At Durham, plenty of us have a wide selection of exotic gap year travel anecdotes, but hardly anyone seems to manage to escape the bubble and explore what’s on our doorstep here in the North East. Here are just a few of the places near Durham, which are well worth a look if you ever have a spare afternoon.
This is the remains of the original village of Houghall, just south of Maiden Castle. Originally a pit village, it was demolished in the 1950s and the surrounding industrial landscape was planted with trees. You can clearly see the outlines of the houses and the main street among the leaves and it feels quite surreal to think that they were still inhabited within living memory.
There’s no shortage of woods around Durham but the stretch going north along the river is particularly beautiful. The path follows the east bank out of town, through some fields and then into a deep valley, with steep cliffs on either side at many points. If you can ignore the distant hum of the A1 and the occasional intrepid dog walker you can feel completely cut off from the rest of the world. Go far enough and you’ll come across Belmont Viaduct, an enormous Victorian railway bridge now completely abandoned. There was a plan at one point to turn it into a cycle route but for now it remains more or less untouched – if you look closely enough at the pictures you can see trees growing on top of it.
Finchale priory is a pretty medieval ruin about 4 miles north of Durham. It’s probably a bit far for all but the keenest walkers, but if you’ve got a bike then there’s a very quiet and well surfaced route which you’ll find if you follow the road out past the Radisson hotel. On the way you pass the forbidding sight of Frankland prison, which hosts a variety of colourful characters on the other side of its reassuringly sturdy looking walls, and a large complex of old military bunkers once used for storing ammunition. The final bit of road to the priory belongs to the owners of the nearby caravan site so you have to negotiate their automatic barriers and passive aggressive notices, but once you get inside it’s every bit as peaceful as it must have been when it was built. Most of the walls are still standing, and there are several hidden passageways and underground chambers which make it a fascinating place to explore.
Photographs: John Halstead