The Durham experience: ‘Nova’ be disappointed

By Iona Napier

The Student Room forum website is both enlightening and alarming on the sweeping generalisation front. It appears to be chock-full of teenagers making neurotic attempts to achieve anything, from corner-cutting their way into a red brick university to the technique of The Perfect French Kiss. A perplexing section focuses on the demystification of Durham University. Welcome to a plethora of wild speculations, containing high points such as ‘The Big Durham Social and Nightlife Thread’ and the endearing ‘Incredibly Nervous About University (Durham)’.


Enormous anxiety is located in wasting one precious UCAS choice on an institution that is sometimes unflatteringly dubbed, due to its lacklustre nightlife, “not a real university”. The thread is littered with comments describing the city as full of “silly toff students” and the equally unfounded award for “the worst binge drinking culture of any uni”. Even the BBC has been caught in print, claiming that “there are remote hamlets in the Scottish Highlands that could boast a wider range of clubs than Durham.” Are they wrong?

Are we ranked 20th globally for employer reputation because our future bosses can guarantee we will never come in to work hung-over? However, Durham is rated the 5th best University in the country with an 89% student satisfaction rate. Can we ignore an uncanny correlation between the haters and people who do not, in fact, live or study here?

The bone of contention is this: Durham Cathedral may have seen one thousand years of constant worship; yet, the vast majority are still doggedly committed to bringing up the infamous FHM survey placing Durham’s Klute second in the dubious contest for Europe’s worst night club until, hilariously, the dive in Belgrade burnt down and we ascended to number one. Incidentally, the survey took place in 1996, a year of fascinating developments such as the world’s first clone (Dolly the Sheep), mad cow disease sweeping the UK and the legendary Ella Fitzgerald’s death, yet these topics seem to have paled into insignificance in lieu of this hackneyed piece of trivia.

Are we ranked 20th globally for employer reputation because our future bosses can guarantee we will never come in to work hung-over?

It is peculiar that anyone would expect a city containing only a handful of streets to rival London. At what point did this metropolis publicise its radical night scene, anyway? Why is it justifiable to trash it for not offering the dimensions and, crucially, anonymity of Digital in our neighbouring city? To have a problem with Durham on account of its size is as pointless as seeking controversy with Danny DeVito for his height (clocking in at 5’0). Like DeVito, Durham may be small, but it is far too interesting to care.

The college system may seem alien to non-collegiate university students, with concepts such as formals, College days and balls (surely more personal than the anonymity of university-wide events) conjuring up a Hogwarts-cum-Oxbridge image of the place. The contrary is true; college life allows for a community that is not embroiled in the academic side of life and is thus less overbearing; whether you scorn or conform, your college reputation may precede you.

Ideally placed, night-owl mecca Newcastle is closer for us than the centre of London will be for many of those studying in the capital. For country bumpkins, a stroll along the river or escaping to some woodland on a clear morning can hit the spot for a change of scenery, and lakes and moors are never far. Kite surfer friends head to the spectacular Chemworks Beach or the Tees Estuary “depending on which way the wind is blowin”’ and, stash galore, the active nature of the student population is apparent from day one. Chain smokers are about as common as the lesser-spotted snow leopard.

The library is consistently humming and 9am lectures are seldom deserted. It is not that the people here are not having fun, but they are not seeking it exclusively in intoxication

The library is consistently humming and 9am lectures are seldom deserted. It is not that the people here are not having fun, but they are not seeking it exclusively in intoxication. The dinner parties abound and great food, nice wine and ambient music are not as ‘uncool’ as they might have been as a fresher.

The argument is not really about Durham’s nightlife; it is about a ‘Durham Life’ in general. Balanced and fulfilling; the four years that I have spent here have been some of the happiest ones of my life.

So, since Newcastle’s Digital markets itself as the planet’s most exciting church of electronic music, maybe Caitlin Moran’s quip that “a library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival” needs to be muralised somewhere in the Bill Bryson. If we are to be persecuted for the identity that is tirelessly projected upon us and our handsome city, we may as well embrace it and get on with our work and play; and yes, we do play.


Photographs: Ellie de la Bedoyere & Naomi Ellis

2 Responses

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  1. John Smith
    Mar 14, 2014 - 10:02 PM

    I would just like to take my time to commend you for writing he perfect antidote to all the utter tripe the TAB has been coming out with lately.

    Nicely written, nicely researched, and nicely put.


  2. Carry Lunt
    Apr 20, 2014 - 12:04 PM

    Not going to lie, being a first year at durham, I wish I had heard all of these “Misconceptions” before I arrived here, because just about all of them are true and I probably wouldn’t have come here. People mock durham because they enjoy a “Durham Life”, which to be quite honest is a basically a term that makes you all feel better about for having a shocking night life, it’s just nowhere near as good as other universities. I have friends at other universities that mock me for the all of the things stated in the article, and to be quite honest, I agree with them.


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