Exploring Durham with a camera. There are many quaint British towns, but none quite like Durham. Words and photo’s by Sarah Kavanagh
There are many quaint British towns, but none quite like Durham. Although located on main rail lines, it remains an obscure destination as most travelers usually continue on to the well-known cities of Newcastle or Edinburgh. Durham seems to be missed, as if everyone seems to blink just as the stop comes up.
Durham is a city with a rich personality. It is at once ancient and youthful. It’s not sleepy, but the pace of life is peaceful and relaxed. The town has a enduring quiet and peaceful power that is felt the moment you leave the train station, which is by far the best way to travel to Durham, or for that matter, anywhere in England. I lived in Durham for over a year while going to the University and fell in love the moment I stepped off the train. As an Archaeologist, photographer, foodie and lover of the solid peace afforded by a place where people and nature work in tandem, Durham is my heart’s home. I dare you to go and not leave feeling, at the least, a little soulfully calmed.
The town contains a number of important historical sites, including a cathedral from the Norman period, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, but living like a local is the best way to see Durham. One can spend the day in the city and not go more than a few blocks, or one can pick a forest footpath and wander in and through the city, experiencing the hidden corners and views. The walk through the city is great for finding great food, taking photos, or just settling on one of the many benches and soaking up a bit of northern sun.
If you’re a traveling foodie, Durham is an excellent place to be. The farmer’s market and the local city market are by far the best places for real food. Every third Thursday the local farmers market sets up in the main city square, in the same place it’s been held for over a century. It is a small but well stocked market. One can pick up fresh fruit, flowers, meats, handmade goods and many types of delicious cheese. The daily city market, full of odds and ends, hats, cigars and a fish-monger is held indoors, creating close quarters, but making it a good spot to get out of the rain.
The town is home to a few independent stores. The Mugwump and The Renovation Store are worth a look. Peter’s Bakery (there are four of them in town!) is a good spot to grab a quick bite. A North Eastern phenomena, Peter’s deserves it tasty reputation. When I was a student, the chicken slice became my favorite selection. It made for a good meal on the run, or as fuel for essay writing long into the night. And at one pound ten, it didn’t lighten my pocket too much. The Almshouse Cafe for lunch or tea should be on your list, especially for the daily specials. The cafe is across from the Palace Green Library, where antique books and medieval manuscripts are held. It’s also a great area to explore about for that unique travel shot no one else will have captured.
Durham is a photographer’s dream, rain or shine. The fingers of the sun drawing across the cathedral on a midsummers night, the castle covered in snow or, in April, when every green space seems to be over run with tulips, create breathtaking and idyllic scenes. After a year spent photographing the urban and rural settings of the town I can’t recall a single view that wasn’t worth a frame or pixel. Architecture or natural, macro, day, night or twilight you may well wear out your shutter. I know I nearly did.
Every season is a great time to visit, though if you are looking to avoid the younger crowd, plan your travel over Christmas, or around the term break in May when the students studying at Durham’s world-class University are free from their studies for a week.
When I’m looking for a real holiday, one without hassle, where I’ll be able to eat, hike, photograph and be merry, Durham is one of my top choices. I highly recommend getting an OS map or just finding an unexplored path and starting down it.
Sarah Kavanagh has a Masters of Science, and is an archaeologist and palaeoecologist. A Canadian who loves cheese, spinach, chocolate, and canning fruit. Visit her photography site at Earthboundphotos.ca