Posted on


Durham University and Cathedral

University College Durham. Freshers arrive as silhouettes, whilst other students party on the lawn beyond the Gatehouse.
University College Durham. Freshers arrive under cloak of silhouette, whilst other students party on the lawn beyond the Gatehouse.

Durham is one of the most gorgeous cities in Britain. In fact, I’ll raise that statement. Durham could hold its own – in good looks and history (per yard) – against most cities in the world.

Owen Gate Durham

My advice about the best times to visit a given place are defined by the quality of light and how few people happen to be sharing the vistas with you – the fewer human obstacles the better!
But in the case of Durham, the second rule gets jettisoned because one of the best times to visit this stunning City of light, shape and colour, is when the freshers put flesh to the Durham University stone, round about the first week in October.
For one week(end) only, the pricier restaurants are filled with teenagers eager for a last posh nosh before taking to the red carpet of adult life – which is what the top British Universities tend to roll out these days – accompanied by dewy-eyed parents, who are more than willing to pick up one last tab before their chicks take to a life of self-denial and Greggs pasties (yeah, right – Bell’s Chippy for a Friday night treat, anyone?).

University College Durham. Party Night at the Gatehouse?
University College Durham. Party Night at the Gatehouse?

If a Las Vegas hotel ever decides to do a tasteless plastic mock-up of British University life en rose, they won’t find a better template than Durham. The place is like a perpetual film-set in miniature, fit for a Harrovian remake of ‘The Young Ones‘ requiring a latter-day Mitfordian makeover, where ‘U’ (‘U’ being ‘Upper-Class’ in Nancy-speak – as opposed to ‘Non-U‘) Yar-speakers get to play at real life before hitting it proper (and yes, Cinders, I do know that not all Durham students have been spooned silverly into a shoe that doesn’t quite fit – just let me have my fun, whydontcha).

Palace Green Library in a fetching light.
Palace Green Library in a fetching light.

Is there a better pint of real ale than in the Dun Cow?
A better place to belt out Progressive House than from University College’s elevated position in the Castle grounds?
Or a more scenic wobble home from (or to) a Hatfield party night, than up Dun Cow Lane and barefoot over a poo-free Palace Green, towards that famed widened arch?

Durham Cathedral and Palace Green library, make up a stunning image of perfect Durham hues.
Durham Cathedral and Palace Green library, make up a stunning image of perfect Durham hues.

Or was there ever a more breathtaking way to start each day of your three year stay, than to go on a jog through a thousand years of art rendition and copycat photography, along the river path overlooking that done-to-death vista of Durham Cathedral, from the steps of one of the openly accessed row boating huts?

Durham. The telephone box that launched a boat full of selfies
Durham. The telephone and post box that launched ten boat loads of bad selfies

Although the annual Northbound exodus from Fresher-on-Thames has made it nigh impossible for poorly paid local workers to be able to afford a city centre pad, and a battalion of Mac-wielding salesmen have risen to agent any available cranny, this should not be a stick with which to beat Yar-dinese yoof, for these students bring far more to Durham than they take from it.

‘Young men must suffer when they think that, how ever much they may protest as students, their future is bounded by office walls, their fame spurs them in vain while the laurels go to pop singers.’
Nancy Mitford

After all, its not the stuff from which you came that matters, but what you ultimately become, and idealism oft mixes in up Owen Gate with the rustle of ball-gowns and tinkling glasses, and an education-to-date nourishes the politeness not to remind the rest of us what we might (or might not) have been, had we afforded a similar rite of passage.


So, if you are going to Durham, do try to avoid the weekend crush and the Summer months – and I always recommend a crisp blue Winter’s day as being better than any other to greet the sunrise.

Durham Cathedral duotone
Durham Cathedral duo tone

But whatever time you choose, make sure its term time, for the bright young things give this town a rare vibrancy, and the smallness of Durham’s center means you can’t help but be an extra on this glittering stage, in what for many will be their finest and most memorable lifetime’s achievement, and I for one feel a lesser privilege each time I click briefly through it.

Durham Cathedral - the tradesman's entrance?
Durham Cathedral – the tradesman’s entrance?
 Durham Print Gallery: A First Few  Here