A short drive from our hotel and we were in the small and very beautiful city of Durham. We didn’t have too much on the agenda for this visit, see the cathedral and just wander a bit was my plan. This place is made for that – lovely old cobbled streets, a city that is not too big but big enough, UNESCO historic buildings, loads of students with a buzzing and vibrant atmosphere plus it is just a delight to explore on foot.
All paths seem to lead to the cathedral. We crossed the river and headed up to this incredible 1,000 year old building. An interesting story about how it came to be. St Cuthbert, the Saxon religious leader was buried on Lindisfarne in the late 7th century. His body was dug up 200 years later when the Vikings arrived, reburied and eventually was being brought back to its original burial place, the story goes that Cuthbert’s bones rebelled and refused to budge. The monks buried him on that spot and then built a cathedral over him. Hence the city of Durham began….
Palace Green, full of lovely Georgian buildings, the castle and almshouses is the perfect place to stand for a moment and ponder on the beauty and history of this place. Son spied a little cafe – Cafe on the Green – and persuaded us to step inside. Great coffee and cakes meant we were refreshed and restored for our cathedral explorations.
The cathedral is awe inspiring. A Norman building, it sits high above the river and the whole city seems almost to huddle at its feet. This is a must see in Durham.
We booked on one of the guided tours of the cathedral and also bought tickets for the Open Treasure Exhibition. We did that first. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the cathedral or the exhibition but take it from me, the interior is spectacular.
Over £10 million has been invested in the Open Treasure Exhibition with the centre piece being the vast 14th century monks’ dormitory with its incredible original oak beamed ceiling. This was once divided into cubicles where the monks would sleep and study, now it houses the exhibition.
All about Christian history and culture in the north east of England, there are lots of artefacts and burial stones and crosses, some dating from the 3rd century. Son, Husband and I mooched around on our own, each focusing on the parts that interested us most. For me the best part of the visit was being able to be inside and explore previously inaccessible parts of the cathedral.
Son enjoyed learning about the life of a monk and of course threw himself into the whole experience by dressing up. He even managed to persuade Husband to get involved. Photos are allowed in this one little area so I was able to capture this moment.
Once this place housed dozens of cubicles where the monks slept and studied. There are a number of interactive exhibits which Son enjoyed as they brought the whole thing to life. I don’t think he would have been much good at the monk’s life – rising at 6am, existing on fish and bread but most of all spending much of the day in strict silence just wouldn’t work too well for him.
Through special air lock doors they have the Magna Carta exhibition. All three issues of Durham’s Magna Carta are on display here including the only surviving copy of the 1216 issue and further issues from 1225 and 1300. The dates of these papers are mind blowing, Son though was not overly impressed but did actually read the information boards and found an error with one of the dates. The guide congratulated him and gave him a bag of sweets. I was just impressed he was reading and taking something in.
We had a look at the very intricate Lego model of the cathedral in the Undercroft, browsed the gift shop and strolled through the incredible cloisters.
Back again to the main entrance after all that as it was time for our guided tour of the cathedral. Quite a few people on the tour but our guide was excellent and very easy to hear. He told us about the history of this great church and pointed out all things of interest.
We heard about the roof arches, the first in England and a great architectural achievement of the time. Highlights were the tomb of St Cuthbert and the grave of the Venerable Bede, the 8th century monk who, amongst other things introduced the numbering of years from the birth of Jesus.
The tour lasted about 1.5 hours but the time flew past. Son was mainly interested, he zoned in and out a bit but some things did stick. Husband and I thoroughly enjoyed it all and left feeling so much more informed about this incredible building.