preferred method way back then. Sadly my ex got them and I learned later tossed them just to spite me. Such is life. All of your beautiful cathedral shots are a photographers dream. When shot from inside you can get amazing shots using all of the distinct lines and different lighting. Once again I do so envy you ability to travel and see all of these sites and thank you for taking me along again !!

    1. I’m sorry to hear about all those lost photos! Tragic! It is so much fun exploring a new place and I just love writing about it on my blog. Castles are especially enchanting.

  5. Thanks for introducing us to the delights of Durham Rachel. To my great shame, Durham is one of the places in this beautiful isle of ours that we have yet to visit. BTW I adore Bill Bryson and love his quote about it! It truly does look like the ‘perfect little city’ and is definitely on the to do list. Love all your photos too 🙂

    1. Thanks, Sherri. I love Bill Bryson’s books and have read quite a few. I always remembered this bit about Durham and searched for it after our visit yesterday. I’m sure you’ll love the city if you decide to go.

  6. Nicely done. The view along the river, at least to me, was the best shot. It is very evocotive of the place and makes one think of all the people over hundreds of years who have also stopped for a moment to quietly take in th view. And, of all those who stopped to think of their troubles or their joys. I love shots that capture a moment as much an an image. More so, the shots that evoke a sense of many moments. Places like Durham always have that.
    🙂 You may have invented the first Squirelcam. 🙂

    1. Squirelcam: I love it! Evocative is a very good word for describing Durham. What I find quite striking is that the two halves of the city – church and castle – are so diametrically opposed. The castle was a defensive structure for war while the church was for peaceful worship. Although I did read that many Scotts were held prisoner inside the Cathedral where they died of starvation.

      1. The church could be very fierce in those days. Which begs an interesting question. How much of it was a hunger for power, how much of it was zealotry and how much fear ? They could get treated very fiercely too. I expect it was as varied as there are people. It’s a pity we can’t ask them. Have a good week Gram 🙂

  7. Lovely pics, Rach. I couldn’t help but agree with Max though in thinking about the miserable, feudal lives the workers who built that cathedral would have had. Will check out the Ted talk.

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