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The Prince Bishops' Durham

To Durham's castle and cathedral, and along the banks of the River Wear.

Distance 2.5 miles (4km)

Minimum time 1hr 15min

Ascent/gradient 300ft (91m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths City paths and riverside tracks

Landscape Deep horseshoe-shaped gorge formed by River Wear

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 308 Durham & Sunderland; AA Street-by-Street Tyne & Wear

Start/finish NZ 275424

Dog friendliness Off lead, but under close control, on riverside paths

Parking Prince Bishop car park, off Leazes Road, A690

Public toilets At car park

1 Leave the car park by the lowest level, by the river. Turn right towards Elvet Bridge, originally built around 1170 by Bishop de Puiset and leading to his new suburb of Elvet. Go up the steps at the bridge's right-hand end on to the top. Turn right and walk uphill, then bear left up the steps into Sadler Street. After 150yds (137m) turn right up Owengate, signed 'Cathedral and Castle'. Bear right to the entrance to the castle. Behind the 18th-century gateway is the Norman keep

2 Cross Palace Green and enter the cathedral by the main door, with its fearsome lion-faced sanctuary ring. After visiting, leave by the south door into the cloisters. Go straight ahead, turning right to visit the Treasury. As you leave, turn left out of the Treasury and walk along the cloister, then turn right into a passage that emerges into a grassed area called The College. Follow the wall on your left as it bends left, and leave by the archway. Turn left.

3 Opposite the east end of the cathedral, with its rose window, turn right beside the former church (now the heritage centre) down Bow Lane. Bear right to the elegant concrete Kingsgate Bridge, put up in 1963 to designs by engineer Ove Arup. Cross the bridge and bear left, to meet the road. Turn right up Church Street. After 100yds (91m), turn right past the war memorial into St Oswald's churchyard. Follow the path as it descends to the river bank, keeping right where it divides. Follow the river, going over a footbridge. On the opposite bank is the little Greek temple, known as the Count's House after an early 19th-century Durham resident, Count Boruwlaski, who was 39in (1m) tall.

4 Pass the end of Prebends' Bridge, opened in 1778; one of the cathedral's pinnacles is marooned on the river bank near by. Continue behind the riverside buildings. Just beyond is the classic view of the cathedral, with the former fulling mill (now the Museum of Archaeology) on the opposite bank. Just before the next bridge, go left up steps by the Coach and Horses pub on to Framwellgate Bridge, put up by Bishop Flambard in 1128.

5 Turn right over the bridge. Look out on the right for a narrow entry, Moatside Lane, signed 'Cathedral and Castle'. Follow the lane, once the main pilgrims' route from the bridge to the cathedral. The lane rises and bends before eventually coming out into Sadler Street. Turn left, pass the steps on the right, and then take the next right, High Street. At the bottom, go right, back to the car park.

The Prince Bishops of Durham were quite literally a law unto themselves, with all the power of a monarch within their area. They held court from the massive Norman keep, first built in 1078 on an almost impregnable site on the great spur formed by the River Wear. Guided tours take visitors to the highlights, including the Norman chapel and gallery, and the Black Stair that leads from the medieval Great Hall to the 18th-century state rooms. Here the Prince Bishops raised armies, minted coins, appointed judges and granted charters. Their powers ended in 1832, and the castle was then taken over by the new University of Durham.

The Prince Bishops were enthroned within Durham Cathedral, the greatest Norman cathedral in England, begun in 1093. It has characteristic round pillars with incised geometric carving, as well as the earliest of all Gothic vaults. Durham's saint, Cuthbert, is buried at the east end; near by is the throne of the Prince Bishops, set high above the chancel. Bede, the first English historian, has his tomb in the delicate Galilee Chapel at the west end. The Treasury holds fine silver, pre-Conquest embroidery and manuscripts, as well as relics of St Cuthbert.

Where to eat and drink

As one of the major tourist centres of the north of England, Durham has no shortage of places for refreshment. There is a restaurant in the cathedral cloisters, near the Treasury, as well as one on Palace Green. The town centre has pubs of all kinds, many of them popular with students.

While you're there

Durham Art Gallery and Durham Light Infantry Regimental Museum in Aykley Heads have exciting and imaginative displays that are of interest to both adults and children. The art gallery has a changing programme of arts and crafts exhibitions, while the museum tells the story of one of the north east's great army regiments.

What to look for

In Durham Cathedral Treasury are fragments of St Cuthbert's coffin. This was probably the one that transported his remains from Holy Island, when the Danes invaded in ad 875, on a journey that ended in Durham in 995. It is incised with figures of saints. Among the other treasures on show is a fearsome sword 35in (89cm) long and weighing more than 2¾lb (1.3kg). This is the Conyers Falchion, presented to each new Bishop of Durham as he formally enters his diocese for the first time. The ceremony takes place on the bridge at Croft-on-Tees. It was near here that, legend says, Sir John Conyers killed the dreaded Sockburn Worm (or dragon) in 1063, for which the bishops awarded him lands. The falchion actually dates from around 1265.


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