Durham – an Amazing World Heritage Site

If you take the Edinburgh to London train, the dramatic backdrop of Durham Cathedral and its Castle towering over the city is hard to miss. This time as luck would have it, we were travelling by road. Keen not to miss such a wonderful opportunity, we were able to explore this fascinating World Heritage Site on foot.
The old part of the town still retains a medieval flavour but the view from the bridge looking up at the towering buildings is pretty impressive by anyone’s standards.
Built in the time of William the Conqueror, the castle was originally of motte and bailey construction but over time has been substantially modernised. From 1840, it became part of Durham University and is not open to the public. However, you can walk around some of its external edifice which is in close proximity to the cathedral.
The latter is huge as you might expect and grandiose, with a history to match. Dedicated to the the Virgin Mary and St Cuthbert, it was an important pilgrimage site. The Prince Bishops ruled the Diocese of Durham from 1080 until 1836 with a small blip during the Reformation around 1541 when the Prior took on the mantle of Dean and the Benedictine monks swapped their habits and became Canons.
I was interested in the links with the Scots. For much of the time, the castle was a strategic stronghold to protect the Prince Bishops from Scottish attacks. Robert the Bruce frequently won goods and money from the wealthy bishops to prevent further assaults on their property. But it didn’t always go the Scots way…
On occasions the castle served as a temporary holding prison as well for the likes of Sir Andrew de Moray, Regent of Scotland, and much later around 1346, King David II was taken there initially after his capture at the Battle of Neville’s Cross.
One of the most striking features of our visit was the enormous knocker on the door of the cathedral which historically offered sanctuary for those who had broken the laws of the time – but the rules of sanctuary contained strict time limits. It was a stark reminder of the harshness and intransigence of medieval life.
The ancient duo of castle and cathedral overlook a city which nestles comfortably within its medieval footprint and the sanctuary knocker set the seal on this impression.
If you love medieval history, then you’ll love the World Heritage site of Durham.