On a clifftop 80ft above the Tees stand the ruins of Barnard (originally ‘Bernard’s’) Castle, built by Bernard Balliol in the 12th century on the site of an earlier family stronghold. The Balliols gained power in the 13th century, when John Balliol was crowned King of Scotland a member of the same family later founded Balliol College in Oxford. Master Humphrey’s Clock (1840) in which The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge appeared, may have been inspired by a clockmaker’s shop in the town. Dickens and his illustrator Hablot Browne stayed at the King’s Head Inn while they were investigating abuses in cheap boarding-schools for background to Dotheboys Hall of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, the original of which was at Bowes nearby. The Bowes Museum, built by a prominent local family in the 19th century, resembles a French Renaissance chateau. Set in its own parkland, the museum contains some 10,000 exhibits, including paintings. The beautiful ruins of the 12th-century Egglestone Abbey stand close to the town.
Built on a wooded rock, lapped on three sides by the River Wear, Durham is one of the most splendidly sited of English cities. Dominating the sandstone outcrop , the dramatic outlines of cathedral and castle stand as a reminder of the great medieval strongholds of the Norman invaders. Durham was the only English city to be ruled as County Palatine by a Prince-Bishop, with his own army and privileges. The bishops retained this status, in name at least, until it was revoked by Act of Parliament in 1836.
The cathedral’s defensive position, with the border country to the north as a second line of defence, was originally colonised by Saxon monks, particularly those driven from Holy Island by the Vikings. Their monastery grew into a cultural and religious centre and was the shrine of the two great Saxon saints of the North: Cuthbert, whose coffin, the story goes, rooted itself to this spot; and the Venerable Bede, whose bones were stolen from Jarrow by Durham’s Sacrist. These ecclesiastical treasures ensured that Durham prospered on pilgrims’ money.
The Saxon monastery has long vanished, but the tombs of St Cuthbert andl Bede were housed by the Normans in the cathedrals they built. It is a magnificent building uniting strength and size with grace. The whole of it’s main structure was built between 1093 and 1133; its great central tower being rebuilt in 1470. Particularly striking are the huge decorated pillars; the first successful execution on a grand scale of ribbed vaulting; and the evocative 12th-century sanctuary knocker which gave fugitives the right of sanctuary once they had seized hold of it sadly all the ancient woodwork, save for Prior Castell’s four-faced 15th-century clock, was destroyed by the 3000 Scotsmen that Cromwell imprisoned here after the Battle of Dunbar. The Normans set Durham Castle beside the cathedral and it proved to be the only northern castle never to fall to the Scots. Inhabited ever since the Prince-Bishops made it their palace over 900 years ago, the castle today, with its 19th-century keep, is part of the university. The challenge of expanding the university from its fortified setting, enhanced by the 18th century houses in North and South Bailey, has exercised the minds of such modern architects as Ove Arup, who designed one of the bridges.
The city itself grew compactly around the fortified rock. Its downhill streets and steep winding alleys known as vennels, form one of the best townscapes in Britain, running past the 17th-century Bishop Cosin’s House and the old grammar school, to the three old bridges across the Wear Elvet, Prebends and Framwellgate. The 19th-century town hall was designed by the same architect who was responsible for the late-lamented Great Hall at Euston Station in London, and contains the relics of ‘Lord’ Tom Thumb, a tiny Polish violinist, just one metre tall, who died in 1837 aged 98.
Outside the city is the old Durham racecourse. Each year for one day this becomes the site for the world-famous Durham Miners’ Gala with brass bands from all over the country. Also, four miles west is Ushaw College, which succeeded Douai, in France, as a training college for Catholic priests.
High Force Waterfall
High Force is reached by a short wooded path opposite the High Force Hotel on the B6277. One of England’s most spectacular waterfalls, it is particularly impressive when, swollen by rain, the Tees cascades over the cliff of the Great Whin Sill to plunge to a deep glen-enclosed pool 70ft below.
Founded in the 1950’s in an effort to bring new employment to this part of the north east, Peterlee is a flourishing industrial town and has an attractive shopping centre. The town is named after Peter Lee, who started work down the mines at the age of ten, in 1874, and rose to become Presrdent of the Miners’ Union. Castle Eden Dene is a three mile stretch of natural woodland, owned by the corporation and kept as a nature reserve.
Staindrop’s church, St Mary’s, is understandably rich with monuments to the Neville family, who owned Raby Castle for three centuries.The castle passed from the Nevilles to the Vanes in the early 17th century. Its historical associations are numerous and its octagonal drawingroom is probably the best example of a Victorian drawing-room in the country.
Stockton on Tees
On 27 September 1825, the first ever passenger-carrying train steamed into Stockton. Thereafter, the shipbuilding and engineering industries multiplied and this town on the Tees was never the same again. Nonetheless, the open air market, established in 1310, is still held in the High Street, reputed to be the widest in England. In 1827 a local chemist invented the friction match, and Thomas Sheraton, creator of great furniture, was born here in 1731.