By Sol Noya Carreno
During a global pandemic that has forced us into isolation like none of us have ever known it, the urge to escape to find some inner peace can be overwhelming. Alas, travelling far, these days, is severely limited. So, armed with a Railcard and a determination to learn more about the Northeast before I graduate, I decided that in 2020, I would find peaceful spots in the areas surrounding Durham, Newcastle, and North Yorkshire (where I spent the 2020 lockdown). Granted, these explorations mostly took place over late spring and summer in 2020, before the word “variant” had crossed most of our minds. But still – I am greatly looking forward to revisiting all of these spots as soon as restrictions are relaxed enough to do so.
In the turmoil-filled days almost exactly a year ago, right before lockdown was first announced, I had multiple events cancelled in the space of a week, including a theatre production we were taking to London and my flight home for Easter. In that whirlwind, I also moved to North Yorkshire, where, unknowingly to me at the time, I would be living for the next four months. I was ridiculously fortunate though, and it turned out my new home was on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. Add the one legal outing a day for exercise, and I ended up doing dog walks on the Moors almost daily.
The Moors, if you’ve never been, are absolutely stunning, especially in spring – rolling fields of green, surrounded by flowers and dotted with fluffy cream sheep. If you’re lucky, you might be serenaded by one of the beautiful bird species that call North Yorkshire home or spot a hare leaping across a field. Just walking out surrounded by the Moors’ beauty, inhaling some of the cleanest air I’ve ever breathed, did wonders to settle my mind. And if you’d like to picnic and take in a bit of medieval history, I cannot recommend Rievaulx Abbey, in the North York Moors national park, enough for a peaceful day out.
Back in Durham in August, waiting for friends to come back, I decided to make a few day trips to discover new places. One of my favourite such trips was taking the train from Durham to Newcastle and then the metro to Whitley Bay, where I spent a Sunday exploring. A lovely spot about an hour from Durham, Whitley Bay is furnished with a lovely park out on the seafront, a multitude of cafés and fish and chips restaurants, and St Mary’s lighthouse, where I was delighted to find seals attempting to sun themselves on the rocks. Having grown up by the ocean, I always find the sight and sound of the sea deeply soothing. Sitting out with a good book and a takeaway coffee and donut on the seafront, taking in the view, is one of the most joyful memories I have from last summer. Whitley Bay is also great for beach walks, and you can even go up the lighthouse and look out over the North Sea. For peace of mind, the seaside really can’t be beaten.
The week after my Whitley Bay excursion, I took a bus to Jesmond Dene Park in Newcastle instead. If you’ve mostly explored the centre of Newcastle, you might be surprised to find the Toon on a list of peaceful places, especially when used to the quiet of Durham. However, Jesmond Dene was a marvellous discovery: a public park that is actually the river Ouseburn’s valley. Armed again with a good book and a delicious sandwich from Dene’s Deli, I walked over the bridge and into the park and was immediately transported into a slice of nature where the city noises were covered up by the babbling of the Ouseburn and birdsong. The effect reminded me, more than anything, of the peace you find when deep into Central Park in New York. I highly recommend walking along the nature trail, which is almost 5 km long and settling into a bench to read or draw and say hello to the dogs being walked in the park. If you have a snack to sit with while you look out over the Ouseburn, all the better. It was wonderful to have a Saturday in a park, and I returned to Durham refreshed and with a rather settled mind.
In the weeks that followed, as term began, time became more limited, so I refocused my search for peaceful spots on Durham. I must admit that my taste in peaceful places here is rather conventional, and I dearly miss Crook Hall and its gardens. However, I would be remiss not to highlight the immense joy that the view of Durham Cathedral from the path that goes around the river and the racecourse brings me. Going for walks and runs around the river is a great way to clear one’s head, and each week I turn the bend near Hild Bede and catch sight of the Cathedral and Castle, I am reminded of how much I have loved my time here. The truth is, you don’t have to stray far from Durham to find peace. Beloved spots like Wharton Park, the public footpath on the Wear, and Observatory Hill all offer a chance to catch your breath, take in the sights, and think how lucky I am to be here.
Photos: Sol Noya Carreno