I try not to divulge many personal details about myself, but for this blog I am going to have to let one small piece of info slip…
I happen to live in a village that boarders the historic City of Durham, within County Durham. I have lived on the outskirts of the city my entire life, although not always in the same village.
Over the years, I have watched the city change, and I have been told many a time of what it was once like before I was born. Today, I want to talk about the city and the ups and downs of it.
I know its not very pro-active to talk about the negative points of the place that you live, and my goal is not to put people off it which is why instead I want to point out some of the best places to go, but still hopefully draw some attention to the things that I think are causing problems for the city. It might not make a difference, but at most it might help someone who’s never seen it, or those that go there everyday but miss out on the hidden gems that are dotted about the city. Let’s see shall we…
Durham is such an old place, filled with history. I’m not here to give you a history lesson, but I can tell you that it dates back to AD 995, although some studies and research show that there may well have been settlements on the land as early as 2000 BC. There is of course a fascinating legend that goes with the founding of Durham, which you can read here – http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Durham/
Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say, I do love Durham. Apart from its rich history, it is also very beautiful. Beyond the City center, there are countless lovely villages with miles of scenic walking routes and places to visit. It’s not particularly far from a lot of other lovely places for days out, such as Newcastle or Northumberland.
It’s a tiny city, you can probably walk it all in less than hour. I’ve never tried to do so, but I imagine it would be hard to spend an entire day there.
If you come via bus or train, you may find that you’re disappointed by your first views, especially of the horrid bus station. Coming down North Road – at least from the bus station, its not too bad further up – you’re hit by a combination of bad smells, empty units and charity shops. There’s nothing wrong with charity shops of course, but its something that Durham has an abundance of including card shops, phone shops and coffee shops!
Whilst you’re there though, I would recommend popping into the Asian supermarket, The Golden Pearl, just next door to the bus station. In here you’ll be delighted by a range of delicious smells and interesting looking food. Buy it to cook at home, or be adventurous, take a seat and order something to eat there and then! I’ve never done it before, but I plan too! It smells so good every-time I go in. I have it on very good authority that the food is wonderful!
Whilst you’re on North Road, there is also the Great British Heart Foundation furniture shop, a sure place to pick up a a bargain whilst helping the charity.
A few doors down, you’ll find Robinson’s Greengrocers, filled with an excellent choice of delicous, well priced fruits and veg!
Just round the corner from The Golden Pearl, you can visit a lovely little vintage shop, Scarlet Ribbons, and over the road from it, what I think is the best fish and chip shop in the city center, Stantons!
Continuing on, there are couple more great charity shops, but you’ll mostly find a couple of empty units and mini-supermarkets.
If you’re looking for cheap drink, there is the Wetherspoons, the Waterhouse. Nothing new and interesting I know, but good a place for a cheap round and nice breakfast! If you’re looking for something a little bit different, we do have a Head Of Steam where you can get an interesting selection of beers, at a slightly higher price. This is located in a little side street called Reform Place, between the phone shop and a place called Parkins. HOS also I’m told does nice, cheap pizzas, and it’s also lovely to sit outside of on a sunny day! The staff are really friendly and welcoming. If you like flavored beers, they do a really nice strawberry beer! Yum!
Keep going down the street – soon it will get better, I promise – and you find the dank little shopping center that is known to many as The Gates, but to most people that have lived there a long time, Milburngate. It’s a tiny place with a handful of places of to eat and a small selection of shops. It’s not all bad, most of the places are actually okay, but its a wasted space really. It could be so much more, and apparently it will be eventually. In the meantime it’s still worth a stop off. If you’re in to gaming, then CEX is a great stop off. The entertainment exchange is filled with friendly staff and many bargains! Once inside the shopping center, there is Savers, not as a bright and friendly as CEX but still a great place to top up on toiletries, now one of the cheapest in Durham.
The center once housed a Wilkinson’s, but it recently shut down and relocated, all a part of the plans to turn The Gates into something more interesting, but also much to the disappointment myself and many other people. There is The Yorkshire Trading Company, but unfortunately that will be shutting down and when I asked if they were relocating, I was told they weren’t. Here you can buy just about everything, at a really cheap price!
Coming back along the mall, there are a number of empty units,and stores that I never use. I very much hope that The Works, Poundland, and Fizzylicious will relocate, or have a space in whatever it is that they plan to do with the center. As far as I’m aware, the places on the outside of the center are staying open. Heading outside, you’ll find two great places to eat: Biz-R, a lovely, friendly place that plays great music and does great muffins and tasty coffee for a great price, and a place called Velvet Elvis, a jewelry and clothes shop that has a cafe attached to it. I have often wandered into the shop and looked at the many beautiful things they have on display but am yet to eat in the cafe, although I’m told it’s wonderful! Give it a go!
On the other side of the center, there’s a great place for Thai Cuisine called Central Thai. It has great views of the Cathedral and the river, the food is amazing, and the staff are really nice. They do some great lunch deals, so keep an eye out for those!
Moving on from Milburngate, you’ve got a couple of banks, and then a very steep hill just before the bridge. There isn’t much up the hill – a couple of pubs that most people are big fans of, but not myself – but it’s got a few nice buildings, and there is one hidden treasure – the pancake house! That’s right, this tiny city has a pancake house! The Georgian Townhouse is a BnB as well as a pancake house. It’s hard to get to because of the hill, it’s small and some say a bit overpriced but the pancakes are HUGE and delicious. It’s definitely worth it! The staff are lovely, and it’s so quaint.
Back down the hill, you come to a really lovely bridge. When you’re walking over it, look to your RIGHT. Try to avoid looking left, unless you’re coming from the opposite direction that is! You see, to one side the you have the most beautiful view of the Cathedral, Castle, the river and the riverside, and a load of old buildings. On the other side, there is the very disappointing, industrial view of the passport office.
Before walking over the bridge, you can go down some steps that lead either all the way down to the river bank,or to a nice pub called The Bishop Langley. They have a roof terrace and do yummy food but it’s nice even just for a cosy little drink in the big comfy arm chairs! This one of my favorite places to drink in the city. There are nice views over the river as well!
Back up the stairs, head over the bridge, and stop half way to take in the view. Once you get over it, make sure you look up at buildings, rather than straight ahead. There are some wonderful, old buildings that have some of the original features still in tact. This goes on all the way up to market place and on up to the cathedral. On Silver Street, there are a limited selection of shops, another two small supermarkets and far too many coffee shops. You will find a Cafe Nero which is probably my favorite coffee chain – I’m not overly fond of chains and franchises – and in it, although its small, the staff are so welcoming! However, why not opt for a more independent experience? Durham might not have a lot, but it has it’s fair share of indie coffee shops, and on this street you’ll find one of my favorite – The Lounge! It’s nice a cosy inside, with super friendly staff, and wide range of coffees. The music is good and it’s always packed! Please pop in and give it a try, I worry so much about little indie places being forgotten about or unnoticed because of the many bigger chains that seem to be everywhere!
Next stop, the market square! It’s one of the many old, historic places in Durham and home to the famous horse statue, which has another fascinating story to go with it! (http://www.englandsnortheast.co.uk/DurhamCityMarketPlace.html)
Around it, you mostly find banks with a mixture of some shops. The market square itself is a lovely place to sit with a bag of chips or a cup of tea and watch the world go by. There is beautiful church and on the weekend there are usually a whole array of market stalls offering different delights. It’s also one of the places the international food market stops! Oh the temptation! Here you’ll find the entrance to Durham’s Indoor Market. This is quite a big space with sweet shops, food stalls, a pet stall, clothing and home-ware, crafts, and much more! It’s great place, totally worth a look in and also the path to our next stop off – Fowlers Yard!
Head straight to the back of the Market Hall and there is a door with a lift and some stairs. Take either and you’ll come out in Fowler’s Yard. There is more than one way to get here, including a some steps coming off Silver Street. It’s a tiny little street with a handful of creative businesses and a really nice cafe. From The Wooly Workshop to Durham City Theatre, it’s a lovely little place. If you’re looking for really individual, hand crafted Jewelry, there’s The Croft Workshops is the place to go! They create some really beautiful pieces, and are really imaginative. They did our wedding rings, and we love them!
Also down here, you’ll find Leonard’s Coffee House, a friendly place that does some great sweet and savory treats, but also has a lovely drinks selection!
From the yard, you have access to the river side and Freeman’s Quay Leisure center (a place that I don’t use, so I won’t discuss it) and you can get back up to the market square by either going back through the hall, up a set of steep steps on the side of it, or up a set of less steep steps that brings you out round the side of the church.
Go up the steep steps and you’ll come to the nicest curry house in the center, The Spice Lounge. This place is teeny, but the food is amazing! I really like coming here, and in my books, it beats the other options!
Back into the market square, and you can wander round the outdoor shopping center known as Prince Bishops. Here you’ll find the majority of Durham’s shops and whilst there is nothing particularly disappointing about the place, there’s also nothing particularly exciting about it. They recently added a H&M, which was a nice addition in a place that offers very little in the affordable clothing department. Coming out of the center, you have a few nice little shops including go left, down to Elvet Bridge and Old Elvet. Here you have a few nice little shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants.
Pop into Cafe Continental for a really yummy breakfast. If you’re looking for a tasty burger, YOU MUST GO TO TANGO. This is my favorite place in the city center to go for an evening meal. They do the most delicious burgers, the staff are lovely and they have cocktails! I really have an addiction to the burgers here, so much that I have to limit the amount of times that I go! I really worry that with the opening of the Fat Hippo, people won’t go here. Instead of going to a chain, try something different! EAT HERE! It’s amazing, you won’t regret it. I don’t plan on ever going to Fat Hippo as long as Tango is around.
A bit further along is a great pub called The Swan and Three Cygnets. It’s a Samuel Smiths pub and they do a delicious apricot beer. It’s also pretty big and super cosy, plus you can sit outside when the weather is nice.
Back down towards Prince Bishops, you can go up Saddler Street, probably one of my favorite streets in Durham. Here you’ll find Waterstones, Scorpio (Although I think that’s gone downhill in recent years) and a side street that leads to yet another cafe – I know, right? – that I love! Vennels is a quirky, decent sized place with an outdoor terrace and access to Waterstones. They do massive cake slices, delicious sandwiches and it has a great atmosphere.
Keep going up Saddler Street, you come to a quirky little shop called Mugwump. Here you’ll find an aladdins cave of little treasures that are perfect as gifts or little treats for yourself.
Just a few more doors up is my favorite eatery – Flat White Kitchen! What an absolute delight it is to eat here! Everything on the menu from breakfast to lunch to sweet treats is wonderful. They have an excellent selection of hot and cold drinks, and do the most delicious coffee. I really recommend everything… in all seriousness though, for breakfast, either the ricotta pancakes or scrambled eggs with bacon and house ketchup, and lunch it’s got to be either the meatball sandwich – its huge – or the chicken schnitzel sandwich. For afters go for gingerbread or if they have it, the pecan Blondie. But seriously, eat everything. It’s decorated really nicely, and they use specially made coffee cups that just break y heart, I want one so badly. Also, the loos are really nice…
They actually have a smaller Flat White, which is back around the corner just before Elvet Bridge, which is also lovely. Great if you’re just wanting a coffee or if the bigger one is full. It often is, you often need to wait to get in. It’s worth it though!
On this street there is a whole range of shops and cafes, and a nice bar called The Library. That used to be known as Varcity by the way, another name change that I can’t get used to!
Keep going and this eventually takes you to Durham’s main attractions – The Cathedral and The Castle. Now, I’ve never actually been to Durham castle, which is pretty shocking and something that I do intend to change at some point. The Cathedral however, is one my favorite places to go.
It’s beautiful, peaceful, full of history, what more do you want? Come to see the brilliant sights, climb the tower for the best view of Durham, look at stunning pieces of art and see where parts of Harry Potter was filmed. It really is amazing.
There are many other places in Durham to visit. Head of to The Botanical Gardens for a fun day amongst some beautiful flowers, or to the Oriental Museum to see some truly amazing pieces of art and history. There’s also the Archeology Museum, something that very few seem to know of. It’s tiny but worth a visit. Or for something totally free and simple, just walk along the riverbanks and take in the scenery.
Durham isn’t a bad place at all, but it’s lacking something. It’s filled up with students and the council seem to only care about tearing places down to build housing, usually for students. Don’t get me wrong, I know its a university town,and they do bring funding into it but there’s so much potential that’s being missed. We need something doing for the life long residents.
Walkergate, the city’s “entertainment” area is essentially some basic bars, restaurants and quite a disappointing cinema.
Whilst it’s really not a bad place, and I’m sure I’ve missed some places, I feel that it’s not the quaint little town that tourists think it is. The no-license-needed-to-busk rule is also quite an annoyance, especially if you’re working in one of the shops. A lot of the shops are small, and limited in what they sell, and find a lot of people asking me where places are that just don’t exist in the area. Its about time the powers that be took a look at what the place really needs. A better entertainment district, a bigger cinema, something seriously needs to be done about the amount of empty units and North Road could use a big revamp!
The buses aren’t the most reliable, and the council are shutting down a museum – The Durham Light Infantry Museum – that is actually about Durham, which I think is absolutely horrendous.
Come on people, don’t let our beautiful city die out!