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Historic Durham is under an hour from York and is the perfect place to explore, no matter what the weather is doing.
Durham was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1986 thanks to its amazing medieval castle, cathedral and unique history. The castle was once the home of the Prince-Bishops, the town’s religious rulers who were given extraordinary powers to raise armies against invaders from the north. Given these powers, the Prince-Bishops’ castle soon took on palatial qualities which are currently enjoyed by Durham University. The amazing buildings in Durham, plus its unique position as a border town noosed by the River Wear, make this a great place to visit for a packed day out whatever the weather.
Just by the Elvet Bridge, you’ll find this river cruise. It usually runs from March until October and on a sunny day, you can drift down the river and around the city as a guide tells you its history. The cruise takes an hour and gives you stunning views of the city, the cathedral and the castle and there’s even a bar on board if you really want to unwind on the river. To be fair, you can take the river cruise in any weather, but we’ve always preferred our river activity to be bathed in sunshine.
If the weather is exceptionally fine then a riverside ramble is hugely recommended, and can only be improved upon with a picnic. It’s a moderate 3-mile walk and should take around an hour to an hour and a half and is a great way to see how the river interacts with this amazing city.
Another venue with a view is the Botanic Garden which houses plant collections from around the world, has a bamboo grove as well as alpine and woodland gardens too. Right at its centre, you’ll find a huge monkey puzzle tree.
Beautiful and intriguing artworks are dotted throughout the gardens too, which makes a sunny wander an adventure – and the website has lots of resources you can download and print out, such as suggested routes and even a Quiz Trail.
On top of all this, the hair-raising glasshouse has large tanks filled with beetles, scorpions and even a collection of tarantulas, which are always a huge hit with kids and adults alike. You’ll be fascinated and freaked out in equal measure.
Hiding out in the library isn’t the wildest of ideas when the weather is less than pleasant, but Palace Green Library is a rarer fish than your regular town libraries. For one, this place is found at the very heart of Durham – Palace Green is a sheet of greenery bounded on the south by the Cathedral and overlooked from the north by the castle. For another thing, this is no ordinary library, it served the university for 150 years but now houses its collections. There are 70,000 books printed before 1850, 30,000 maps, over 100 medieval manuscripts and on top of this, you’ll find the Museum of Archeology with collections ranging from prehistoric to the post-medieval period. It really is a treasure trove. Plus you can get there from Durham train station on the Durham Cathedral Bus.
There aren’t many things that will get young ones rushing headlong into a cathedral, but Durham is no ordinary cathedral and in the undercroft you’ll find a scale replica of it made in LEGO – hopefully, in the scale model, there’s also a tiny undercroft with another scaled-down LEGO model and so on… The model took three years to build, which is a flash in the pan, when compared to the bricks and mortar building it’s housed in (that was begun in 1093 and they were still fiddling with it in the 1700s – no doubt that timeframe wasn’t in the original quote).
The cathedral’s scale and wonder do make for a fascinating tour and they have recently opened the North West Tower to the public for the first time, giving you a great view of the city the cathedral dominates… plus it’s handy for any Instagram-obsessed members of your party.
There are things to do in Durham whatever the weather decides to do, so why not book an advance train ticket today and you could save over 50%