Step it up and slow it down: Whether on foot or by boat, Durham is a beautiful city well worth exploring

Durham Cathedral (Getty Images)

THERE are usually quite a few considerations when planning a city break.

Mostly, how to get around. What transport you’ll need, where to get the buses or subways or trams or even trains.

With Durham, as we found out on a weekend away, it’s refreshingly simple. Just walk. It’s cosy, compact, characterful and fun.

It does lay claim, of course, to a couple of jewels that would shine in any crown.

The cathedral and the adjacent castle have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for more than 30 years now and it’s easy to see why.

One of the finest Norman buildings in the world, the 11th-Century place of worship is strikingly beautiful and retains almost all of its original craftsmanship.

It is very much still a living, breathing centre of religion so you’ve every chance of popping in during a service of some type. In fact, a 700-strong congregation were gathering to say their farewells to a retiring bishop when we visited.

There are regular tours and a great exhibition, Open Treasure, full of fascinating facts and artefacts.

And if you’re worried that youngsters might not fancy it, just tell them of the Harry Potter filming links.

The castle is literally next door and it, too, has tours that take you behind the ancient facade and really bring it to life.

We were staying less than 15 minutes’ walk away at the Kingslodge Inn.

It’s part of an award-winning chain, the Inn Collection Group, which has a number of properties in the north east, all of which have a fine reputation for warm welcomes.

And from the minute we checked in, we knew the Kingslodge wasn’t going to let the side down.

Although it’s a perfect base for exploring the city, it was surrounded by woodland so was quiet and relaxed.

There are 23 rooms, so it didn’t feel overly big and impersonal.

The breakfasts were a fabulously tasty and filling way to set us up for exploration and the dinners on both nights were excellent. The service was faultless and the staff friendly and super-efficient, even while looking after a big wedding party.

While walking was the main way to see the city , we got another perspective by getting out on the river that meanders through the centre.

Prince Bishop River Cruises run hour-long trips that not only tell you loads of fascinating facts and historical insights, they also give cracking views of the brilliant panoramas.

Suitably informed and with an even better grasp of the geography, we hit the streets again. There was no shortage of places to stop to refresh and refuel, from cafes by the river at Elvet Bridge to great pubs with outdoor seating and super craft beers.

There’s loads that’s new, too, with shopping centres such as Prince Bishops fitting in nicely amidst the cobbled streets.

But we really had to get back behind the wheel to check out a couple of older favourites.

Just 20 minutes away is Tanfield Railway, the world’s oldest. As we’d lucked into visiting as they were staging a Wartime Weekend Event, we had Identity Papers issued, queries about whether our journey was strictly necessary in this time of war and just a heck of a lot of fun as the steam train chuffed up and down the short track.

Durham’s indoor market

Close by was another throwback to the past, the Beamish open-air museum.

It’s a massive 350-acre site and the past comes splendidly to life with the staff not only costumed but seeming to really inhabit the characters they play.

We saw schoolkids getting an old-fashioned lesson and heard from an old-timer in one of the miners’ cottages how hedgehogs were popular pets of the past as they ate the bugs attracted by the damp!

We swapped trains for trams on one of the clattering old specimens that take you round the old town, colliery, farm and more.

But while it represents the past, Beamish isn’t stuck in it and there’s an £18 million project under way to add to it, including a 1950s town.

It’s a day out that really does appeal to the young as much as the old, and the best advice is not to rush it.

Facts

Rooms at the Kingslodge Inn cost from £105. Visit their website for special offers including Stay Friday and Saturday nights and get Sunday nights free. See kingslodgeinn.co.uk

For more, visit beamish.org.uk and thisisdurham.com

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