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Durham: Cathedrals, Gardens and Tea for One

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The North East of England doesn’t get the respect it deserves when it comes to tourism.

When it comes to foreign tourism, visitors to the UK are more likely to hit the iconic cities of London, Edinburgh and Liverpool. Simply put, most foreigners have never heard of Durham.

They don’t have an internationally recognised Football team and the closest thing they have to a globally known landmark is the Angel of the North (which is more in Newcastle’s jurisdiction really). To a visitor, with a very small grasp on the history of Great Britain, the attractions that Durham has to offer might seem a little confounding. Cathedrals, gardens and tearooms are really what this not-so-modern city has to offer – three things that an utterly British gent like myself is more than happy to make the journey for.

London to Durham by train can take anywhere from just under 3 hours to around 3 hours 40 minutes. Although the price and standards of the trains in Britain have started to become very distantly related variables, I’d take a seat on a carriage over a tiring drive any day. When I arrive into Durham it’s around half 11 and a perfectly acceptable time to stop into the first tearoom of the day.

Walking through Durham’s charming shopping district, meandering my way towards the Cathedral, I find myself forgetting that I’m as North as I really am.

The cobbled streets, narrow Tudor-style walkways and copious pubs that crowd the streets here are reminiscent of Dickens’ London, or perhaps the live-action adaptations that were filmed here. It’s a shame that this quaint city doesn’t get the international attention that it deserves, foreign tourists would no doubt be wooed by the utterly English sensibility that rules large swathes of the town. Nowhere in Durham does this Englishness feel more pronounced than in one of it’s many tearooms.

I stop by at the questionably named Cafedral Durham for a refreshing cup of tea and a scone. For all of it’s Southern pretensions, I’m instantly reminded that I’m far up North thanks to the dark builder’s tea I’m served. The cafe is only a small space, but there’s a real bustling feel to it.

If this had been a place in London, the designers would have no doubt decided to cram the place with overtly quirky bric-a-brac – but the owners of Cafedral Durham have clearly shown some restraint and left the decor clean and unfussy. Think less Grandma’s front room and more modern country kitchen.

Feeling utterly refreshed, I wander the short distance over to the Cathedral to admire a building that has overlooked the city for nearly a thousand years.

Religious buildings often split the room. You have some people who are insistent that you have to be religious to enjoy a trip to a Cathedral, whilst others frankly say that ‘they all look the same’. For me, the sheer spectacle of a cathedral is enough to put a smile on my face. That’s exactly what happened when I ambled my way into Durham Cathedral’s cavernous surroundings. On a Wednesday afternoon it’s blissfully quiet, the few tourists visiting make very little noise as they slowly circle the building. Whether you’re religious or not, the scale and detail of Durham cathedral is more than enough to inspire. The mind boggles all the more when you consider how this gargantuan build was undertaken without the use of computers, cranes or any kind of electric tool.

Just a 15 minute walk from the Cathedral lies Crook Hall and Gardens. Walking along the River Wear, with Cathedral in the distance you can imagine the city as a bustling Medieval metropolis, with the water crowded with canal boats and barges. Within 10 minutes any noise from the city has been eaten up by trees and space leaving only the sound of birds and wind through the trees. Crook Hall is nowhere near as ancient as the Cathedral, it exudes a country charm that makes one forget about the Dickensian city just a few minutes walk away. A carefully manicured garden is the icing on the cake.

I can understand the trepidation that foreign tourists treat Durham with. It has none of the flashing lights and distractions of Britain’s other cities, yet it’s hard to imagine finding a more ‘English’ experience anywhere in the country.

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